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Saturday, September 16, 2006

the politics of Peter Daou's invite list

Sometime earlier this month Peter Daou, a leading Democratic online writer and organizer (and current blog advisor to Hillary Clinton) organized a bloggers lunch where fourteen Democratic bloggers met with former President Bill Clinton in his offices in New York City.

For any progressive blogger worth their salt this was a kind of 'dream date:' lunch with Bill Clinton and a group of peers for a freewheeling debate on the issues of the day two months out from a major election.

According to the participants the event went really well. You can read the reports on their blogs:

  • Christy Hardin-Smith of Firedoglake covered the meeting here
  • Chris Bowers wrote about it on MyDD here
  • and Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft's rundown can be found here.

  • Now, as word of the Clinton lunch...and photos of it...spread throughout the blogosphere, a question arose: "Where were the bloggers of color?"

    First, blogger terrance of the Republic of T (who self-describes as "Black, Gay, Father, Vegetarian, Buddhist, and Liberal") wrote a piece on September 13th entitled Write Your own Caption which featured photos of the event's participants and asked, "Notice Anything?" His readers did. The first comment noted:

    Well, It may not really be a caption, but the first thing I thought was...Dang Bill! Where are the black people. I know you noticed.

    Next, linking to terrance's post, Liza Sabater of Daily Gotham and Culture Kitchen, followed up that question with a post entitled: To  Peter Daou and the DailyKos Crowd... where she asked:
    What does it mean though that there are 20 bloggers invited to this lunch and not one is black or latino? What does it mean for this group of bloggers to be patting themselves on the backs for being with Clinton when they are all in Harlem and not one of them is a person of color? What does it mean for these people to be there and have not one of them raise this issue in their blogs?

    I think terrance and Liza's questions aren't just good questions. I think the point they make isn't just a good point that one can take or leave like we're discussing the finer points of trade tariffs or a Cable TV bill. Let me put it in no uncertain terms, if the progressive blogosphere can't come up with real answers to these questions and a plan to make sure this never happens again, then the blogosphere isn't worth a damn. This isn't a minor blip or an ego thing as some have portrayed it; this is a wake up call.

    The irony of a soul food lunch at Clinton's Harlem offices served to a group of future leaders of the Democratic Party that did not include African Americans and Latinos is too rich and too bitter not to note. To be frank, it echoes in some ways the experience at Yearlykos in Las Vegas where the dailykos community learned just how racially diverse we in attendence...weren't. For myself, I can't write a post titled "time to get real" one day, and then play "let's pretend the invisibility of bloggers of color at the Clinton event was okay" the next.

    Friends, we are better than this. This is 2006, not 1953.

    When we blog, our readers cannot see the color of our skin tone. That is true. It defines this online world. But that is no excuse that bloggers of color should be invisible at a meeting of our leaders with Bill Clinton in Harlem...or anywhere for that matter.

    Now, there were 14 great bloggers at that event. All of them leaders and writers I respect and count as colleagues. They didn't plan the event. They didn't draw up the guest list. But somebody did. And, yeah, that somebody does deserve some blame. There needs to be some accountabilty here.

    Peter Daou, the event's organizer, has a letter in response to Liza that she published at her blog. It reads like this:

    Hi Liza -
    several bloggers were invited who couldn't attend, including Oliver Willis (who you didn't mention in your post). Also, I was told that more events like that are planned, and there will be an opportunity to invite bloggers who didn't attend the first one.
    So respectfully, you may have reached a conclusion without all the facts.


    P.S. Feel free to publish this email as an update to your post.

    I have more than a little problem with that non-answer. You see, we're in the home stretch of a very important election season and when I look around me at my colleagues and fellow Democratic activists here in Oakland I don't think that "opportunities in the future" cuts it. I don't think that mentioning by name the one person of color who was invited but couldn't make it is a proper or remotely adequate way to address this mistake. (I'm pretty sure that Senator Clinton would agree.)

    I have a sincere message to Peter Daou: Peter, straight up, you led the way into this situation, now is the time for you to start leading the way out. In turn, all of us need to answer some questions. How did this happen?  How can we make sure it doesn't happen again?

    With or without a lone African-American, the face of the Democratic Party does not look like that picture. Every single last one of us on the blogs knows it. We can't be the party to take on Senator George Allen for his racial slurs one day and then ignore our own hypcrisy the next. It may well be, as we learned at Yearlykos, that the liberal blogosphere is significantly more white than the Democratic Party at large. Our response to that challenge should not be to shrug it off. Our job, in fact, is to address it.

    We are better than this and we need to take this moment as a wake up call. We need to start a discussion that does not stop till we've built structures that get beyond this BS. That won't be easy. That will involve clashes of egos and words and agendas; everything worth doing does. But, friends, as Democrats, that is our job.

    We bloggers are only as good as our words. If we can't take steps to learn from this mistake, we aren't worth the words we type.

    How we rise to this challenge will be a yardstick that we measure ourselves by. Terrance and Liza have posed the challenge and the question: how will the blogosphere respond?


    • As if many of those in that group would care. They didn't when the question was asked, "Where are the women bloggers?", why would they with this?

      Please! The majority are only concerned with themselves and their own little world.

      By Blogger Ang, at 9:06 PM  

    • I think you're right. It sometimes seems like a white guy thing (I'm saying that as a white guy).

      One thing I noticed is that while the frontpage blogger list at DKos is pretty diverse, the Netroots Endorsed List is not so much. It's practically a list that looks like we were still in the 60's or 70's. All white guys with one black guy and two women looking like obvious minorities. They seem almost like alibi candidates.

      When the last call for nominations came up a lot of commenters asked for at least one woman to be added. And many, many great candidates would come to mind. Angie Paccione, Patty Wetterling, Patricia Madrid are just a few good examples. All they added was another three white guys.

      As for the attending bloggers' reactions: of course no liberal wants to be called out on something like this. So, their reactions do not surprise me.

      By Blogger Sven, at 1:53 AM  

    • honestly, I don't think there was any racist agenda at play here. I think that it was just a mistake that can easily happen.

      I'm not sure of the percentage, but I'm willing to bet that I'm in the vast minority of bloggers (I'm hispanic) and that most are white. And while having no bloggers of color (sounds a bit 1950s Southish, saying it that way...) present was somethign that could have been avoided, I seriously doubt that it was deliberate.

      Of course, if i'm wrong in this, feel free to tell me so.

      By Blogger LP, at 11:47 AM  

    • Great point LP. Agreed.

      I don't think there was a deliberate or "racist" intent here at all. Not in the least. Peter Daou makes clear in his email to Liza that he had invited Oliver Willis.

      I acknowledge that.

      My problem with that email is that it doesn't acknowledge that Terrance and Liza are in their rights to ask questions about the fact that the group that WAS present and DID get to attend the meeting and DID publish a photo online for everyone to see was visibly, at least to appearances, not racially diverse.

      Further, since Liza and Terrance hadn't been included in the information leading up to the event...and the bloggers who DID attend hadn't chosen, at that point, to address the issue of the make up of those in attendence...it strikes me as unfair for Peter to turn it around and say: "You didn't have all the facts."

      In my view, especially in light of the vitriol let loose against Liza at firedoglake, the public response from Peter and the bloggers present should have replied to Terrance and Liza and said:

      "You're right. That's not an acceptable result. It wasn't intentional, but, regardless, that kind of outcome is something we don't intend to repeat again. It took guts to bring that up. Let's work together to move forward."

      In my mind, there are multiple failures with this event. Failures in communication and in connectedness in the first place. Failures in outreach and inclusion in the execution. (I still don't think a lone African American would have been a sufficient outcome.) And failures in defensiveness and needless bomb throwing on multiple fronts afterwards.

      Fwiw, I think your point of view, LP, is spot on and wise. The liberal blogosphere is disproportionately "white" and that is going to affect events like this and Yearlykos. For sure.

      My question, and the point I should have made more constructively in the post above, is what are we doing going forward?

      From what Liza writes, it's clear that Peter Daou has aggressively pursued communication and exchange of opinion with her. Kudos to him. Liza, for her part, has apologized to Peter for aspects of her post. Kudos to her.

      For myself, I think a couple things are crucial:

      1. improving the infrastructure of communication among bloggers.

      2. making sure that the largest liberal blog event: yearlykos...reflect an improvement in inclusion and representation next time around.

      Those are two goals/outcomes that are bigger than the issue of the Clinton meeting. And, to be frank, I am quite sure that future Clinton meeting will sing with the diverse voices of our coalition.

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 12:16 PM  

    • Insofar as the blogosphere's political work looks like this lunch, we are not the future of the Democratic party. Those of us located in California should already know this: the future of progressive politics is Black, Latino, and Asian with whites as allies. That is how we Democrats assemble majorities in this state, even though the electorate is still majority white and will be until around 2050.

      The transition to a party run by the people who will be its base is the job of progressives -- nobody else is going to do it and if we don't do it, we lose.

      By Blogger janinsanfran, at 11:47 PM  

    • Are you serious? The king of all blogs is hispanic, well half hispanic, and really who the fuck cares? It is time for us to really put this shit aside like you said in the online world we do not know what color each others skin is.

      Besides, fuck Bill Clinton's triangulating ass, Daou was trying to make nice with the blogs that don't much care for Hillary and he used Bill to do it.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:32 PM  

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