The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

YearlyKos: What I Saw at the Revolution

I came, I saw, I blogged. And it turns, with all due respect to Joe Trippi, the revolution was televised via C-SPAN and PoliticsTV.

I’ve returned from YearlyKos, with a pocket full of business cards, a head full of names and faces, and a mind full of questions. The lights, sounds, and nicotine heads of the casinos have left me a little addled, and the dizzying maelstrom of the convention itself still seems to be spinning around me. (I kept calling it a conference, but it was actually a convention. Are we a political party now?) There were times when I felt like I was watching the whole thing from a distance, as though I was having an out of body experience and wasn’t really there.

When the shuttle arrived yesterday to take me to my 6:40 a.m. flight, I was more than ready to go despite the fact that it meant missing out on the multi-faith service and blogger brunch planned for today, and I was glad that I’d opted for an earlier flight in order to get home early enough to spend some time with Parker before his bedtime. It gave me some time to lift out of activities and think about what it all meant. Though I still haven’t sorted it all out yet, I have a few ideas.

The convention started, appropriately enough, for me with the LGBT caucus at 8:00 a.m. on the first day, followed by the African-American caucus, followed by the Pundit Training Project by the Center for American Progress. I got great feedback in the Pundit Training Project (maybe I have a future as a talking head), and made some great connections in the African-American caucus, but it was the LGBT caucus that stuck with me.

I’ve written before about my dismay with Democrats when it come to gay issues, and my frustration with Howard Dean and the direction the party seems to be taking where LGBT issues are concerned. And I suppose going into YearlyKos I should have known what I was getting into. Kos is, after all, known for saying that us “single issue” folks should zip it, sit tight on the back burner and support the party no matter what, even when it backs candidates that don’t support our concerns or issues. I should have known what to expect based on the comments I’d seen when the subject came up on netroots sites like MyDD and DailyKos. I should have figured I’d hear the same things I’d heard all along, even during the FMA debate.

I guess just hoped being there and bringing it all up might help, or might mean something. But I heard the same thing, even from gay folks who are just as frustrated as I am, and from supportive straight people too: this is what we have to do to win, and if gay issues have to take an extended back seat consider it taking one for the team.

I have to admit I got argued down. I can’t take on the whole progressive netroots, and clearly I can’t change anyone’s mind. It kind of seems like gays have morphed into the ugly prom date who’d better just shut up about her date ignoring her and just be glad she got to go the prom at all. The best message I could salvage from it all, when it comes to gay & lesbian issues is “just keep doing what you’ve always done, vote Democratic, and don’t expect much.”

It sounds like a great recipe for Log Cabin Democrats.

The thing is, at the point, I’m not asking anyone to gay on same-sex marriage or even gay issues in general as the issue for their campaign. I’m not even asking that anyone support same-sex marriage. After hearing the same message over and over from the progressive blogosphere during the FMA debate — that there were “more important” issues to discuss, thus implying that the issue wasn’t even worthy of debate — I’d settle for Democrats simply not running from the issue when and where it comes up (note, I’m not asking them to bring it up or make it an issue). I’d settle for them not equivocating on the issue when it comes up, and simply calling it out for what it is; calling it discrimination and simply saying that the party doesn’t support discrimination and doesn’t believe it has a place in our laws or our constitution. Unapologetically.

But over and over I basically hear about all of the above “If that’s what we have to do to win … ”

And then I remembered something I hear a certain A-list blogger (who honestly seems to care about these issues, and keeps asking how Dems should talk about them) say a while back: just getting Democrats elected is not sufficient. Certainly not if they’re going to put their constituents and the convictions in the closet in order to win. A party that believes it has to put its own values on the back burner in order to win must not believe that it can and should win based on its values. It becomes something else entirely, and will find it hard to go back if the trick should work.

LIke I said earlier, I get the message: the Democrats going to lead on our issues. When I bring up the shift that’s occurring in the party, and the unlikelihood that they will be able to return to their old values if new, more conservative constituents bring them back to power, the answer I get from the netroots is: “it’s your job to shift public opinion and give them cover to make it safe for them to take a stand on those issues.”

Well, I’ve been doing that job as an activist for about 20 years now. At this point, as a partnered gay dad, everything we do is an exercise in public education; from a trip to the grocery store to getting the mail. But I don’t think I’m the only one with a job to do. I think Democratic leadership still has a job to if they’re up to walking the (these days, coded and/or whispered-behind-the-hand) talk of their values. It’s called leading by example.

Markos and Jerome opened their book, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, with this quote from Gandhi.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

I’d like to suggest another Gandhi quote to the netroots and the party leadership.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

If, that is, it’s a change you really want to see.

But I’ve burned a lot of bandwith on this only to realize something I already said above. I can’t fight the entire netroots, or convince them for that matter. As I drifted through the convention, through speeches by the political elite and panels of the blogging elite, and one truly surreal party hosted by Mark Warner (completely with an ice sculpture of Kos’ name), I realized pretty clearly my place in the blogging cosmos (or is that Kosmos?).

By some happy accident I — a guy with no particular credentials, not an ivy leaguer, lawyer, lobbyist, Ph.D, consultant, or an expert in much of anything — have somehow managed to climb to the middle of the progressive political blogosphere. And based, as far as I can tell, on little more than the strength of my writing and a knack for finding human interest stories, like Zach’s or Laurel Hester’s, putting them in the context of the the issues and amplifying them a bit.

So, I suffer no illusions about my ability to make enough waves to shift the entire progressive netroots,especially when louder voices than mine successfully making the opposite argument. I came away from Las Vegas more exhausted than energized, more exasperated than excited, and perhaps with a more clear-eyed view of how things are and where they’re going with the progressive netroots. As advised, I’ll do what I’ve been doing for nearly as long as I can remember now, and I just won’t expect much.

Yet, because I still feel like I have to do something, I’ll also try to make a difference in my small way by amplifying other voices in the netroots on LGBT issues, and just hope people are listening and that it makes a difference.

But I’ll try not to expect much.


  1. The Democratic party is doing to gays and lesbians what it has done for so long to Blacks. We are taken for granted because it is assumed that since Republicans treat us even worse, we will always be Democrats.

    There is no two party system in America..just one big one with left(dem) and right (gop) wings.

    We need another answer

  2. Terrence–

    Sorry we didn’t cross paths at YK; I would have liked to meet you.

    I agree there’s a lot of people in the so-called “net-roots” (mostly white men, hmmm), who want to operate in a fairly instrumental manner, that is, do what it takes to win, not necessarily what is right. But what makes me optimistic, still, is that the blogosphere is a lot bigger than what was on display this past weekend in Vegas and much more open to the kind of pushing you are doing than just about every other system I can think of.

    So have heart, and keep on keepin on!


  3. Terrance,

    I was in the Religion Roundtable and heard you loud and clear on your experience of religion as a gay man. I don’t have an answer as far as how progressives talk about LGBT issues; progressives tend to be a little to the right of me 🙂 But I wanted to let you know at least one straight white female heard you.

  4. Terrance: I understand your frustration, and urge you to take that energy as you have suggested, and raise the voice of the LGBT community. I will do my part to spread the words you gather hear.

    And don’t forget that one of the consequences of being a “mid-level” blogger is that you are on the radar of several of the larger bloggers. Your voice is being heard. And I would give you a slightly different framework to consider using in “speaking” to them. “If you want to be a winner, act like a winner.” Winners don’t care what other people think about them, they simply take what they believe, and lead others to follow them. (I phrased that last sentence in a way that makes clear that the current cabal in power are not winners, just manipulators and users.) If we want to win, we can’t be cowards; people are turned off by cowards.

    Frederick Douglass said it best, in his last public appearance in 1895, at a women’s rights convention: “Agitate, agitate, agitate!”. The marginalization of the LGBT community is a civil rights issue, and when it has been successfully framed as such, as in the Hester case, there is progress. But we are dealing with the inherent human tendency to seek out “others” to hate and mistrust. It will take time to move the community forward.

  5. Log Cabin Republicans withheld endorsement from Bush in 2004. Compare that with HRC and Clinton in 1996.

    My question is why should gays who disagree with much on the “progressive agenda” vote for Democrats? Seems like limited government gays (and there’s a large number of gays who are not enamored with big government) have no reason to vote or contribute to Democrats.

    Gay organizations should most certainly support inclusive republicans, and publicly denounce anti-gay democrats.

  6. I can’t blame you for feeling frustrated; there’s nothing worse than being sniped at by your own side. I find Kos’ stance on this, and other issues, disturbing, and I think that abandoning our principles is about the worst thing we could do to win elections.

    Lorin11 is right that mid-level bloggers can affect the wider discourse; and also that you should keep fighting for what you believe in if you want to be an agent of change.

    Good luck. You do inspire others with your well-written words, and that is no small thing.

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