It's time to remove Jane Hamsher's FireDogLake ("FDL") blog from the Real Stream Media list. For any of you unfamiliar with FDL, it's an activist web site for liberal progressives started by the movie producer who got Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" made. I thought about doing this for quite some time, and it gave opportunity to think a little more about the future and effectiveness of blog activism. After deciding to de-link it, today I looked FDL up on Alexa, and found that while its traffic rank is still 28,000th or so, its daily reach has fallen by roughly 5o% over the past six months. Huh.
FDL was one of the first blogs which attracted me, the first one which moved me to be a regular commenter, and the first one I donated to. The activism there continues to be vibrant, the community is thoughtful and colorful, and they've been involved in some great progressive causes, such as Act Blue, Ned Lamont's campaign against Joe Lieberman, and their original, nonpareil coverage of the Valerie Plame affair. In fact they're doing live coverage of the Libby treason trial right now, the only blog to gain a press pass to the court-room.
FDL got me involved in blogging from a nap-of-the-earth perspective. Until Hurricane Katrina hit, I had viewed blogs from a technologist's top-down, cool-but-let's-not-get-too-messy-here viewpoint. FDL got me hip-deep in the swamp muck and then I took the plunge right into the slime. (Come on in, the 'gators are fine.) It was a great place to vent and share information in real time, but as guest bloggers became more numerous and toadyish, the environment started to morph into one which doesn't appeal to me. So FDL, like the punk rock movement it compares itself to, was inspirational, brave, raw, and important. Then, when they started to increasingly act a bit like profane, drug-addled punk rockers with bleary-eyed groupies, a little distance from the scene freed my time up enough to, presto, start a blog.
I asked Hopespringsaturtle over at Deep Confusion for her perspective, as she was one of many smart progressives who stopped frequenting there. She was the right person to ask, and helped me sort it out. At issue was the overt misogyny and/or racism of some posts by FDL columnists and moderators, who refused to modulate or apologize for what they wrote, and who then were backed by the blog owners. Soon, there were instances of asking for donations in inappropriate ways for inappropriate things, even donations for one columnist's dental work. All of this triggered an impressive amount of debate within the blogsphere, with a good one-stop synopsis residing here.
Much of my embryonic activism I owe to FDL, and it's a powerful template for an activist blog. We need powerful templates, and much of my free-noodling daydreams float around the beneficial transformations and unintended consequences blogs may wreak on sclerotic politics. Yet I suspect FDL's direct involvement in the Lamont campaign was ultimately harmful, and this begs a question. Is activism most effective when it's Johnny Rotten: angry, in-your-face, defies convention, and is foul-mouthed, tells fibs, and fights dirty? After all, "God save the Queen, she's not a human been," that's a catchy message. And hate-mongers like Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and Anne Coulter are still given prized space in the Main Streem Media despite their every sordid misdeed, half-chewed vituperative spew, and outright felony. Or is activism most effective when it's delivered by Guy Lombardo: polite, showing calm even when not feeling it, attentive to organization, and striving all the while to stay on the right notes? Say what you want about him, but Lawrence Welk was around quite a while, and he ran good shows. These are honest questions.
While I don't really know which path is better, I hope the best bet for the future of progressive politics, and what this nation needs, is to find and support strictly ethical, inclusive behavior. It's how I try to live my life when I'm not beating up disabled men in public parks, and it's the type of environment I'd like to live in. There are even a couple of Presidential candidates at this time who can take us in that direction, in the forms of Dennis Kucinich (money spent on Presidential Campaign in 2006: $386.02) or Barack Obama (chomping on Nicorette gum now, because smoking as President would set a bad example).
The time for inclusive, open-minded politics may be past, and this country may well be sliding inexorably further into the politics of Homeland, to violence in the streets, various types of entrenched separatism, and the civil wars they eventually lead to. You can feel that slide right now, like a house floor gone too far un-level. But I'd like to give polite standards and the presumptions of equality a chance. Maybe we can point up this old Republic yet. Otherwise we may as well sit around like many already do, oiling up their cherished lethal weapons, relishing thoughts of shooting Ayrabic Lesbian Libruls when they finally attack.
Now, I'm not exactly in any danger of being interviewed by NPR for my blogging influence anytime soon, but I do take the links at the right very seriously. They're like recommendations, and I can no longer recommend FDL. I hope as a group they rein in some of their less admirable impulses, and don't become a mirror of what they abhor. Feeding trolls is bad. Feeding toadies is far worse.