Several blocks from Xcel Energy Center, in a quaint white cottage, progressive bloggers sit with fingers poised on keyboards, waiting to pounce. The televised primetime proceedings of the Republican National Convention are about to begin and this little house will become a raucous Web war room.
You might call this place the house that SEIU built, or rented as the case may be. The labor union paid for the workspace hosted by Living Liberally, a group that creates communities around progressive politics; The Minnesota Independent online newsmagazine; and a citizen journalism site called The Uptake. Bloggers have been treated to a big screen projection of major speeches as well as food, drinks and camaraderie this whole week, from 5 p.m. until midnight. About 150 are expected to participate tonight.
The progressive "net roots" planned extensively for the Democrats' big dance in Denver, but excitement over their presidential pick, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, hindered preparations for a GOP convention presence, according to Living Liberally's Justin Krebs.
At the GOP convention in New York City four years ago, hundreds of left-leaning bloggers took part in a week of activities, and organizers wanted to ensure something similar was offered in St. Paul. "Building a community and a social movement is important," Krebs said.
While liberal bloggers had daytime workspaces close to the Xcel Energy Center provided by The Uptake and Alliance for a Better Minnesota, right-leaning bloggers were even closer to the action. The GOP credentialed 200 of them from nearly every state, giving them unprecedented access as they worked alongside traditional media. Even if progressives were offered credentials, Krebs said he did not think they would take the bait.
Top bloggers who planned to utilize the Liberal Lounge this week included OpenLeft's Matt Stoller, Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher and Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald, as well as scribes from Media Matters and The Huffington Post.
Krebs did not anticipate any GOP party crashers. "If you're a Republican in town, you have better places to be," he said. "But if they showed up, we'd welcome them in. I think we'd all enjoy the argument."
The Center for Independent Media's Robin Marty said she was part of the project "to get as close as possible to history." She added: "Citizens need to be aware of both sides because if you only have one side, you never know if you're seeing the whole truth." As an example, she cited the police raids and protests in St. Paul, which have received little attention by mainstream media but got widespread coverage by bloggers.
Josh Bolotsky, who blogs at OpenLeft and The Huffington Post, said the nightly gatherings have functioned primarily as a support group. "That sense of togetherness is important," he said. But Krebs put a lighter spin on the Liberal Lounge's significance. "The only way you can watch the Republican convention as a liberal blogger or activist is with a drink in your hand -- and it's not healthy to drink alone."