A Diversity of Opinion, if Not Opinionators At the Yearly Kos Bloggers' Convention, a Sea of Middle-Aged White Males By Jose Antonio Vargas
CHICAGO, Aug. 5—It's Sunday, day 4 of Yearly Kos, the major conference for progressive bloggers, and Gina Cooper, the confab's organizer-in-chief, surveys the ballroom of the massive McCormick Place Convention Center. A few hundred remaining conventioneers are having brunch, dining on eggs, bagels and sausage.
Seven of the eight Democratic presidential candidates have paid their respects this weekend, and some 200 members of the credentialed press have filed their stories. A mere curiosity just two years ago, the progressive blogosphere has gone mainstream. But Cooper sees a problem.
"It's mostly white. More male than female," says the former high school math and science teacher turned activist. "It's not very diverse."
There goes the open secret of the netroots, or those who make up the community of the Internet grass-roots movement.
For all the talk about the increasing influence of this growing group—"We are a community . . . a movement . . . an institution," Cooper said in a speech Saturday night—what gets scant attention is its demography. While the Huffington Post and Fire Dog Lake, both founded by women, are two of the most widely read blogs, the rock stars are mostly men, and many women bloggers complain of sexism and harassment in the blogosphere.
Walking around McCormick Place during the weekend, it became clear that only a handful of the 1,500 conventioneers—bloggers, policy experts, party activists—are African American, Latino or Asian. Of about 100 scheduled panels and workshops, less than a half-dozen dealt directly with women or minority issues. ...
Historically, the progressive movement has included a myriad of special-interest and single-issue groups, and the challenge has always been to find common ground. The same is true on the Internet, but with an added twist. The Internet, after all, is not a "push" medium like television, where information flows out, but a "pull" medium, where people are drawn in.
Build a liberal site such as Daily Kos, as the Persian Gulf War veteran and former Republican Markos "Kos" Moulitsas Zuniga did five years ago, and bloggers either join the discussion or not. For two years now, Moulitsas has lent his name to the conference. But on Saturday, Cooper announced that next year the event will be called "Netroots Nation."
Cooper is worried about generating more "inclusion," using the word no less than six times in 15 minutes. ...
It's hard to think of another movement that has affected politics in such a short period of time, and the blogging culture is an informal, friendly community that has no one leader or single issue—except, perhaps, strong opposition to the war in Iraq. Last year's Blogads Reader Survey found that the median political blog reader is a 43-year-old male who has an annual family income of $80,000, and judging by the number of middle-aged men who attended one panel after the next here, it's hard to argue with that. ...
Stoller half-jokingly says that the netroots community is full of "white liberal men," then quickly points out that Moulitsas is part Latino. (The other half is Greek.)
A lot of the influential segments of American society are almost as white male-dominated as in 1960, especially those where affirmative action doesn't apply, such as at liberal netroots conferences or as CEOs of Fortune 500 firms, which are about 99% white.
Political blogging, for example, is overwhelmingly dominated by white males, plus the occasional upper-caste Indian. Writing Hollywood movies might be more white male dominated than in 1960—whites still make up 94% of big movie screenwriters, and the male to female ratio apppears to have increased as action became more important than dialogue.
In general, white males still tend to most of the interesting new things in the world.
So why are semi-elite non-quota organizations staying white male-dominated? Here are some hypotheses, focusing on the liberal netroots issue, but more widely applicable as well. Of course, they are, based on statistical generalizations. (I realize that thinking statistically is politically incorrect, but the universe works stochastically):
Going to a netroots conference, for instance, probably strikes most black guys as something for particularly lame white nerds.
What's particularly striking is the under-representation of Hispanics, who now make up 1-7th of the residents of the country, in just about any quasi-elite organization, other than legislatures where the Voting Rights Act mandates the creation of majority-minority districts, and other affirmative-action influenced entities.
That Matthew Yglesias is on the verge of being the best-known Spanish-surnamed pundit in the country is bizarrely ironic.