I was unable to attend the first full day of Netroots Nation. I spent my time instead at my day job and I was only able to head over to the convention center around 5:00. When I arrived, here’s what I saw: DC org types, media people and a smattering of bloggers on their laptops. I attended one session that evening, the War on Contraception. The panel was highly critical of the record of the last two years and spoke out passionately against the unabated damage that both parties are doing on the state and federal level to women’s health issues. The panel did a great job, and all the questions were high quality.

Even so, I left disenchanted. The panel was great, but everywhere else were those clouds of Democratic functionaries and media people (especially at the after party). Feingold’s keynote was underwhelming, to me at least. Howard Dean waxed idyllic at length about change from the bottom up, which he’s right about, and still made sure to say that he was supporting the President. Things were predictably staid, with establishment types everywhere and electoral boosterism de rigeur for most everyone with a microphone, especially on the exhibit hall main stage. Energy levels felt low. Veal pen orgs had a big presence, based on the nametags I caught anectodally. The conference looked like it might be a bust.

By the end of day two I saw NN11 with new eyes. I met a bunch of great people from bloggers to Green Party activists to non-profit media folks. Only a mention is required for the well documented performance Pfeiffer put on. Regarding the Obama 2012 strategy session, I observed that approximately half the questions asked of Jeremy Bird, Obama 2012 Field Director, were some variation of “give me a why”. I had several conversations with long time Kossacks in which they expressed deep ambivalence regarding the choices before us and principled progressives everywhere in 2012 and beyond.

It was in speaking with fellow rank and file netroots types that I soon realized what was really going on at this conference. The dominant theme of the conference was not chosen, intended, or likely desired by any of the organizers. It wasn’t discussed by any of the panels or speakers I saw. Instead, it was in the halls, in the questions, and on the lips of those without an exhibitor, speaker, or media badge.

The unofficial theme of this conference was of a movement at a crossroads, with a choice between our most deeply cherished principles and our understandable concern in accidentally empowering an insane and openly fascist Republican Party over a corrupt, ideologically conservative, and fully propagandized Democratic Party.

Everywhere at NN11 there were media consultants, organizing consultants, all manner of firms doing everything from polling to new media. All for campaigns, parties and anyone else that can afford them. I wrote about some of these folks yesterday. They are not capable of questioning the rationale of the campaigns they work on because the system works for them. Anything you want, just organize for a candidate and work hard enough and it can happen. Magic thinking, all self serving, and almost all genuinely self deceiving as opposed to knowingly misrepresenting the electoral choices we have every two years.

These professional political types are well on their way to full commodification of progressive politics for their own gain, as the elite gatekeepers of progressive votes, volunteer hours, and wallets. These folks, whether they realize it personally or not, see all the progressives that aren’t them as part of their business model. In their business model what is in our best interest is what works for them and their employers – any other view is unserious and bound to help the scary Republicans.

The professional class in DC sees a world in which there is no alternative, a world in which our goals and salvation runs through them and only through them. And they’re panicking – they know they’re losing us and don’t know what to do. After all, why would everyone with a microphone volunteer their thoughts on the enthusiasm and voting problem if they weren’t scared shitless they were going to lose all of us – and our readers!?

The countervailing force to the Democratic establishment is us, the bloggers, who make these communities what they are and who all know that we have been misled and betrayed on some level. These folks see the choice in front of them. They are seeing that there is an avenue of investigation into activism other than Democratic politics.

These folks, from FDL and dKos and everywhere else, didn’t get into progressive politics to protect their own little turf, or bump their salary, or get their ego stroked by networking. They did not get involved to select a nominee (and we did – Obama would not be president without the support of the netroots during the nomination fight) only to watch that man as president betray their principles and their belief in him, to say nothing of the spineless and corrupted Democrats in Congress. They do not see themselves as cogs in an establishment political system that merely calls itself “progressive”. They got involved to change a country and a world. And increasingly they are seeing the path forward as around the Democratic establishment rather than through it.

These folks know they have a choice, and they are taking that choice seriously. Netroots Nation is a major data point in how people will make that choice. By that measure, the establishment failed miserably. Will progressives now take the chance to jump ship, chart a new course in keeping with our independent spirit, or will be be subsumed by scare tactics and stern talking to’s?

Are we really the kind of fucking retards that will allow ourselves to be used and thrown away twice?

Before next year’s Netroots Nation, a critical mass will be reached in the blogosphere, and there will be consensus on the direction of the movement that we’re all proudly a part of. Either the principled rank and file in the broad swath of left blogistan will embrace the infinite regression of lesser evilism, or we will be in the middle of a frank, long overdue, and wrenching conversation on how to rise from the ashes of our previous discrediting support of Obama and the cruise missile Wall Street liberals.

Will we be co-opted by the likes of the consultant class or can we muster the courage to cast off the shackles of Democratic Party fealty and stand up for ourselves?

Choose wisely. The future of the progressive movement, the country and the netroots as we know it depends on what you think.