Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Like, Favorite, Retweet: At Netroots Nation, Sharing Was Caring

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June 28, 2013

From National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change to CatalystCon to the National Womens Studies Association’s annual convening, I’ve been to my fair share of conferences. When I attended Netroots Nation last week, I was certain that that it would feel old hate. After all, conferences like this tend to follow a predictable template:

1. Tote bags are a given.


2. Where there are tote bags, there will be free swag.


3. You will be given a detailed itinerary at the beginning of the conference. It’ll contain workshops, panels, and mixers on every possible subject imaginable.

4. While perusing said itinerary, you will have an existential crisis as you determine which simultaneously occurring panels you’ll attend.

Sometimes, you’ll be able to decide.

Others times, you’ll dart between conference rooms mid-session, attempting to absorb as much information as you can.

There will even be rare occasions where, rather than choosing between a rad panel on youth and an equally-as-rad panel on women, you’ll think, “f*ck it” and dip out to find that hot dive bar which all the locals frequent.

Despite your best intentions, you will have done all three by the time the conference is over.

5. Aggressive networking is a given. By the time you leave a conference, you will have memorized a 30-second spiel about yourself and the work that you do, have approximately 50 new business cards crammed into your wallet (and just as many papercuts from handing out your own).

Despite being a seasoned conference-goer, nothing could really prepare me for this year’s Netroots Nation. The minute I entered the venue, I immediately got the sense that I was experiencing something huge: I was witnessing the ushering in of a new era of how we attend and interact at conferences.

As someone who regularly Tweets, Tumbls, and Instagrams herself into an Internet coma, it seems a bit funny to say that those the realms of conferences and technology had never fully overlapped for me. Despite it being 2013, I’m all too accustomed to having to take session notes with pen and paper, pay for wireless, hunt down a complimentary computer lab, or dangle out of a fifth-story window to get phone reception if I want to share something to the Internet during a conference.

So color me surprised when I discovered that Netroots Nation had a free WiFi network set up for attendees. The conference also had its own session livestreams, as well as Twitter hashtag (#NN13) and sub-hashtags for specific activities. Instead of feeling ashamed for being on a phone, tablet, or laptop, I was actually being encouraged to virtually share the things I’d learned with the rest of the world. This felt important for several reasons. One, I got to pretend that I was Barbara Walters, breaking Netroots Nation news by way of my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Two, I felt as though I was promoting information accessibility.

Conferences are still pretty off-limits to the general public; not everyone has the means to travel cross-country and attend 4 day-long convenings. At the end of the day, these progressive events mean nothing if we do not or cannot share what we’ve learned with others. Because Netroots Nation WiFi and social networking-friendly environment, we were able to not only educate others as we were being educated. We were also able to capture and share the high of being in such a progressive space; one which would’ve faded substantially had we waited until we returned home to relay information to our peers by word-of-mouth or longform blog entry.

One of my favorite examples of the intersection of conferencing and technology occurred during the Liberate Your Ass: Why Sexual Freedom is Key to Fighting the Right panel, which featured some really great speakers including WAM!’s Jaclyn Friedman, Choice USA’s Kierra Johnson, artist Favianna Rodriguez, and Asking For What You Want’s Marcia Baczynski. During this discussion on the intersection of sexual and political liberation, attendees made use of the #NN13sex hashtag on social networks to post their own thoughts and quotations from the panelists.

This revolution? It was televised. You can watch a recording of the livestream here:


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