A Critique Out of Love for Netroots Nation

I’m sitting now at the closing night event of Netroots Nation 2011, listening to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and reflecting on my experience at this awesome conference of progressive bloggers, activists, and organizations.

I used the word “awesome” so you can guess that I am having a great time.  It is always a treat to spend four of five days among people who share your values and work just as hard or harder on issues that you care about. I got to meet really great activists like Jasiri (@Jasiri_X) and Elon James White (@elonjameswhite), politicos like L. Joy Williams (@ljoywilliams), and reconnect with people who inspire me every day like Kimberly Ellis aka Dr. Goddess (@drgoddess) and Cheryl Contee of Jack and Jill Politics (@ch3ryl).

But there were two significant topics that were overlooked this year that strike me as a real serious missed opportunity – redistricting and the prison industrial complex.

What is striking about the former is that it’s about as esoteric and complicated an issue as there is in contemporary politics, which is normally right up the ally of the progressive blogosphere. And yet, redistricting was not a topic that was discussed at all.

Redistricting is often thought of as a partisan issue, but the truth is that it’s one of the most important civil rights issues that our country must address every 10 years. The impact that redistricting will have on communities of color is profoundly critical to any conversation about civil and human rights and political engagement. It is particularly important because of the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Bartlett v. Strickland, in which the Court basically said that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act – which prohibits vote dilution – does not trigger unless the minority voting population exceeds 50 percent.  So basically, state legislatures can dilute minority voting strength in districts that are 40 percent Black or 40 percent Latino or 35 percent Asian.

This is not a game. And state legislatures are redistricting right now!  Not tomorrow, not next year – right now. This should have been a major component of this year’s Netroots Nation.

In addition, there is so much going on related to the prison industrial complex and the nation’s flawed so-called War on Drugs – way more than has happened in nearly 3 decades – from the fight for sentencing guideline retroactivity to prominent figures like President Jimmy Carter saying this misguided war should end to the release of yet more data that this war hasn’t even worked that it was just weird that there was not a single panel dedicated to the issue.

This is an issue that cuts right to the heart of a progressive’s commitment to human rights and has tremendous budget implications at the very time that everyone is consumed with talk about fiscal responsibility and worrying about the debt.

Obviously, there is a lot to cover at a conference of this magnitude, but these are issues that are every bit as important as the budget fight, immigration reform, financial reform, and the 2012 election.