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The State of the States

There is a rising force in the online community, often forgotten by the mainstream media because of their niche audience and dispersed nature. With over half a million readers a week they are on the front lines of grassroots battles. Their ears to the ground and their footsteps echoing in the halls of their capitals, they are often the first to report on issues and breaking news that eventually bubble up to the national discussion.

This force is the vast and ever growing community of state and local blogs, both those in the 50-state blog network and beyond. These blogs and their nearly 1000 authors are both a part of the national Netroots and unique local communities unto themselves. 

In some states with more established blogging traditions, networks of bloggers have created communications tools to facilitate the sharing of best practices and to coordinate messaging campaigns. Other blog networks have worked to grow readership and develop true community-oriented sites. This year has seen some of the most interesting developments as these blogging communities started flexing their fundraising muscle in state and local races. Even better, some have gone a step further by leveraging their online presence into offline action. This maturation of state blogging is truly exciting.

I’ve gotten in touch with some of the organizers of this new breed of activism in hopes that by sharing their experiences, we might inspire others to similarly innovative action.

California– California bloggers over at Calitics have led the way this year in innovative online fundraising. They started using YouTube videos back in March for their End-of-Quarter fundraising push via their  Calitics ActBlue fundraising page. They didn’t stop there, though. Calitics, and the larger CA blogosphere, held a real-world gatherings in San Francisco and Los Angeles at the end of the second quarter–which brought beer, politics, and fun together while raising close to $4,000 online for an offline gathering.They’ve done it again this quarter, expanding their real-world events to San Diego and bringing in new people and groups (such as Drinking Liberally) to the process. Here’s what some of the local bloggers had to say:

"Money always gets attention in polititcs, for better or for worse. But I think getting blogger-types mingling with candidates and local activists is also a really important reason for these events. That’s why working with Drinking Liberally has been so helpful. We really had a great commonality of interests with DL, and it’s been really helpful for both sides." -Brian Leubitz, Calitics

"I think my experience in San Diego has been different than SF or LA in that there’s no base of blogging here.  It’s a red area in general, and for the most part folks are still discovering how to use the internet as a political tool. For me, in an area like this, it seemed more appropriate to try and develop the online/offline connections and try to blur the distinctions a bit, which I think worked pretty well.  I’ve been to both sorts of events and they’re both vital, but I think that the real growth comes from sucking in people who can barely turn on a computer but still know their activism.  We need their experience and they need our megaphone." -Lucas O’Connor, Calitics

These efforts have raised $10,000 not only for candidates in California, but also for the recently formed Calitics state and federal PACs. That’s right — state blogs with Political Action Committees.  And they aren’t alone…

VirginiaRaising Kaine, one of Virginia’s oldest and largest blogs, is among the first blogs to have formed a state PAC to support and advance their efforts at the state level. With their state legislative elections held in odd-numbered years, the Virginia blogging community is already in high gear for critical elections that are less than six weeks away. So far this year, they have raised over $22,000 through ActBlue for candidates endorsed through a process that involved their site’s readers as well the editors. Raising Kaine’s prolific fundraising and their choice to endorse led to a change in how candidates interacted with the state’s blogosphere:

"I think we can say that candidates became more aware of us, and we were able to use our ActBlue fundraising platform to create incentives for candidates to engage with us.  I’m thinking specifically about our primary endorsement process, in which almost every candidate in the races we targeted participated in a live-blog, posted diaries, or participated in blogtalk debates. -Lowell Feld, Raising Kaine

The Virginia scene is a diverse and active one with a hot U.S. Senate race for a second cycle in a row. Their success have been an inspiration to another southern state which is looking to become the next Virginia.

Texas– Home to one of the largest state blogging communities in the country, the Texas bloggers at Burnt Orange Report, Texas Kaos, and Off the Kuff  and dozens of other blogs have made waves of late. After successfully drafting a U.S. Senate candidate to oppose Republican John Cornyn, they’ve been an active part of the state-wide effort that’s raised tens of thousands of dollars online through ActBlue this quarter.

Some of the state’s bloggers have gone further by banding together to form the TexBlog PAC.  Its mission is to connect online and offline activism in support of Democratic efforts to take back the Texas House, which, with last month’s party switch, is only 6 seats away from being a reality.

"By launching TexBlog PAC, Texas bloggers are taking online communication to the next level by showing quantifiable organizing skills.  Bloggers from all over the state have solidified their position and reputation with groups like the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the Texas Democratic Party.  Within the first two months, the Republican Party has already gone on the offensive by referring to us as an echo chamber that is unable to mobilize anything or anyone.  Because of these absurd attacks, the Democratic House Leader Jim Dunnam, has stood by us in the press and showed himself to be a friend of the texroots." -Matt Glazer, Burnt Orange Report

Matt and his fellow bloggers organized a real world fundraising event in Austin this week that drew over 150 attendees, a dozen state representatives, and sponsorships from various statewide organizations inside and outside of the Party. Including funds raised online through ActBlue, this hybrid offline/online effort netted over $10,000.

This effort is a great example of state blogging communities uniting with establishment and reform movements towards a common goal. Taking online energy to power offline connections will hopefully lead to more efforts in which various groups can find ways to work together that they may not have thought of before.

Connecticut– The northeastern United States proved last fall that it was tired of Republicans–moderate and conservative alike. They tossed all of their remaining GOP Congressional members save one: Chris Shays. This year, Connecticut bloggers led by contributors to CT Local Politics & MyLeftNutmeg, have rallied behind Democrat Jim Himes in hopes to make New England’s House delegation entirely blue in 2008.

Last week, the Himes campaign in conjunction with the area’s local bloggers promoted their ActBlue End-of Quarter Blograiser & Pub Quiz. Collecting contributions both online and at the door, this was another example of bringing online activists and supporters together at on offline event.

"We’re leaving no stone unturned asking for the support of bloggers, CT politicians, 4thCD Democrats, progressive organizations, and anyone else we can think of.  My hope is that this will be the first of many quarterly blograisers for Jim Himes.  After 2008 I’d like to keep them going for other candidates." -Melissa Ryan, CT Local Politics

Using Facebook and Party2Win in conjunction with an ActBlue fundraising page has allowed the campaign to connect various communities and cross-promote the event. The campaign helped to unite the netroots and grassroots with the elected officials and donors at the event, which should create great opportunities to network, share ideas, and build trust. In the end, over 40 people attended and close to $4,000 was raised.

My point in highlighting these efforts (and there are plenty more ready and waiting) is that the online community needs to take advantage of offline resources to further our collective agenda. The power of the netroots exists not only in our online networks and resources, but also by combining those efforts with offline activism. The state level netroots, dominated by activists tied into local scene, are key players and leaders in this new trend. Making use of ActBlue to track their fundraising, they are showing their power, challenging the media’s perceptions, and giving new depth to online activism.

That spells big change for the future of politics.

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