Over the pond at the US, cyber activism is almost old hat. Bloggers are so many that blogger meetings are hardly viable, and corporate blogs thick enough on the ground to trip over.
On this side, however, things are still not quite there. In Spain, less than in some other corners. So it’s not surprising that open bloggers’ thursdays keep getting organized by different groups of bloggers in different cities, and that politicians aiming to get a message across try to attend them in case it helps raise some buzz. One such periodical meeting is the “Beers & Blogs” event in Madrid, attended by a varied crew and also by many bloggers from the online blogger community of El País, a left-of-centre periodical.
Usual meetings are rather calm affairs where a couple of dozen bloggers timidly network and (eventually) some have a famous good time. There are some “online entrepreneurs” and some aspiring “media”, but mostly it’s an affair for the traditional blogger: personal, opinionated, and thoroughly niche. I’ve been happy to be dragged to a couple of those meetings, with the excuse that I’m now involved directly and indirectly in blogging, and it’s always been nice if not really surprising.
Last week’s event was special, though. It was the second event that was announced to be attended by a politician, and it was hosted at a different venue. And the politician was a peculiar one. So it was crowded.
Rosa Diez (that’s the politician) is probably the most notable specimen to emerge in Spain’s arena for a decade. She has founded a left-of-center party that aims to break the status quo in national politics and to reshape the (haggling) relationship of the state with the regions (and the nationalist parties that send deputies to the national parliament) by reforming the electoral law. It also aims to put an end to no-holds-barred talks with the ETA terrorists. In short, it aims to regenerate the political life in many ways.
Ms Diez is a very brave woman in more ways than one. She is a diminutive person who stands up to anybody. She also has lived and worked in her native Basque Country and consistently spoken up against the creeping totalitarism of their nationalistic regional government, the pressure agains those that dare to disagree with their official version of truth (a very real pressure) and the umbrage given to violent nationalism; a mixture she calls “fascism”. She spoke against the party line in her old political home, the (now ruling) PSOE party, when it changed tack on alliances and on the way to deal with ETA terrorism. She jumped ship and tried to form a mainstream alternative in a country where political affiliation can be almost hereditary (class sensitivities can be queer, but that’s another story), at a time of heightened and bitter partisanship, thus earning the hatred of a lot of PSOE activists. She is facing a very steep struggle to build a party structure, to gather funds, to get a toehold into any media that will print or broadcast her party’s message… again, in a country in which the media hold very definite political agendas. Harder yet, she’s trying to convince voters that her option is not just viable but more useful than any of the mainstream parties.
Another proof of combativeness came when she dared jump into the blogger meeting, nominally full of rabid PSOE sympathisers, and not just wait for the photo opportunity (as the previous politician to attempt to fish for votes at that venue had done), but actually mingle, circulate, debate, answer, be contradicted, and generally talk to a lot of people about her views on the situation of the country and the policies required to heal it.
In the event, rabid left-wingers eventually stayed away or showed their more dialogant side (I would have doubted their presence if I had not spoken with several). I had the pleasure to be on one of those informal, stand-up-with-a-guinness-in-your-hand debates, and exchange views. Not long enough for much, but sufficient to attest that she has not just sensible views, but also clear priorities. A long familiarity with blogging and bloggers surely helped, but she also showed herself a seasoned crowd-working politician.
Ms Diez was not all there was to the meeting, of course. I had come to talk some things with some people, and I also had time to network, talk and observe. The meeting was exceptional, and as such the number of “outliers” (people just interested in blogging, such as university teachers) , “dabblers” (technically a blogger that does not yet know if he/she will stay the course) and “parasites” (people selling services to dabblers, outliers and even bloggers) was thick on the ground. Some were particularly topical, such as a calling-card-wielding “personal brand sherpa”, and some were plainly trying to nail consulting deals. A few sniffed around for the blogging networks that can bring some money to associates (or buy them out). Many just stood pop-eyed and happy to be counted among the “vanguard” swigging discounted beer. The biggest fish in the blogging pond were notoriously absent, probably preferring the more intimate, focused events of normal months.
All in all, instructive, just as those focused events. Blogging is increasingly coming of age over here, sprouting an ecosystem of services and symbionts, and playing a more recognised role in communication strategies. Financially, it has a while to go before it makes sense. Thanks to Fernando Tellado’s EntreBlogs network, there is now a promising alternative for independent bloggers to get in touch with advertisers beyond Google without being assimilated into one of the “blog factories”, themselves spending much more than is viable in building up their visitor numbers.
The motivation of the inhabitants, the bubbling of the business models, the frenzy of the aspiring symbionts: lots to see, lots to learn. It’s one thing to read about something, and a different one to shake it by the hand. Until recently, I’d been staying physically clear from this in spite of the example of Lilia and Ton. Can’t say it’s my pond, but certainly I’m growing more than intellectually familiar with it.
And talking to Rosa Diez was worth the visit, too. Here’s wishing her a lot of luck and a chance to change this country.