I always love playing this game at conferences: find the black people. At SXSW I was fortunate to find and kick it with the blackosphere, and something similar happened at YearlyKos yesterday

The caucus meetings are really unstructured spaces for folks to get together and talk. The black caucus probably had 15-20 people in the room with maybe 75 percent being black. The conversation started a bit slow, but here are some of the more interesting points:

The Access Problem

We started the way every session at a conference like this starts: where are the black people? Why aren't there more black bloggers in the political blogosphere? What is needed to change this? IS something needed to change this?

  • The digital divide still exists for many, especially along class lines. Broadband is too expensive. We should look into municipal wi-fi projects more on this point

  • Even computer access is more limited in the hood. Doesn't Bill Gates have some program around this

  • Black people aren't inherently technology laggards. Look how we use cell phones, texting, etc.!

  • Why doesn't the public library system broadcast its net access via Wi-Fi

What's the Relevance

There were two brothas new to the blogging scene who were curious and a little skeptical about the real value of blogging to the black community. Basically, why should we care? Kevin, in asking this question, mentioned that the kids he knows have MySpace accounts and don't use email at all. My own take is 1) it's not just about blogging, per se, but all forms of participatory communications (social networking, websites in general, etc)

The Answer: it's about PARTICIPATION!

This conference is the answer to that question. Here we have the "netroots" movement: people using new technology to insert themselves into the political conversation on two levels

  1. To influence the national democratic conversation, challenging those in power on the Right, mobilizing people to put forward alternative ideas, organizing around opposition and protest. This is the external version.

  2. To influence the direction and very definition of the Democratic Party, holding people accountable, (ahem, Joe Lieberman), and making sure that we and our concerns are truly represented.

The real value, as I and many people in the room see it, of something like blogging in the "black community" is the same

  1. To contribute (externally) to the national discussion, raising issues others might not, adding context others would miss. Don't wait for the national politicians to come to us, asking what we want. Go to them! Have a voice.

  2. To hold our "black leaders" accountable. We've had an issue for a while of "black leader"-isis, where some single figure is appointed (often externally) as the voice of the people. Once folks get in this position, they are reluctant to leave it. A woman who works with Issue Dynamics told her frustrating story of a large national black organization with 500,000 members that only had 2,000 people on its email list. The group wasn't interested in a participatory power structure. Someone raised the interesting point that a lot of black young folks don't feel represented by the black church anymore. Well, that has got to change

The point I tried to drive home once #1 and #2 became clear in the room is this: Al Gore has inspired me in his adamant belief that democracy is, fundamentally, a conversation, but when control of that conversation is hoarded by a few with power in our top-down media environment, well then both the conversation and democracy are broken. He's excited about the participatory media that's emerging, because it can help restore the voice of the people to the conversation.

What I see is that, as black people in America, we know, more than any other group, all about being locked out of the conversation. That's how we were brought here, and we've used all sorts of means to assert our voice into that conversation. We've burned shit down. We've protested. We created hip hop. Tools such as blogging should be the most effective in our hands. Think of hip hop. "All I need is one mic" is the mantra. How about this: "all I need is one blog."

Not only do tools like blogging serve us, in getting our voices heard, but it serves the country. America is better because of the efforts of black people. We keep to the country honest (or at least try). The Civil RIghts movement called "bullshit" on the Constitution and said, "get it together, America." We need to be part of this emerging media system not only for our sakes, but for the sake of the country.

What do you think about the state of black engagement in the blogosphere and new media? Any cool examples? Observations?

UPDATE: yKos time 10:22am

I just wanted to add a few links that came up in the session. 1) Issue Dynamics was mentioned above 2) some cool blackosphere blogs that should be invited/included in the yKos community next year: NegroPhile, NegroPlease, BlackFeminism.org and lynne d johnson

UPDATE 10:31am yKos (vegas) time

I cross-posted this to my DailyKos diary, and the comments are exploding. if you're a kos member and prefer to comment there, do it. Check out the feedback anyway, come back here, and reply with your thoughts.