The second day of Netroots Nation opened with a discussion of health care with Howard Dean. Dean was interviewed by Tanya Tarr and Mike Lux in a town hall format. Many audience members wore hardhats handed out by the United Steelworkers Union to show support for union efforts on health care reform. During his talk, Dean referred to his new book, Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform: How We Can Achieve Affordable Medical Care for Every American and Make Our Jobs Safer. Dean asked, "Who do you want controlling your health care, you or your insurance company?" He noted that insurance companies are not in the business to provide health care, but to make money. They are a reflection of the free-wheeling Wall Street culture that led to the current recession.
One audience member asked how we can keep innovation going in medical technology, and Dean responded that there is a role there for the private sector, noting pharmaceutical companies, though much derided, are responsible for some extraordinary innovation. He also noted that we need to move away from illness-based medicine to a prevention and wellness focus. There, companies like Kaiser and self-insured corporations are leading the way, because employee illness affects the bottom line. Many companies have highly evolved wellness programs and incentives for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In a somewhat prescient statement, Dean remarked that public co-ops don't work and will be beaten up in the marketplace by public companies. When asked about single-payer plans, Dean remarked that he thought that America is a "small 'c' conservative country" and that too much change too fast will not work. He thought the Public Option is the best plan, because it does not force anyone into change if they don't want to, but provides health care benefits for those who want and need them.
Dean encouraged the audience to get behind the President's plan, and use all the tactics used in the campaign to get the bill passed. He encouraged phone banking, canvassing, and talking to friends about what the health care plan does and does not mean.
Arlen Specter Town Hall
Later that day, the Netroots had the opportunity to hear from both Senator Arlen Specter and his challenger for the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania, Congressman Joe Sestak. Specter went first, interviewed with questions from the audience and on Twitter, by Susie Madrak and Ari Melber. When asked why he was running, Specter spoke candidly, "I'm a fella with a good job, and I'd like to keep that job."
Ari Melber noted that the Netroots community is understandably skeptical of Specter and his recent switch from Republican to Democrat. Specter defended his record as an independent voice in the Republican party, often siding with Democrats on key votes, including voting against the confirmation of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, consistent pro-choice votes, voting against wiretapping, and voting for the stimulus package.
He noted that he supports the President's health care plan, and has held four town halls, facing down hostile crowds. Specter came across as a knowledgeable, tough Senate veteran.
Joe Sestak Town Hall
Immediately following Arlen Specter's session, Congressman Joe Sestak took the stage and made his case for election as Pennsylvania's next Senator. He is a veteran, a three-star Admiral, and father of a child who survived a brain tumor, just after he returned home from his last tour of duty. He spoke about his family and his desire to make a difference, particularly in health care, so that all families could have the kind of care his daughter had.
Sestack spoke very slowly and deliberately, and seemed to be presenting more of a set of talking points than direct answers to questions. He seemed earnest in his desire to pursue a progressive agenda in the Senate.
MOMocrat Joanne moderated this fabulous panel discussion of what feminism and the progressive movement means to women of different generations. Joining her on the panel were Jen Nedeau, Gloria Feldt, Tracy Viselli, and Emily McKhann. Gloria Feldt noted that her generation "did not do a good enough job of reaching out to younger women," but Jen Nedeau countered that she has benefited from fantastic mentors in work as an activist.
One audience member pointed out that women of color should be included in this discussion, because historically the feminist movement has been focused on white, middle class women. Another, queried how to raise issues of disparity in the workplace with younger women who may not want to confront sexism in the workplace.
The panel concluded that women need to start by telling their own stories, educating their peers on issues, and reaching out to women, regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic boundaries.
The final panel I attended on Day 2 was the panel on Crowdsourcing. I admit, I didn't really know what "crowdsourcing" was or how it was distinguishable from "polling", but I thought it sounded interesting, so I went. The panel, moderated by Tracy Viselli, drew on the expertise of Jim Gilliam, Josh Levy, Gina Cooper, and Ari Melber (filling in for an ailing MOMocrat, Sarah Granger).
Part of the discussion centered on marijuana legalization activists who gamed the system at Change.gov and Change.org to raise their issue to the top of the issues list. One of the panelists noted that he didn't see anything wrong with this, since this is exactly what lobbyists do using money instead of technology. Gina interjected that now that the activists had elevated the issue, they needed to work on the rest of their movement to have any hope of being taken seriously in political discourse going forward.
Josh gave four reasons that crowdsourcing was a valuable tool: 1) gauging public opinion; 2) getting people involved; 3) going beyond limited resources; and 4) publicity.
Jim actually develops crowdsourcing tools, and developed a petition system for twitter called act.ly that should become part of any activist's toolkit.
This panel made me think that the difference between traditional polling and crowdsourcing was in the notion that the wisdom of crowds could be used to actually come up with actual solutions rather than just voting on a finite, predetermined set of solutions. The panel also talked about the need for some level of expertise to sift through the data to come up with ideas and solutions gleaned from the effort.
Overall, Day Two of Netroots Nation was much like Day One: full of lively discussions and inspiring people.