as advertised, I was part of a panel which discussed the role of social media in the Wisconsin protests, or as they are known by the Twitterati, #wiunion.
The forum was hosted by a group called New Organizing Institute. Apparently, in this case, the "new" is the same as when someone snarkly refers to the new math. It seemed that the entire forum was slapped together in haste and many issues were overlooked, such as simply archiving the video. Hopefully, I'm wrong, but I can't find it anywhere.
But despite the problems that we encountered, I believe we pulled it off with an amazing level of success. Even with my hampering the whole affair. And true to nature, over the course of the last day, I have thought of dozens of things I wish I had said during the forum.
Tom Foley, aka Illusory Tenant, (@illusory_tenant for the Twitterati), proved to be the perfect moderator. His knowledge of the legal battles occurring in Madison and his dry wit helped keep things moving along apace and kept the audience more than entertained and interested. Note to Charlie Sykes: I know Tom personally and if you want lessons on how to moderate a panel the correct way, I'm sure some lessons could be arranged.
|Click on photo to enlarge|
From left to right: Melissa Ryan, Sen. Chris Larson,
Tom Foley, Emily Mills, myself, Maxwell John Love
Picture courtesy of @jjinsf
Senator Chris Larson (@ChrisJLarson), as was predictable, was the rock star of the show and had people hanging on his every word. He made a good point, stating that no matter how useful social media is, it will never be a substitute for face to face contact and good old-fashioned "shoe leather politicking."
Emily Mills (@millbot), the Renaissance personified, is even more awesome and more fascinating in person than she is on teh Intertubes. She also praised the people for their diligence and their tenacity in standing up for their rights and standing as one, without a leader per se, but just as a people.
Having been caught off guard when Tom introduced me and brought up my royal standing as King of the Hate Left, I then mumbled something about how I have been amazed by their strength and have come to use the people of Twitter and Facebook as my eyes and ears to supplant the corrupt and inept corporate media reporting that would allow people like Patrick McIlheran to use up ink or Charlie Sykes to pollute the airwaves.
Wish I had said it moment number one: I wish I had gone through the categorization of the mess Scott Walker had left us in Milwaukee County to contend with, including a failing transit system, hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and maintenance to our parks and buildings, and an almost completely dysfunctional mental health system, to name but a few.
Finally, a young activist and college student at the University of Madison, Maxwell John Love (@MaxwellJohnLove) who is the ultimate geek. He had great insight in how Twitter helped the cause and his role in keeping it going.
After our spiels, there was a question/answer session and it was heartening to see so many people invested in the topic and asking rather intelligent and thoughtful questions.
Now, I will admit, I was as nervous as a person could be going into this thing. Public speaking has never been my strong suit. As I often joke, I have a face made for radio and a voice made for blogging. To add to my stress, I got a late start and was often frustrated with the traffic due to all the construction between Milwaukee and Madison. Knowing that there would be scores of people in the room as well as people all around the nation watching the livestream broadcast of the panel only made me feel more on edge.
By the time I arrived at the place where the forum was being held, my hands were shaking like a leaf. I felt the panic rise as I tried to find my orientation and figure out where the room in which the forum was being held and where said room was in relation to my current position.
Finding that the room was on the third floor, I stepped off the elevator and the first thing I see was this beautiful woman who was my #wiunion adopted little sister, Sarah (@sjzep). It was our first real life meeting, and I found out that she was also the best damn hugger I've ever met. We walked in the room together and as I found out where I was to sit, Sarah also found a seat.
The room started to quickly fill to the point of being standing room only. As I nervously looked up and into the crowd, I noted many people from my Twitterati family, including Matt (@matt_t1), Carol (@bluecheddar1) (Carol is also a wonderful blogger in her own right), Anna (@annaironside), and one of my bestest friends, Heather. (@ari_WISCslob). Later, I found out that there were others, but having not met them in real life, did not recognize them for who they were.
At first, I was surprised. This was quickly supplanted by a sense of control, when I realized that they had come to support me and my co-panelists. I was still nervous for a while, but as things progressed, I relaxed more and more, emotionally leaning on my friends by concentrating on only their presence and taking strength from their quiet support.
After the session had ended, many people approached the table we were seated. I was again amazed as not everyone was on their way to see Senator Larson, as I would have suspected, but many came up to shake my hand and thank me for my work. I felt a level of guilt, as it was these people that deserve my gratitude, all our gratitude, for being there day in and day out, being our eyes and our ears, and suffering the abuses of the corrupt government on a first hand basis. (For example, it's one thing to hear of the atrocities committed by Walker's police state inside the Capitol, but it's wholly another thing to personally experience, as I can attest to.)
We then adjourned downstairs to the bar on the first floor, where I had the pleasant surprise of seeing more friends who were unable to make it to the panel. These included Jenni (@legaleagle) who is a rock star in her own right, the famous tweeter @edcetera aka @superbranch among several other handles, my dear friend Maverick (@marivic), and @theandingo. I also met some new friends, including Matt (@mwisniewski) and the beautiful Maria (@SeleneMSC).
I came home in the wee hours of the morning feeling exhausted and exhilarated. I also felt humbled and honored by, and in awe of, all these wonderful people.
On the next day, as I reflected on the evening before, I had a small epiphany of sorts.
In the regular unions, members often address each other as Brother and Sister. When signing a letter, or when parting ways, it is not uncommon to say "In Solidarity." I thought I understood the bonding message behind these acts, but it was not until Thursday night that I truly appreciated its meaning.
These were my brothers and sisters of #wiunion. Most of them did not know me in real life. The few that did, I only met once or twice. Yet they took time out of their lives to support me, to stand by me in solidarity, to lend me their strength, and just to meet me. Even now, just reflecting on it, I feel overwhelmed by a sea of emotions.
I've always had my other two families, the labor unions and the Bloggerati, both of whom I cherish. The best part is that #wiunion encompasses them both. It's like my family has grown exponentially. I am truly a lucky man.
State Senator Glen Grothmann once called the people of #wiunion slobs. Like true Wisconsinites, instead of being insulted, #wiunion embraced it, like we did when people thought calling us cheeseheads was an insult.
And I'm damned proud to say that I'm just another slob, like the rest of my #wiunion family.
*For those not familiar with Twitter, a hash tag as used in the title is a way of identifying and categorizing a tweet.