Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tools of the Trade -- Netroots Nation

Tools of the Trade will be a regular Tuesday feature on the blog, but I got a bit behind this week.

I'm a big fan of Netroots Nation. In addition to the basic concept of trying to gather as many bloggers and Netroots activists together in one place, which is a great idea, there are so many things available for anyone who attends the convention that it's difficult to know where to begin.

One of the key offerings were the 90 or so informational and training sessions. From the DFA training school, to issues-specific sessions on any issue you can think of from Iraq to the subprime crisis, to blogging on military affairs or at the state level, to hot elections to learning to infuse comedy and improve in your work, pretty much anything you wanted to learn about, you could.

There was also a day filled with caucuses for various bloggers and activists based on demographics, favorite blogs, issues and various other topics (such as the "Geek" caucus). And if you couldn't find a session or caucus that you liked, you had the option of creating your own, there were two dedicated rooms that people could use to create self-organizing caucuses.

Throughout the even there were a number of keynote speeches. Thursday offered both an outdoor rally and a keynote speech with Howard Dean, Friday offered the battle of wits between Markos Moulitsas and Harold Ford, the latter who was booed when he praised Fox News, Saturday morning Nancy Pelosi answered questions, Al Gore did as well, Donna Edwards gave the evening keynote, Lawrence Lessig gave a wildly entertaining lunch keynote and on Sunday Van Jones and Gavin Newsom were on tap. Sprinkled throughout were appearances by local politicians, prominent bloggers and hilarious comedians such as Baratunde Thurston and Katie Halper.

You could also spend a lot of time in the exhibition hall, where hundreds of blogs, nonprofits, interest groups and businesses set up booths to inform people about their mission, provide demonstrations, give out literature and reports on numerous issues, sign up members, give away free bumper stickers, buttons and other swag, sell books and t-shirts and engage in the ever-present exchange of business cards.

And then there were the parties, oh the parties. There were too many of them to count and most of them were good. Many of them offered free drinks and/or food and most of them had great groups of people at them. There were big parties like the Netroots Candidates event (that featured three Florida candidates Annette Taddeo, Alan Grayson and Joe Garcia) with more than 1,000 people, a mixer with various authors of progressive books, the already-legendary party at Maggie May's, the celebrity bartender event, and the nightly parties in the DFA suite.

The point of the parties wasn't just fun, though, it was all about networking. Where else can you get to have breakfast with Joe Garcia and Markos Moulitsas and they actually listen to you? Where else can you have conversations with hugely popular national candidates like Darcy Burner and Donna Edwards. Where else can you be walking down the hall and bump into Bob Barr (seriously, what the hell was Bob Barr doing there?) More importantly, this is a place where you get to interact with as many different bloggers and Netroots activists as you want to. It's where you get to put names to faces and learn about what successes and failures people have in other states. It's where you meet so many people who are doing amazing things that you grab every business card, e-mail and phone number you can because you can't possibly remember it all. It's where you go to get re-inspired and to come away with new ideas and new approaches to accomplishing the things you want to accomplish.

And there were a host of other happenings that I never even had a chance to get to, from the numerous original films that were screened on site for free, the care package for the troops event, a Sunday morning interfaith service, the Pub Quiz, a career fair and other multimedia presentations.

Now, I will say that Netroots Nation isn't without its critics, but like many things, the convention is what you make of it. If you want it to be a fantastic learning and networking experience, it will be. If you want it to be something else, it can be that, too, for good or bad. With more than 2,500 participants this year, I'd say it's safe to wager that there were more than 2,500 different experiences, no two alike, and very few that didn't involve significant increases in knowledge and contacts, or at least a good time. I got all three.

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