AUSTIN, Tex. – I arrived in the Lone Star State tonight with big hopes for the next two days. I’ll be attending Americans for Prosperity’s Right Online conference with several hundred conservative activists from across America and here in Texas.
This conference is significant for many reasons, but the most important is the fact that conservatives are finally getting together to talk face-to-face about the challenges and opportunities on the Internet. Many meetings have taken place in the past -- including one I hosted at Heritage last year -- but this one is special because it’s happening at the same time and in the same city as Netroots Nation.
Over the next two days, attendees will interact in workshops on everything from online fundraising and social networking to reputation management and web video. Blogging will be a key component. My colleague Bill Beach, director of Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis, will teach a class on Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting to nearly 20 professional and citizen journalists.
Some of the online right’s most noteworthy people are here. That’s a stark contrast to other technology/politics conferences I’ve attended the past couple years. In fact, too often it’s quite lonely. I recall a post from Matt Lewis of Townhall at the 2007 Politics Online conference in Washington:
While there may be some inherent reasons for liberal domination in the blogosphere, some of the problems may actually be our own fault. ...
Granted, it is very possible that there are other conservatives here that I haven't seen (or don't know). But it is also clear that a vast majority of the folks attending are liberals. Sometimes these things perpetuate themselves. Conservatives don't want to attend because most of the folks here are liberals. Of course, this thinking makes the problem worse...
The purpose of this conference is to learn from experts about how to use the internet more effectively. Surely, this is something that conservatives and Republicans can benefit from.
It's a shame more of us aren't here...
Gradually, that problem has disappeared, but there’s no question conservatives still remain in the minority. Last month’s Personal Democracy Forum in New York was one of the best showings among the online right, yet liberals still dominated. Now we have a gathering of our own.
There’s another reason I’m excited about Right Online. More than two years ago I co-founded with Tim Chapman (now a communications adviser to Sen. Jim DeMint) the Conservative Bloggers’ Briefing. What started as a strategy session with a handful of bloggers quickly evolved into a weekly meeting of new-media strategists and online communicators. I often tell people that the most important thing about the briefing is not what happens at the meeting but the networking that takes place before and after.
That’s why I believe Right Online has so much potential. Bloggers and online activists on the left have formed strong bonds to pursue their goals. People on the right don’t have the same kind of off-line relationships to help achieve online victories. So while I know people will come away better educated in the ways of online fundraising and making videos, I also hope they leave Austin with many new friends and allies -- partners who share the values of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom a strong national defense.