The Netroots part in bailout battle

Even before today’s vote in the House to pass the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, Netroots activists knew the battle was lost and were beginning to look back at the past couple of weeks to see where we stood and what we had learned that might be useful in future campaigns.

I’m taking some small comfort in some of the post-vote analysis that suggest we changed the landscape, and some of the rules, even in defeat. Very small comfort, but still, better than focusing on the idiocy and greed that created and supported this “crap sandwich.” (And do these people look like they’re gagging on it?)

At Huffington Post, Micah Sifrey of techPresident, asked “After the Wall St. Bailout: More Plutocracy, or the Rise of Net-Powered Politics?”

[…] we are on the verge of a revolution in participation in government, powered by new technology that is making it possible for many more of us to connect together and have a meaningful voice in the process. The bailout bill, and the process by which it is being jammed through Congress, is an affront to those democratic values. We can do better. And the vote Monday showed, in nascent form, how the same forces that are eating away at the underpinnings of “broadcast politics,” the capital-intensive way of electing a President whose demise we’ve been chronicling here at techPresident, are also starting to unsettle “business as usual” on Capitol Hill.


I can’t prove this, but I think that the same rise in voter participation that we’re seeing in the explosion of small donors to the presidential campaigns and in the explosion of networked bloggers watch-dogging the media may also be starting to hit Congress. Ordinary people want more of a say in the process, so they’re starting to pool their money and their voices, and they’ve learned–thanks to the Internet–that they can have an impact, certainly on the presidential campaign of the last 18 months.

[…] the process has been a huge shock to the networked public sphere, which is rapidly adapting to all the new realities exposed over the course of the last week. And, as Scott Heiferman of Meetup once said, “the genie of self-organization is out of the bottle.” Critical masses of citizens are coming together around this bailout fight. They’ve swamped Congress’s servers, not only with incoming email messages protesting the vote, but also in searching to get the actual text of the proposed legislation. They’ve swarmed all over metastasizing text of the draft bill (which now contains sections on wool modifications and wooden arrows) and are creating a new expectation, that Members actually read the full bill they are voting on, before they vote. They’re networking together to draft better ideas into life (see Jon Pincus’s effort on MixedInk here and David Sirota’s efforts on OpenLeft here and here. And they’re finding and elevatin a new array of economist-bloggers, who are filling an information vacuum left by the mainstream media’s embrace of the basic assumptions of the Bush-Paulson-Pelosi approach to the crisis.

On Thursday, Ari Melber of The Nation wrote in “Net Backlash Hinders Bailout

Websites of all stripes are brimming with intense opposition to the plan. Bailout talk dominated the blogopshere this week. References to the measure hit a staggering 14,000 per day at its peak, for the vote on Monday, according to the blog search engine (By comparison, references to “Obama,” an international Web sensation, average about 8,000 per day.) On Capitol Hill, the high volume of constituent e-mail against the bailout has computers on the brink of crashing–literally. Congress temporarily banned e-mail to representatives because its website,, was about to go down. On Tuesday, a House official told members that the unusual step was “temporarily necessary to ensure that Congressional websites are not completely disabled by the millions of e-mails flowing into the system.”

The vast majority of e-mails are against the bailout, according to politicians who have disclosed estimates. Senator Sherrod Brown said in a newspaper interview that a whopping 95 percent of his e-mail opposed the measure and “nearly all” of Senator Barbara Boxer’s e-mail was against the bill, according to her staff.

“What happened this week online has been far more spontaneous than organized,” said blogger David Sirota, author of The Uprising, a recent book about the “populist revolt” against Wall Street and Washington. “Many of the organizational players actually stayed on the sidelines, but the Internet became a real outlet for activists and the public to vent its outrage to Congress,” he told The Nation. Groups like U.S. Action tapped into that sentiment, using net and grassroots outreach to quickly organize more than 250 street protests around the country.


Pitted against a united political and media establishment, average voters were outgunned on the bailout battle from the start. If you believed the media and experts last week, the bill was an essential measure headed for speedy passage on Monday. It was another one of those inevitable, bipartisan solutions–crafted on Wall Street, sold on K Street, purchased in the Capitol and relentlessly promoted back in the Midtown Manhattan broadcast studios–with no role for the public who would foot the bill. The web helped people storm the debate, rallying opposition to buck two branches of government and shock the markets.

David Sirota (author of The Uprising, which I’m reading at the moment) was one of those spearheading the Netroots opposition, and championing a progressive alternative bill, through his own blog, his syndicated column and at OpenLeft. Today, as the smoke was still clearing (and he was about to log off for a brief rest), he tried to access what happened and how we move forward for the inevitable future battles to restore democracy and stave off the forces of elitism, imperialism and fascism in this country.

[…] this last week and a half could be one of the progressive blogosphere/Netroots foundational moments. Most major progressive organizations (though not all) stayed out of the debate over the bailout – a humiliating and disturbing display of putting their partisan affinities over their mission’s movement goals, even in the face of the most important economic legislation in a half century.

The same can’t be said for the blogosphere/Netroots – and I think we had a huge impact in a way that made the fight against this bailout our first truly major – and potentially transformative – fight on an economic issue.

We’ve had formative fights on national security (Iraq) and civil liberties (FISA), but this is our first fight at such a high level on an economic issue. And let’s be clear: this was unlike the fights we’ve had on other economic issues like Social Security and taxes because we actually took a real leadership role. And sure, maybe we were only able to assume that leadership role because of the vacuum (ie. we were among the only progressive movement actors really fighting back in a cohesive way). But the reasons for our prominence and leadership are less important than the reality – we played a big role, and if that helps sharpen us and toughen us for the future economic fights ahead, then it was a fight worth having because this bailout isn’t going to solve our economic problems (it may even make them worse) – and that means the fights on economic issues are just beginning.

Like Sirota, I’m very disappointed with some so-called progressive organizations’ failure to bring their membership into action in this fight. Yes, I’m looking at YOU, Eli Pariser (of I, for one, won’t be forgetting it.

Two groups that did all they could were True Majority/US Action (founded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s) and Campaign for America’s Future.