It was another great Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, and like many of you, I’m still digesting. As someone a little bit responsible for sending folks there (three folks won a free registration at our last big event!) it’s important to do a little public evaluation.
1. Netroots Nation is a labor event, full stop. If twelve of the top eighteen sponsors were corporations, it would be a corporate event. But it was labor: AFL-CIO, Working America, Change to Win, SEIU, UFT, NEA, UFCW, even the firefighters, who did seem a little bit like fish out of water*. So on behalf of the netroots, THANK YOU.
2. Netroots Nation is home to a lot of self-organized liberals and Democrats who often represent a kind of loyal opposition to whatever “the” Democrats are up to in DC. It makes sense that Labor, that poor bride who keeps getting stranded at the altar while her groom is off having sex with corporations in the dressing room, should make common cause with us. But we can still ask: just how serious is labor about dating the netroots, as opposed to purchasing some seasonal influence? I want unions to love us for our free-wheeling exuberance, critical thinking and free-agent empowerment. Not just for political influence that on rare occasions result in some electoral or electoral victory.
3. At the labor strategy session, I heard it explained that some years ago, unions invested big in organizing – but were unable to staunch the loss of members, especially in the private sector. So they went big on political spending, going all out for Democratic victories in hopes of passing EFCA.
Or at least getting a little bit of love now and then. Right now is an interesting moment: labor is organizing, but not focused on new member organizing. Labor is doing politics, but not necessarily in close cooperation with the official Democrats. Is this a fully articulated strategy we can learn from and follow, or evidence that labor strategists are figuring things out as we
go along? (It can’t be just Stephen Lerner talking openly about labor strategy these days, right?)
4. This goes hand in hand with the excellent session about Wisconsin. One of AFSCME’s senior political strategists said something like “as a result of Wisconsin, we really understand the importance of new media. And over the next year, you’ll see that manifested in how we do things.” What I should have asked as a follow up question is “What kind of changes will we be seeing? What new combination of job descriptions, training, new hires, shifting budgets and consultant contracts can we look forward to?”
5. Labor had many tables/booths in display. I visited all of them and found no job descriptions related to online organizing or new media campaigning. That said, I know from UnionJobs.com that many unions ARE trying to fill those jobs. Next year, let’s make sure that the booths of unions that are hiring staff have some information about their job openings. It’s the perfect captive audience for recruitment.
6. Where is the labor netroots? Union members who blog, as opposed to a) bloggers who enjoy labor support, and b) staff at unions who blog? Some members of teachers unions who blog were in attendance and on (really good) panels but overall there were not many rank and file members who blog or use social media at the conference. I imagine that lack of funds to attend the conference might be the reason why. NN does a great job of offering scholarships but it would be a good idea for more of the unions that send staff to NN to also send their union members who blog.
7. Netroots Nation staff did what they could to promote attendance among Minneapolis and Minnesota union locals. That said, I spoke to a handful of union members in attendance who came because they asked/demanded to go, but who never saw anything from their International about Netroots Nation. Part of me wonders if a $10k sponsorship and the expense of staffing a booth in the exhibition hall wouldn’t have been better served by sending an additional 10-15 union members to attend the training sessions (organized by Democracy for America) and schmoozing with union staff from across the country.
The next conference will be held in Providence, RI, easy traveling distance from New York, Boston and Philadelphia, all big union cities. So will we see a dozen locals send two people each from those areas? And staff from 5-6 state labor federations? And Labor Councils? Maybe consultants from the strategic media firms that (sometimes) pretend to be experts in online communications? Let’s not leave that up to the powers that be.
If you think your union should be doing better at online organizing, consider using this as your check list for promoting more, and more effective labor participation at Netroots Nation:
- Request that your local’s magazine/newspaper/website features a story about unions at Netroots Nation.
- If your International was a sponsor in 2011, remind them to put something in about the upcoming conference in Providence next spring.
- Sign up now, pay the super-inexpensive $195 early bird registration fee. If your union won’t pay your way, file for the vacation days now – and signal your boss about the importance of Netroots Nation.
- Ask your union to purchase a block of tickets now, even before it’s clear who would actually go.
- Let’s ask Netroots Nation to post data about how many trade unionists attended, and make it a goal to exceed that number in 2012.
- Start thinking now about sessions that appeal to a labor audience in particular. Not just on the issues, but training relevant to your own work as a trade unionist. Why not sessions on new member organizing, blogging for union staff/members, or setting the labor agenda from below?
Got any other bright ideas? Let’s hear ‘em. If you hear of any posts about labor at Netroots Nation – please let me know or link below.