Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the Netroots

At Open Left, Matt Stoller is picking a fight with the Young Democrats.  At issue is a letter sent by YDA to its membership, thanking the Democratic Congress for achieving progress on many issues of concern to young voters (as cataloged in a report by Speaker Pelosi).   Stoller's issue is that the letter was sent at the same time that the Democratic Senate was Sista-Soujaing MoveOn (and by proxy, the anti-war movement) for an ad it published leading up to testimony by General Petraeus.  

Stoller's beef is that this demonstrates a lack of coherent strategy on the part of YDA, and that their "letter to congress" represents an unhealthily sycophantic allegiance to the Democratic Party.  In a pretty over-the-top move, he's calling for their funding to get cut.  That's a huge overreaction and Stoller's argument is narrow in that it is limited to this one event and misses the fact that, while many YDA members are against the war, YDA as an organization has different goals and objectives that only partially overlap with those of MoveOn.

The Young Democrats main objective is not to carry water for MoveOn, but rather to engage young people in Democratic politics, keep those members excited and engaged, and to push the Democratic Party to pay attention to young people.  This has been unphill battle for YDA, and for many youth institutions.  It's hip and popular to talk about the power of Millennials and the civic engagement of young voters these days, but even a year ago most Democratic Party insiders were extremely skeptical as to the value and reliability of the youth vote.  Despite our contributions and gains in 2006, that is still the case in some areas where YDA chapters fight with the local parties.  

Earlier today, I spoke with Tony Cani, the Political Director for the Young Democrats about the issue.  

Cani acknowledged that the lack of progress on the war is disappointing, but, given the mission of the Young Democrats, it was important to send a message to their members about the many positive policy outcomes of their work (in helping elect a Democratic congress, and in particular on the Cost of College Reduction Act).  The fact that the Speaker's report  specifically targeted young voters was in itself a big victory for those who are organizing Millennials on behalf of the Democratic Party, and one that can serve as a strong motivational tool for members of the Young Democrats who will be out walking canvasses, making phone calls, and pulling levers at the Ballot box for Demcorats in 2008. These are important developments if your goal is to strengthen the power of young people within the Democratic Party.

That said, YDA made a communications gaffe here.  I don't want to deny or minimize that.  This was a strategic error in so far as YDA should be on board with the progressive movement, and supporting MoveOn should be a no-brainer for an organization whose constituency is vehemently anti-war.  But this incident is part of a larger problem: There is very little cross over and coordination between the netroots and progressive youth institutions.  Not just on the war, but in general.  This lack of coordination is the real concern here, and we're not going to make any headway on it by having the blogosphere muttering "damn those idiot kids" or by pulling funding from a youth organization that has done excellent work in turning out young voters and raising the profile of youth within the Democratic Party establishment, has made huge strides in building infrastructure for young people in Democratic politics across the country, and begun to revive what was long a stagnant and moribund brand among young people.

Right now, we in the blogosphere shouldn't be pointing fingers, but rather asking ourselves why so few young people participate in our online discussions and why this gap exists between progressive youth institutions and the netroots.  

Right now, youth are clamoring for change in Washington and flocking to the candidacy of Barack Obama.  Yet very few of these young progressives seem to realize or care that such a movement for change began years ago precisely with the rise of MoveOn and the Netroots.  Why?  One reason might be tone and tactics - young voters today, while they support Democrats by large margins, are tired of partisanship, and the blogs are engaged in partisan bloodsport with the GOP and recalcitrant Democrats like those who voted against MoveOn.  In contrast, Obama's "post-partisan" rhetoric appeals deeply to Millennials and they would rather throw their weight behind that effort than throw their lot in with the bloggers.  Another reason, suggested by Cani during our conversation, is that the blogosphere itself, despite its open forums, may till be too linear a medium for a demographic that prefers much more open and social forms of online communication.  

Whatever the reason, both sides need to do a better job reaching out and coordinating with one another.  Bloggers like Stoller and others who are nodes in the netroots communications network should be asking how they can make sure that groups like the Young Democrats are on message next time  something like the MoveOn resolution fight emerges.  And groups like YDA need to do a much better job of monitoring what's going on with the netroots on a wide variety of issues, not just the war, and connecting their members to that activism.  If we are not all talking to one another, there's very little chance that our message will be strategically coordinated.  

Tags: Blogosphere, Millennials, progressive movement, Young Democrats, youth vote (all tags)



I'm a blogger and part of YDA, I support Edwards

YDA is not a policy based organization.  It does have a policy making committee that is based on who gets elected at each convention.  However, the MAIN function of YDA is to turn out the vote for all Democrats by getting young people involved with the Democratic party.  The YDA is actually quite new in it's ability to function in that way.  This is mostly due to the FUNDING that they are now getting allowing them to employ full-time organizers in select states.  I believe this funding comes from the DNC.  They are not an organization that is likely to strongly oppose DNC or the leadership in congress.  That is where they are funded.

by jsamuel 2007-09-21 10:02AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm a blogger and part of YDA, I support Edwar

YDA money does not come from the DNC, which makes Stoller's comment about "sycophantic support" more ludicrous.  

YDA broke off from the DNC in 2002 and became a 527 precisely so they could criticize the organization if they felt it necessary.  

In fact, they ran a campaign against the DNC not more than 4 or 5 months ago because the state parties were short changing youth representation in their delegate selection process.

by Mike Connery 2007-09-21 10:06AM | 0 recs
thanks for the correction

I can't remember where they get the money for the full-time workers though...  is it donated?

by jsamuel 2007-09-21 10:17AM | 0 recs
Re: thanks for the correction

Democracy Alliance, the Lewis's . . . all the big names that you read about in Bai's book.  Plus they are growing a small-donor contribution base from their members to become more self-sustainable.

by Mike Connery 2007-09-21 12:03PM | 0 recs
I think youre a bright fellow

but my man, are you telling me that ALL YOUNG DEMS are supporting Obama?

What about all the nice young Dems I saw at a Hillary event two nights ago?

by holden caulfield 2007-09-21 01:03PM | 0 recs
Re: I think youre a bright fellow

Not at all.  I'm suggesting that the young progressives who are "clamoring for a change in Washington" and an end to politics as usual are lining up behind Obama.  that's his rhetoric, not Hillary's.

by Mike Connery 2007-09-21 01:14PM | 0 recs
my friend,

I am surely "clamoring for a change in Washington" and sure as hell want - and an end to politics as usual - and thats why Im pro Hillary.

Wanna turn things around?

Lets elect a woman for a change.

Post Feb, that will be the motto.

by holden caulfield 2007-09-21 01:20PM | 0 recs
Re: I think youre a bright fellow

I'm 25, twice-elected to different positions within the Democratic Party, and very strongly pro-Edwards.  The people that I know that are wrapped up in the Hillary and Obama camps are people looking for a job with the campaign once my state becomes relevant.

The young people in whom I see the most passion and least cynicism are the other Edwards folks around this college town.

by Peter from WI 2007-09-23 06:36PM | 0 recs
Re: I think youre a bright fellow

I'm not talking about insiders and job seekers.  I"m talking about volutneers.  Those for whom this is likely their one engagement in politics for the next four years (if not longer).

by Mike Connery 2007-09-25 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

"but rather asking ourselves why so few young people participate in our online discussions and why this gap exists between progressive youth institutions and the netroots."

As a young person (25) who participates in YOUR discussion, I would say maybe its because bloggers like Stoller and Armstrong are too busy worrying about their hurt feelings over the condemnation of the MoveOn ad then about votes on ending the Iraq war, preventing a war with Iran, etc. Get over your own egos and self-justification. We young people respect you, but we want you to lead on the issues, not bicker about who disrespected who or called who what name.

by thenew 2007-09-21 10:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

As another young person (23), Im going to go ahead and agree with you.  

Its telling how little the blogs mentioned the passage and signing of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which was a huge victory that will affect millions of young people, in comparison to the MoveOn BS, which affects exactly 0 young people. 070905WhoBenefitsOnePager.pdf

Stoller would rather have the YDA send out an email whining about his bruised ego over a resolution of no meaning than send out information to their members that one of their key issues was addressed by Congress and now signed into law.

I don't think the problem is that YDA is filled with DNC sycophants, its that Stoller is upset that there aren't more netroots sycophants.

by WellstoneDem 2007-09-21 10:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

What are you making up I said?

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-09-21 05:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive

ummm Young Democrats - mainly in college... did Stoller miss the memo about the college loan bill that is going to increase pell grants and cut interest on loans that was just passed???

I am sure their letter coincides with that bill, and has nothing to do with the incident.

by sepulvedaj3 2007-09-21 10:26AM | 0 recs

I am a member of the netroots and a member of YDA. Why more young Democrats are not involved with the blogosphere is a mystery to me. In the past, I have introduced young dems to the blogosphere and many of them are immediately hooked. I know of at least one incident where a friend of mine was maliciously attacked by a well known blogger (whose name I will not repeat) for expressing the opinion that said blogger disagreed with. Perhaps some younger voters are alienated by the rough and tumble aspects of blogging. I don't see anything inherently not-youth-oriented about the medium though.

One though that occurs to me is that many of the assumptions and ideas that we hold in the blogoshere are shaped by our narratives about things that happened in the 1980's, the 1990's, and the early 2000's. Some younger voters are completely ignorant about these eras because they were in middle school at the time. While I do think that our narratives about these earlier eras are accurate and are usually well-explained in posts, for many of these voters, politics may as well have started with either the 2000 recount, 9/ll, the Iraq invasion, the 2004 election, Katrina, or the 2006 midterms. The assumptions that we hold about the macro level events in American politics may seem irrelevant to younger people. I don't know.

I definitely don't think that young dems are tired of partisanship. In fact, many of the young dems I know are some of the most partisan people around and want our leadership to act in ways consistent with what the most partisan bloggers suggest. I think the reason young dems gravitate towards Obama and Edwards is that they are both perceived as young and fresh and represent change. It's not that young people don't like Hillary, it's more that they don't identify with her as strongly. It's almost as if young voters see Obama and Edwards more as peers, whereas they see Hillary as belonging to their parents' generation. I don't know if this is precisely what the issue is, but it's something along these lines. Someone should do a poll.

Bloggers should consider tabling and/or having a presence at YDA meetings and conventions. Have any of you ever thought about hosting a workshop or training on blogging 101 or the history of the netroots. I'd be willing to bet good money that if bloggers were physically there at the meetings, youth interest would increase some. I would also recommend that bloggers concentrate their efforts on reaching out to local chapters, particularly the bigger and more established ones. The national organization is good for raising money and chapter networking, but the local chapters are where the boots hit the pavement.

If you want to start somewhere, I'd recommend the Dallas County Young Democrats, since the newly elected YDA President comes from that chapter. And BTW, there's an upcoming meeting in Manchester, NH. Maybe some national bloggers could have a presence there.

by astrodem 2007-09-21 10:33AM | 0 recs
Is there anyone left...

... who Stoller hasn't picked a fight with?

by Vermonter 2007-09-21 11:10AM | 0 recs
good and funny point

by holden caulfield 2007-09-21 12:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

Another reason, suggested by Cani during our conversation, is that the blogosphere itself, despite its open forums, may till be too linear a medium for a demographic that prefers much more open and social forms of online communication.  

this might actually be THE reason. I think that the existence of teh Facebook API for example represents a huge opportunity that has so far gone un-leveraged by the netroots. The blogsphere is dominated by a handful of elite bloggers and is nowhere near as oraganically structured as the ntroots rhetoric would have you believe. I had a critique diary of ActBlue along these lines earlier; it's worth noting that the conservatives are actually ahead of progressives on integration to social networking and embrace of web 2.0.

At som epoint the present model of the blogsphere is going to be an encumbrance rather than an asset. The future is the social graph; we ignore it at our peril.

by azizhp 2007-09-21 11:14AM | 0 recs
At some point?

Now is that point.

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-09-21 11:21AM | 0 recs
Re: At some point?

well, almost. if we as a movement move into the social space, an dthen use the blogsphere's power to amplify and promote that, then the result will be success. I dont think a progressive movement can take hold on fb or myspace by itself; theres just too much other stuff on there. couple teh lateral linkage of a sicial network with the vertical amplifier of the blogsphere though, and you've got something.

Man, all it would take is $60,000 in seed money to pay two crack PHP and SQL programmers to work full time for a year on this. we could have solid apps for facebook rolling out within weeks. Remember the projects at mydd like the Google Bomb? we could do that again as a fb app. thats just one example off the top of my head before i rush out the door to pick up my kid from school; there are hundreds if things we could build links across to if we had that resource in place.

by azizhp 2007-09-21 11:29AM | 0 recs
The attitudes on Move On

displayed by the LEft blogs are beyond ridiculous.

All this worship of Move On is disgusting.

Move On has done nothing but fuck upo this year.

I have to wonder about Stoller on Bowers and all of them on this.

What the fuck is wrong with them?

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-09-21 11:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The attitudes on Move On

This is too funny.

Stoller's beef is that this demonstrates a lack of coherent strategy on the part of YDA, and that their "letter to congress" represents an unhealthily sycophantic allegiance to the Democratic Party.

The freaking Move On sycophant calling someone else a sycophant.

I urge cutting Move On's funding myself.

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-09-21 11:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The attitudes on Move On

You are free to urge a funding cut.  They raise their money from their members.

by Matt Stoller 2007-09-21 12:06PM | 0 recs
Re: The attitudes on Move On


Less money to Move On from its members.

You didn't get that I see.

Keep rolling over for Move On Matt.

by Big Tent Democrat 2007-09-21 03:09PM | 0 recs

Time for MoveOn to get back to being useful.

by Populism2008 2007-09-21 01:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

I didn't argue that the problem is that the Democrats attacked Moveon. I argued that there were lost votes on Iraq, habeas, troop deployments, etc, and that sending letters of support when the Democrats fuck everything up suggests the organization's priorities in its communication department are poor. That's just beyond dispute.

That said, I'm all for better communication.

by Matt Stoller 2007-09-21 11:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

You make a very fair point here, Matt.  Since so much chatter has focused on the MoveOn vote as a focal point for all the other bad votes that happened this week, I conflated them in my head after reading your post.

My bad for misquoting you.

That said, I still think my points all still hold. YDA isn't a  single issue organization and their main purpose isn't even to focus on particular issues but rather to build young voters a space at the table in Democratic politics and build infrastructure for their participation.

All of those goals were served by their "Thank you" campaign.  

Like I said, we need better communication between these two progressive vehicles (netroots and youth groups).

by Mike Connery 2007-09-21 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

"the organization's priorities in its communication department are poor"

Why trumpet a major youth victory when you could just repeat the Matt Stoller message of the day...why oh why can't these kids just get their priorities straight...

by WellstoneDem 2007-09-21 12:07PM | 0 recs
I am a Democrat before anything else

unlike you, I dont believe that I invented sincerity.

Everybody is a sellout compared to you Stoller.


Stop being such a sanctimonious phony.

by holden caulfield 2007-09-21 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

I raked stoller over the coals for this. I totally disagreed with YDA's timing but many of us in the states depend on YDA's funding to do our progressive functions. In Arizona, we usually cause the mods and  conservative dems to cringe. We do DIE-ins, protest bad labor companies, we helped striking miners, elect progressive young democrats to all levels of Gov't. I mean we try and do so much and have accomplished a lot I think over the past 7 years ( of which I've only been involved in about 2 ) that to cut off YDA means cutting us off as well.

Ya know this is so A-Typical of D.C based progressive organiziations. They get so caught up in the drama and B.S and personality conflicts in D.C that they forget that there are 50 states out there that are doing a whole heck of a lot more than they do every day to end the war and their little pissing matches affects us and every day and weekend that we work gives us pretty much righteous standing to be pissed at this guy's actions.

by Dour 2007-09-21 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

The response in Arizona has been great. People are sick of the complaining and really glad to see people taking note of the great things Congress has done, and are happy that YDA is making a point of this. Has Congress done enough? No, that's why this is called a PROGRESS report!

Also, with all that's being said about YDA its important to keep a few things. YDA has changed the way it does business, and Arizona is just one of many examples where YDA's strategy is making a difference. The criticism being made here of YDA as an organization stems from perceptions of years past. Take a look around at our meetings now. The convention in Dallas just a few months ago was the highest attended in YDA history, and the fall conference in New Hampshire will also be very different than the meetings were years ago. Our meetings now are about the trainings and voter contact, and making a positive impact in local communities.

by azyoungdem 2007-09-21 12:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

What I posted in Open Left:

I can understand a blog discussion about the timing or merits of the email, but cutting off funding? Absurd.

Firstly, I think the email was fine, great even. The youth progressive movement worked their asses off to elect a democratic congress and build up orgs like YDA. Yet, all we've been hearing is how awful congress is. Granted, there are areas where that is the case, but I think there also other things the dem congress is doing that are great that we never get to hear about. Here is one of them, and I think it was important for YDA to highlight this.

And I don't think I need to dive further into the funding comment, Stoller is clearly unaware of what YDA is doing around the nation

by tempejoe 2007-09-21 12:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

I agree with tempejoe. Most of what YDA does is at the local level, not the state or national level. The email may have been ill timed, but there is nothing wrong with it per se. Virtually all YDA members are strongly anti-war, but that's not why they are members of YDA. They are in YDA 1) to help elect Democrats and 2) to make sure the Democratic Party has a place at the table for youth. Many YDA members are quite active in other anti-war organizations.

by astrodem 2007-09-21 12:52PM | 0 recs
Stoller is a complete lunatic

He reminds me of why the left has never had any power in America. Like a mad dog barking at everyone and everything, especially his own allies. The master of circular firing squads.

by Populism2008 2007-09-21 01:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

Mike, I agree with your commentary here.  The answer is unfortunately that there is only one established link between the progressive blogosphere and youth institutions- you.  To be honest, most progressive bloggers, and I mean the big ones, seem to care less about youth involvement in the Party.  You regularly deliver commentary on the issue here and at Future Majority, but that means we basically have a"youth issues" blogger instead of a real commitment on behalf of all progressives and Democrats to building the future of our movement.  

Progressive bloggers drive the debate and discussion in progressive and Democratic circles.  If major bloggers on Daily Kos, MyDD, Open Left, and the rest  decided to make an issue of the DNC investing far too little in youth development, action would be taken.  Unfortunately it's often way too difficult to seek an audience for that message.    

by scottforamerica 2007-09-21 10:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the N

Also, Matt....if we really want the progressive agenda to succeed we need to BOTH hold the Democrats in power accountable AND get the message about about their accomplishments.  We have not spent nearly enough time on that.  We need to train our activists to respond to the thinking that most Americans are expressing that Democrats aren't accomplishing anything.

by scottforamerica 2007-09-21 10:33PM | 0 recs


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