Discovering Blogosphere - Crashing the Gate

Thu Jun 8, 2006 15:01



Discovering Blogosphere

Written by two of the most popular political bloggers in America, the book hails the new movement that is changing the way political campaigns are waged.

Ex-Memphian coordinating charge
By Zack McMillin

June 5, 2006
The phone rang in the house in Sonoma County, the one with a Shane Battier Grizzlies jersey hanging in the office, and a voice explained that this was Howard Dean calling, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Gina Cooper grew up in Bartlett and spent most of her 36 years in Memphis, but she wasn't born yesterday.

Rob, her husband, had called another time doing a fair Al Gore impression, just having a little fun with his wife's newly carved niche in the infrastructure of progressive politics.

Oh really, Gina said.

Except, well, this sure sounded like the former Vermont governor. When Dean finally convinced her that he was who he said he was, the former schoolteacher from Memphis had won another victory in her crusade to bring more ordinary people into the political process.

"Now that was very coo-wool," Gina says, her voice still dripping West Tennessee twang despite 22 months in Northern California. "I felt pretty small town. I hope I didn't insult him."

Far from insulting the most powerful members of the Democratic Party, Cooper is the organizer of the YearlyKos convention this week in Las Vegas, which one prominent progressive-liberal blogger, Matt Stoller, believes in five years "will be seen as an historically important moment."

YearlyKos (long 'O') takes its name from the liberal blog called DailyKos.com, started by a former American soldier named Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and the fifth-most visited blog in America.

But it was Cooper and another two dozen volunteers who spent the past 18 months making it happen.

Zuniga lent his brand to the convention and allowed promotion on his Web site, but otherwise was not involved.

"She's tenacious, driven, motivated, and willing to do the hard work to learn something brand, brand new," Zuniga wrote in an e-mail.

He added: "None of this would be happening without Gina."

Last Sunday, The New York Times Magazine devoted its lead story to YearlyKos, and wrote that, "These are the people who are said to be changing the very nature of American politics, transforming the old smoke-filled room of insiders into an expansive chat room for anyone who wants in."

That's right, Memphis Catholic alums -- shy little Regina Miller, Class of '87, may well be triggering a political revolution.

That's right, Bolton alums -- sweet Mrs. Cooper, who taught you all about Newton's laws of motion, is changing the very orbit of the 21st Century Democratic Party.

"The Internet has provided for me, a teacher from Memphis, right, an opportunity to participate in the democratic process," Cooper says. "Now is the time to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty and work for the America I believe in and where the American Dream is attainable no matter where you are from or what family you are born into."

Discovering Blogosphere

It was while she lived in East Memphis and taught physics and chemistry at Bolton High that Cooper discovered what is now called the Blogosphere by the MSM (that's the derisive blog-speak for mainstream media).

She found people, like her, who believed the country was headed in the wrong direction, who believed the war in Iraq was going to be a mistake, that the Bush Administration was ignoring sound energy policies and was wrong on the environment.

"I was looking for news and information and trying to understand what was going on," Cooper says.

She mostly lurked until one day bloggers criticizing the South and calling it backward riled her into a post that was titled, "Kiss My Dixie ..." with the last word another term for the Democratic Party's mascot.

"I felt like I had to rant," Cooper says.

With that, she was off, and Web sites like http://DailyKos.com and http://MyDD.com provided an outlet. Though she began her voting life punching the button for Republicans, Cooper evolved into a liberal Democrat. She married a FedEx import from Oakland, Calif., named Rob Cooper, who himself was encountering a staunchly conservative culture for the first time.

When Rob had a chance to purchase the two acres of land in Sonoma County wine country that had belonged to his 93-year-old grandmother, he took a buyout from FedEx.

By November of 2004, when George Bush narrowly beat John Kerry in electoral votes, Rob and Gina were settled into their new home. Being surrounded by more liberals than conservatives did not make it any easier for Gina to take the election results.

"Out where we live, everybody seemed to think Bush is a moron and we are going to vote him out," Rob says. "For a lot of people, Gina and others ... it was like a stomach punch."

It was not long after the election that Gina latched onto the idea of putting together a convention for all those people posting, most using some kind of nickname or pseudonym (DailyKos regular Georgia10, according to The Chicago Reader, may be the most-read political writer in Chicago).

Many dozens of people volunteered, but by this year, the list had winnowed down to Cooper, spearheading the movement, and a few dozen others.

Working without compensation, Cooper has pulled 16-hour days for many months now assembling a convention that will feature Dean, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and many other luminaries from politics, the media and the Blogosphere.

She misses teaching, but her sense of purpose is linked to her love for the classroom.

"The kids inspire me," she says. "They inspire me with their own idealism because it is such a sweet and wonderful thing.

"I'm one of the few people in the world who love teenagers."

Yet, the teaching career may stay on hold if other opportunities arise.

"Gina's a leader, and I think she is going to be an essential piece of progressive politics moving forward," says Stoller, a popular blogger on MyDD.com. "She created a vibrant forum for public discourse, and someone who can do that is someone the country needs in public service."

The goal of YearlyKos, says Cooper, is to create face-to-face contact on the ground among people who only know one another online, and 1,000 people registered for the convention.

Secondarily, Cooper hopes the convention will finally force the MSM to revise its caricature of bloggers as no-lifes who sit around in their pajamas ranting all day.

"It is a misunderstanding," Cooper says. "I'm a teacher, just an ordinary person. A lot of people like me are out there, folks working in cubes. Moms. Lawyers. Former journalists. It's just America."

When the convention closes Sunday, Cooper hopes to have done more than change perceptions.

"I'd like for people to be able to take with them, from the people they met and the things they learned, to make a bigger commitment to being a part of the democratic process," Cooper says. "I want people to commit to bring more people into the process. Just by showing up, people are doing something important."

According to Zuniga, she's already done something very important.

"When Gina first approached me, I told her not to be afraid to think small," he wrote. "That it would be OK to grow the event over the coming years. Good thing for everyone she didn't listen to my advice.

"Yeah, I'm surprised. Astonished, actually."

-- Zack McMillin: 529-2564

what is yearlykos?

Billed as the first true convention for participants in the Blogosphere, the event is being organized by Bartlett native Gina Cooper.

One prominent national blogger believes its impact will be felt in elections to come.

YearlyKos, which gets its name from one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, http://DailyKos.com, runs Thursday through Sunday in Las Vegas.

Can Bloggers Get Real?
New York Times, United States - May 27, 2006
... It shouldn't be so surprising, then, that the lead architect of the YearlyKos convention is a married, 36-year-old Memphis native named Gina Cooper, who until ...





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