So there I was, summer 2006, Las Vegas baby, sitting on stage next to PZ Myers with General Wesley Clark praising evolution and climate science in front of a standing room only crowd. I distinctly remember the cameras pointing at us, lit up, reminding me of rows of LAW rocket launchers zeroed in on an enemy position about to be shredded. It was weird, just a few months earlier I had been another obscure commenter on an early incarnation of Pharyngula and Ed Brayton’s Dispatches, and suddenly I’m there, complete with hammering pulse and a mouth drier than grandma’s premo Thanksgiving stuffing. This was the first Netroots Nation, then called Yearly Kos, put together by science-teacher turned activist Gina Cooper and a handful of volunteers. It was scary for a lot of reasons, a coming out party for a movement that had no name and little structure, but the biggest nerve-wracker was we had no idea if people would show up. At least outside of traditional media holding us at arm’s length, like a cartoon of sour milk, not sure what to make of the rabble. They would have had a great story and enjoyed a big sigh of relief if YKos fell flat on its face. Fortunately, we didn’t.
I got to put together a science panel during the darkest days of Bush’s wildly anti-science, fantasy-based second term, that’s how Clark and PZ got involved, or rather why I dragged them in to rescue me. I remember chatting with Clark before the event. The man had a single 3×5 card with a few lines scrawled on it from which he extracted 20 minutes worth of smooth, rousing science pep points and fed them to a hungry, applauding crowd. PZ added two notes that have always remained with me: first, that the US might be described by some misguided souls as a Christian nation or a conservative nation, but we were really a science nation. And second, as an example of how that science could reach into everyday lives, a regular guy or gal could now go online during a commercial break and talk one on one with a research cosmologist like Sean Carroll about multiverses or string theory. Think of the power of that, PZ said, think of how that instant, easy access to science expertise might shape our future for the better. All I had to do was introduce the panel and run the Q & A. My role was easy.
Netroots Nation and now operates as a sort of defacto new media clearing house for the multifaceted online progressive movement and the technology that drives it. The Executive Director, Raven Brooks, has opened a blog-esque site for the next convention, to be held in Providence, Rhode Island from June 7-10, 2012:
Welcome to our new blog, Winning the Internet. All of us at Netroots Foundation and Netroots Nation have been working in the new media space since there was a new media space. In fact, our signature annual conference was created so that people could meet in person, collaborate and learn.
Raven told me the site launch is no big deal, they’re not looking for traffic numbers, but they are interested in quality comments, constructive criticism, or useful ideas from die-hard netrooters about how science and technology can continue to influence our day-to-day lives, for the better. If you’re so inclined, feel free to go there and give them some.