BlogHer 2007: Educating Myself On Politics and Our Online Community

BlogHer 2007 was my first blogging conference and I must admit I learned more about politics than I bargained for.

My education began with the first Breakout Session for politics, Earn Our Votes: What Questions Do Women Bloggers Want Candidates to Answer In Election 2008?

Sarah Simmons, a Republican party pollster shared statistics about the diversity and trends of female voters both young and old, as well as spoke about how women voters drove the margin for change in the House and Senate in the 2006 elections.

She stated that women have a broad agenda when it comes to politics. Some of our main concerns include health care, withdrawal from Iraq, education, costs of living, how to successfully own and operate small businesses, and how to care for our aging parents.

Ms. Simmons mentioned that women are more likely to personalize politics to fit their main concerns and beliefs. When women discuss immigration we don't really discuss immigration. We worry about emergency room back-ups due to the "non-taxpaying" patients and the rising costs of health care as a result. When women discuss the environment we don't talk about the environment. Instead we talk about clean drinking water for our families and children, and well-kept parks and green spaces for recreational activities.

Another interesting piece of information is that 45% of female voters are favorable to Senator Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, but 67% of Republicans or conservative women are not.

This is largely because they feel Hillary hasn't struggled, suffered, or sacrificed to get where she is today. Because Hillary Clinton is a woman, wife, mother and successful career woman, some women feel she hasn't been in their shoes and that she doesn't understand their less privileged positions.

While it's sad to hear that women can judge other women based solely on her achievements, whether they are jealous of her success or not, I can't fault them for feeling that Hillary Clinton is disconnected from women who don't share the same success.

During this panel, the audience also broke into multi-partisan groups to discuss four critical issues raised by a survey. The four areas of the biggest concern were Economy, Health Care, Environment and Iraq. BlogHer's Morra Aarons is working to bring the results of these focus groups to BlogHer very soon.

Some of the questions that were asked in the Economy breakout included: The corrupt student loan system, rising child care costs for working mothers and families, national minimum wage is still low, small businesses are suffering because the cost of health insurance is skyrocketing, bankruptcy laws are disorganized and complicated, and the very frustrating mortgage crisis.

Women want answers to these questions and more. We're tired of politicians spewing the same pat answers when we talk about important issues.

After this breakout I stayed for the next session, How to Write Great Political Coverage:  From Breaking News to Op-Ed. Professor Kim Pearson was an excellent moderator and encouraged the audience to interact during the session.

She asked, "Are political bloggers the same as bloggers who write about politics?"

We got into small groups and the one I was in decided that while political bloggers tend to push a certain agenda, a person who blogs about politics may be discussing the issues. On the other hand, bloggers can write a post that isn't about politics at all and still be political.

An example was given by a group member in regards to jazz music and the effects of Hurricane Katrina almost destroying the birthplace of jazz. Americans didn't seem to be as concerned about this, perhaps because of the predominant race of the jazz culture and this definitely comes across as political.

Panelists Faye Anderson and Katharine Daniels also offered great advice for writing about politics.

Glennia from The Silent "I" has a comprehensive list at her blog. Here are just a few:

Be clear about who you think you are and what you are covering.  Let audience know what you are trying to accomplish.  Have to have clarity on what you are doing and develop your own sense of mission. 

Be transparent with your audience.  If someone comes to your blog, and reads something on a particular candidate, they may assume that you support that candidate.  If you say something negative about a candidate, they may assume that you support the other side.
 
Do your homework and consider the opposing argument and respond to it specifically. 

Make policy interesting by using YouTube and other multi-media sources to jazz it up.  Make stories accessible by providing interesting links and other related content.

There was a wealth of information shared, but the piece of advice that really hit home to the audience came from Professor Kim: Stay human.

It's very easy to forget we are most often talking about people and we all have different opinions. It's very important to be courteous and respectful, especially when writing about an opposing view point.

The third and final breakout session discussed How to Turn Your blog Into a GotV (Get out the Vote) Machine.

Women are the majority of the voting population, and women are very diverse. Sara Simmons stated it's important to remember there isn't a monolith when talking about female voters.

Panelists Kim Gandy, Liza Sabater and Zephyr Teachout discussed ways to inform women, such as encouraging them to register, to vote, putting buttons on our blogs, starting mailing lists, using tools like Yahoo and Google groups, and urging women to attend local government meetings. Laurie liveblogged the session here.

I asked the panel whether they've noticed that many conservative women are afraid to speak up because of a stigma that we're all right-wing, religious crazies, who bow to Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin.

The answer I received was that many campaign workers do not feel Republican and conservative groups of women are a targetable audience. Why? They do not know how to approach us.

Well, I can tell you one way is to send your campaign workers to the BlogHer Conference.
It seems Hillary Clinton and John Edwards managed to send a representative on their behalves.

Excuse me, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Romney, and the rest? Where were you? You missed a big opportunity to show us, your voters, that you do in fact care about us.

I'm not the only conservative who felt alienated.

During the keynote by Elizabeth Edwards, Daring Young Mom spoke up about her beliefs. She writes:

When Elizabeth Edwards is Speaking at BlogHer, I’m a Conservative.  At church I’m a liberal.

I am repeatedly amazed at the complex nuances of personal political identity and the bizarre need we feel to categorize each other along party lines. This becomes confusing because the way I’m categorized changes dramatically depending on whom I happen to be sitting next to. In an LDS Sunday School class, I’m fairly liberal. In the BlogHer organization, I feel like some sort of right wing extremist.

I can't stress enough about conservatives are stereotyped. When we voice our opinions we are often met with attack and ridicule, or we are not taken seriously because we might be religious and some opponents think that's dumb.

Did it ever occur to them that we do actually think about the issues at hand? We're not just blindly going to follow the leader without rationally thinking about the facts. Some of us do get emotional because we're passionate about what matters most to us.

I met a few conservatives at the BlogHer Conference who surprised me when they said they didn't even know BlogHer had a contributing editor for the right. Imagine my shock? And then later my fear that I'm not doing my job properly if my conservative audience didn't know I was here for them.

Shannon from Rocks In My Dryer mentioned how offended conservatives at the conference were upon hearing Mrs. Edwards say "I'm sorry" to a blogger from Texas, because of the insinuation that Texas is "Bush Country".

She writes:

Edwards is a good speaker with a gracious ease, and even though I don't agree with her on policy, I enjoyed hearing the line of reasoning that comes from someone the other end of the political spectrum.  There was a bit of a strange moment when she took questions from the audience, and a speaker stood up to say, "I'm from Texas..." and Edwards responded, "I'm sorry!"

The people at our table looked at each other with puzzlement.  "Did she really just say that?" I asked.  It was a bit Dixie Chicks-ish.  But that's okay, because Tina (ever gracious in a don't-mess-with-Texas sort of way) gently approached Edwards at the cocktail party afterwards to assure her that most Texans are not, in fact, "sorry" that they're from Texas.  It was a great moment.  I have a picture to prove it, and it is, sadly, stuck for in the bowels of my cell phone for all eternity.

And so I wonder where are the conservatives here at BlogHer.org? After processing all I've learned and experienced during this BlogHer Conference, I want to encourage every one of you to come forward and tell me what issues are important to you. I would be more than honored to hear your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and concerns.

I'm don't normally write exceedingly long blog entries, but I felt it was important to share my experience (all of it) and to let you know that I am here; the conservative, Republican, right-leaning CE for Politics at BlogHer.

BlogHer strives to be multi-partisan. We want every single member to feel comfortable when letting their voices be heard.

(And If you feel more comfortable e-mailing me, please do!)

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Contributing Editor Dana J. Tuszke also blogs at The Dana Files.

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