What do you do when Netroots is just not that into you?

Israel/Palestine
on 136 Comments

This is my second day of Netroots and I need to register the fact that I feel like an outsider here and sense common cause only with the many Asians who are here. Though they are not included entirely either.

The simple physics of it are: My issue is Israel Palestine and the Democratic Party’s leftwing base, the netroots, is not sure how it feels about Israel and Palestine. Jews are simply too important to the Democratic party and Jews are still largely Zionist, and that’s the deal, kid. I haven’t heard the word Palestine mentioned in a plenary session yet, even when they brought out an inspiring Pakistani blogger who mentioned atrocities.

Yesterday there was a panel titled “What to do when the President is just not that into you,” where I ought to have felt at home, I mean the president is not that into me; I heard him promise in Cairo 2 years ago to end settlements and since then he doesn’t write or call. But what were the issues — immigration and gay marriage and the ways those advocates feel sold out by Obama.

One theme of the conference is economic justice and I like economic justice, particularly because I am staying in my old haunts in Frogtown, St. Paul, and Frogtown is a hurting place. University and Snelling used to be a bustling economic zone, today it looks bombed out. The bête noire of the netroots conference are the Koch brothers. You can’t go to any panel without people taking shots at them, and also the Citizens United case. Last night Russ Feingold gave a stirring speech saying that the corporations were taking over our political process in much the way that they did in the Gilded Age and just as the progressive era followed that earlier chapter, we are on the verge of a great era of reform. We hope. Well I like that.

Except there is no foreign policy piece. There is no real talk about the endless wars. They come up here and there, but there is just no antiwar movement at Netroots and you can count the panels that address international issues on one hand, or two fingers. There was an Arab spring panel yesterday (it was great; I’ll have more to tell about that one) and this afternoon an Afghanistan one. Happy days. And just now on the big stage Kaili Joy Gray of DailyKos, who you might know as Angry Mouse, asked White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer about Guantanamo. Good for her.

But they’re not talking about Obama’s wars. Stem cells. Tax cuts. Same sex marriage. Climate change. Immigration reform. Food stamps. I am told that at the last Netroots, DailyKos commenters on Israel/Palestine thought about having a panel on the question but no one wanted to shed their Angry Anonymity.

Hey: It’s still too costly on the Democratic left to care about this issue.

You can say that people don’t care about foreign policy and I would agree. I gather there were two questions about foreign policy at the Republican presidential debate the other night. 2006 was the rare foreign policy election, but the country avoided the subject in 2008 and it will surely try and do so again in 2012. Except for Ron Paul.

Still I think the situation is unsustainable. Netroots is out of touch with the grassroots at a certain level, and you cannot see the urban destitution on University Avenue without reflecting that America’s wars have a lot to do with it and that the empowered elite that support the Israeli occupation has something to do with the Bush-Obama wars in the Middle East. That populist strain in the American discourse is largely absent here, amid all the talk of economic justice.

The one good sign for me are the many Asians here, and the Muslims. DailyKos is getting browner. These folks get it. Last night Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said that 100 languages are spoken in Minneapolis and immigrants are the key to America’s global future, key to our living in peace. I found that stirring. I can’t wait for those grassroots to come to the grassroots. 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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