The major newspapers and news magazines seem to have just discovered political "bloggers" (writers with their own Web sites, or "weblogs"). The old-media pundits often depict these "new media" upstarts as a threat to the established order of things.
Despite these bashings from the MSM (blog lingo for the "mainstream
media"), political bloggers really represent the renewal of citizen democracy in all its imperfect, messy, loud, impassioned splendor. These people are concerned about the future of this nation beyond the "horse race" campaign coverage.
You can meet several political bloggers (along with assorted friends, colleagues, and non-writing citizens) at the local chapter of "Drinking Liberally," a national, semi-organized organization that brings the online conversations of the "blogosphere" into real face-to-face meetings. There are currently 162 DL chapters nationwide, including seven in western Washington. (Find them at drinkingliberally.org.)
Seattle's Drinking Liberally meetups occur every Tuesday, around 8-10 p.m., at the Montlake Alehouse, 2307 24th Ave. E. You have to be of drinking age to attend, but you don't have to order any alcohol.
Most meetups begin with informal chit-chat among whoever shows up. Shortly after 9 p.m., a small subset of the gang gathers in a corner with microphones and a digital audio mixer to record a "podcast," or Internet radio show. You can hear each week's episode at podcastingliberally.com. (Warning: Strong language can often be heard on the show, though it's not guaranteed.)
Here are some of the regulars on the podcast: David "Goldy" Goldstein, who's parlayed his appearances on the podcast into a once-a-week hosting gig on KIRO-AM. Geov Parrish, who's managed to juggle three or four volunteer independent-media gigs while losing paid positions at the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Mollie Bradley-Martin, self-proclaimed "(Liberal) Girl Next Door," whose calm demeanor belies her ability to Bush-bash with the best of them. And Post-Intelligencer political columnist Joel Connelly, who can be even more cantankerous on the microphone than he is in print.
The non-microphoned DL regulars include some single-issue activists, like the guy whose wife works at the threatened-with-closure North Seattle Health Clinic. There are also guys who follow the minutiae of campaigns the way other guys follow the minutiae of baseball statistics.
The other side?
Every so often, folks attending Drinking Liberally bring up the question about what a "Drinking Conservatively" meetup might be like. Most recently, the topic came up as an impolite response to U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick's DUI confessions. As you might imagine, the talk veered toward shamelessly tacky snipes at McGavick's past personal tragedies, though it never got as extreme as conservative commentator Ann Coulter's "jokes" about wishing her opponents were murdered.
In both the main meeting and the show, the conversations can get hot and heavy, or cool and detached. Some weeks the joint's jam-packed. Other weeks it's not.
One thing's been consistent thus far: Women are still outnumbered at the meetups. That could change, and soon, as DL grows beyond its weblog-based origins to attract a wider range of forward-thinking residents.
Already, politicians and political activists are finding their way to the meetings. They usually make short, informal speeches. They try to encourage the liberal faithful to get out there, into the real world beyond bits and bytes, supporting candidates and causes with their labor and their cash.
One candidate has become the particular favorite of the Drinking Liberally crowd and of the local liberal bloggers. Darcy Burner, who's running in the Eastside's Eighth Congressional District against incumbent Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, has benefited from online fundraising campaigns. Bloggers have exhorted their readers, both inside and outside of Burner's district, to support her drive to help bring the Democrats back to control of Congress. In return, Burner has shown up at both the Seattle and Eastside editions of Drinking Liberally, thanking her online fans.
So far, blogger-endorsed "netroots" candidates have won a few surprising primary-election victories. The most notable of these was Ned Lamont's bid for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.
But can the netroots get a candidate elected, not just nominated?
We'll find out on November 7. Which, as a Tuesday, happens to be a Drinking Liberally meeting night.
(Clark Humphrey's column appears in the first issue of each month. His newest book, Vanishing Seattle, will be available in stores in December. He can be reached at editor@capitolhill times.com.)