Labor Joins Bloggers, Activists and Decision-Makers Working Toward Progress at Netroots Nation

By Rebecca Greenberg, California Labor Federation

Let’s face it – in this day and age, progress is more tech-driven than ever before. More and more forward-thinking advocates and activists are enhancing their work and broadening their campaigns through new media, blogs, email, mobile and online tools in order to reach out to new supporters and spread their message to a broader audience.

That’s the impetus for the annual Netroots Nation conference, a broad gathering of progressive bloggers and activists from across the nation, most of whom have dedicated their lives to finding new ways to use technology to support progressive causes and campaigns. This year’s Netroots Nation conference drew upwards of 2,400 participants (including this blogger) to the Minneapolis Convention Center on last week, where we spent three intense days participating in panel discussions, workshops, trainings, rallies and brainstorming sessions, and interacting with some of the most inspiring progressive leaders of our time, including former Sen. Russ Feingold, Sen. Al Franken and Van Jones (to name a few). Each speaker underscored the value of the tech-savvy Netroots community when it comes to advancing the progressive agenda.

The growing connection between Labor and the Netroots was evident throughout the three-day event. It’s clear that this partnership is critical to helping progressive candidates win, and more importantly, advancing a true progressive economic agenda that will help to rebuild America’s middle class.

At the California Labor Federation, we are proud to have a strong partnership with the Netroots community statewide. That relationship was on full display at Friday’s California Caucus, co-sponsored by the California Labor Federation and the Courage Campaign. The strategy session included top national and state bloggers, progressive activists and leaders. Even Rep. John Garamendi dropped by to say a few words.

The convergence of technology and politics is something California's unions have placed an emphasis on in recent years. We’re among those on the cutting edge of campaign technology, particularly when it comes to microtargeting – a tactic that allows us to identify and reach out to likeminded voters in key districts and demographics, in a targeted , highly effective, cost-efficient manner.  California Labor’s microtargeting program, which we’ve dubbed “Million More Voters,” played a pivotal role in victories in the California governor’s race and down ballot in the November 2010 election. In the governor’s race, Jerry Brown defeated Meg Whitman by 13 points, despite being outspent 5-1 by Whitman, who ran the single most expensive gubernatorial campaign in US history.

Despite Whitman’s obscene spending, California was one of the few states in the nation that was able to stay true blue during the year of the red tide – and that’s partly due to the sophisticated targeting and communications of the “Million More Voters” program. Microtargeting allowed us to spend smarter, so instead of blanketing the airwaves with a shotgun approach of expensive, non-stop advertising that resonated with few (yes, we’re talking about you Meg Whitman), we were able to directly reach out to targeted swing voters who are likely to support workers’ issues, using messages and paid media that resonate best with them. 

We know we’re not the only ones who are up against huge money candidates, especially in the post-Citizens United era of unlimited corporate campaign contributions. That’s why programs like “Million More Voters”, which help progressives get more bang for their buck, are of the utmost importance in the coming election cycles. Labor’s microtargeting and voter engagement strategy was so effective it was a natural topic to bring to the progressive Netroots community, and early Thursday morning, we hosted our first Netroots Nation workshop, entitled “Microtargeting to Win: Lessons from California.” Our panel of experts, moderated by Labor Federation Communications Director Steve Smith, included field organizer Tracy Zeluff of Groundworks Campaigns, new media advertising expert Michael Organ of AKPD Message and Media, direct mail guru Douglas Herman of the Strategy Group and California Labor Federation Political Director Bryan Blum, one of the chief architects of the “Million More Voters” program.

Blum outlined the remarkable results we saw at the ballot box:

In California, 59% of registered voters voted in November of 2010. But the people that were in our “Million More Voters” universe, who we communicated with at their doors, by mail and through the internet, turned out at 78%. And it also made a difference in terms of how they voted. Overall, Jerry Brown won by 13 points. For the swing voters who were part of our program, it was a 29-point margin [in Brown’s favor].

In short, we proved that ‘underdog’ progressives can indeed beat candidates with colossal campaign coffers, as long we spend smarter and hone our focus on the key districts and demographics we need to win. It’s a lesson that was well-received among the Netroots, many of whom have been struggling to find ways to overcome the dramatic financial disadvantage nearly all Democrats end up with as they go up against corporately funded candidates on the right.

Ours was one of several panels at Netroots to focus on ways to beat back big money on the right. We’re hoping that through our panel our partners in the Netroots community are able to learn and adapt our microtargeting strategies to help oust the extreme right-wing, anti-worker politicians that are dedicated to taking our nation backwards under the guise of “patriotism”. As Van Jones said:

We are the deep patriots, and they are the cheap patriots. The cheap patriots are gonna have to deal with the deep patriots. The cheap patriots are going to have to deal with the people who believe in liberty and justice for ALL.

Check out video of the panel here, courtesy of Free Speech TV.

Catch more highlights from Netroots Nation.