State Sen. Jim Ferlo says he's glad the Netroots Nation Convention is coming to town this week (Aug. 13-15). But Ferlo says the conference's agenda and presenters weren't as progressive as he thought they'd be.
"I looked at the agenda and I don't see anything on the anti-war movement, and the only thing I see on health care is the Dr. [Howard] Dean roadshow pushing the Obama health-care plan," says Ferlo. "That's frustrating to me because [in Pennsylvania] we're becoming the leaders of pushing single-payer health care, and any discussion of it here has been quashed."
Netroots Nation is an annual gathering of progressive online activists, politicians and pollsters. The event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center features scores of panels, speakers and workshops meant to energize new online grassroots efforts to promote a politically liberal message.
Ferlo's discontent with the conference came to light when City Paper was forwarded a series of online communiqués from local activists questioning which officials would represent the region, and how much local input went into forming the agenda. Joining the discussion, Ferlo wrote: "I did want to say that I am a bit disappointed in the lack of truly progressive politics at this conference as I reviewed the agenda. Basically, I guess [Netroots] is a well-funded front group for the Dem Leadership Council."
Leveling that charge at the Democratic Leadership Council seems a stretch: The Daily Kos, a blog that spurred the Netroots movement, has long been highly critical of the DLC. "As we strive to find our core convictions, and define who we are and what we stand for as a party, the DLC is one of the roadblocks -- a divisive, fundamentalist organization willing to sell any and all progressive ideals to the altar of big business," Kos founder Markos Moulitsas wrote in July 2005.
"When Al Gore spoke [at a previous Netroots event], he set the bar high for progressives, and looking at this agenda, I just don't see that happening this year," Ferlo says.
Told of such criticisms, Mary Rickles, communications and media director for Netroots Nation, said that the agenda is a "direct reflection of the Netroots community."
"Each year, we hold an open panel submission process where anyone -- be it
activist, blogger, member of a union or representative from a grassroots organization -- can submit an idea," Rickles wrote in an e-mail. "Many of the panels have a range of viewpoints, but that's how the progressive community is."
Rickles says the more than 70 scheduled Netroots panels "ranging from health care and global warming to torture and organizing techniques" shows a clear diversity of topics. (For more on the Netroots schedule and highlights, see coverage starting on page 14.) In addition, Pittsburgh-centric panels include "How Technology Can Be Utilized to Enhance Democracy in Pittsburgh and Beyond."
Rickles also seemed a little surprised to hear Ferlo's complaints because he has been "extremely helpful to us and has been a great ambassador in welcoming us to Pittsburgh."