Saturday, October 29, 2011

Outnumbered and outgunned but unstoppable -- progressive bloggers in the West

Meg Lanker-Simons
Our roundtable session Saturday at the John R. Milton Writers' Conference at the University of South Dakota was entitled, “Snarky Slacktivists or Online Outlaws?: Leftie Bloggers in Red State Wyoming.

Presenters were Michael Shay (me), hummingbirdminds prop.; Jeran Artery, author and editor of Out in Wyoming; and Meg Lanker-Simons, the power behind Cognitive Dissonance. The fourth member of our team, Rodger McDaniel of Blowing in the Wyoming Wind, couldn't make it to USD due to a family emergency.

We were a bit of an odd fit at a writers' conference. Even though its theme was "Outlaw: Law and (Dis)Order in the American West," ours was the only roundtable session in a schedule of literary readings and academic papers. Attendance was sparse. Yet we raged on. Our session even had a soundtrack.

I was appointed chair of the session so I dutifully chaired it (and what fine chairs they have at the new USD student center). The last time I presented at this conference, events were scattered all over campus. The U now has a second floor conference center that includes a ballroom. It reminded me of the conference center facilities UW added to its student center during its renovation several years ago.

Meg's blog came out of her "Cognitive Dissonance" show on KOCA Radio in Laramie. Meg is probably the most outspoken one in this ragtag band. A neo-Marxist who says she would fit right in in Berkeley but is a little out of her element in Laramie, Still, she believes strongly in the issues and has to speak out. She's almost as angry with Wyoming liberals as she is with conservatives due o the fact that they don't speak out and give in so easily to criticism from the roaring conservative majority. Recently, one of our merry band, Rodger McDaniel, has blogged and editorialized about the death of the Wyoming Democratic Party.

Meg is a techie and knows how to set up a radio show playlist. On her blog, her posts are an amalgam of writing, video, photos, music and animation. She actually knows how to push blogging limits. I am a writer who blogs. Meg is an activist who uses blog as bullhorn, maxing out her message with all the tools of technology. She also does her research, which drives her critics crazy.

Jeran Artery
Jaren is also an LGTB activist who blogs. He grew up in Wheatland, one of the most conservative communities in our part of the state. He was married, the father of a daughter, a successful financial adviser, when he came out. His friends and family were critical yet supportive. "What took you so long," was the message he got from most of them. He moved south 70 miles to Cheyenne, where he runs his company and also is director of social change of Wyoming Equality. I got to know Jeran this past winter during the struggles against anti-human legislation proposed by our whackadoodle legislators. That's when Jeran began blogging. He's an actor and artist and not necessarily a writer. He used photos and videos to make his points. His main target has been WY Watch, a group of right-wing fundie nuts who were behind most of the anti-gay, anti-immigrant and anti-women legislation. WY Watch stalks all of our blogs and we will be seeing its minions at the upcoming legislative session. They better be ready for another fight.

My presentation centered around a writer's metamorphosis into a blogger. The outline of my presentation is presented below for your edification.

I love my fellow bloggers. We spend our time speaking out about important issues. We all are tiny voices in an immense state. Outnumbered and outgunned yet unstoppable -- we wouldn't want it any other way.

We have talked about making presentations locally about our roles as denizens in Wyoming's underpopulated progressive blogosphere. Any suggestions on possible venues?

One more thing: thanks to our supporters who contributed to the ChipIn! campaign to send us to the Milton conference. Meg lists the contributors on her blog. We thank you all.

Here's the draft outline of my presentation, "Return of the Diary of a Failed Blogger::
I created a blog on Blogger in 2001. It looked interesting and I thought it could serve some purpose in my writing career, such as it was at the time. 
I prowled around the blogs or web logs as they were originally called. Most of them were on-line journals featuring the detailed doings of 15-year-olds in the suburbs. Shopping at the mall. Who likes (and doesn’t like) whom. Teen angst. The precursor to a lot of what you eventually saw on Facebook and Twitter.
In 2005, political blogs began popping up. I was interested on the ones from a Liberal or Progressive perspective: Daily Kos, Digby, Bartcop, Talking Points Memo, Left in the West from Missoula. I began to blog about Wyoming politics, writing, ADHD, etc. At work, I transferred my e-mail newsletter for writers – WyoLitMail – to a blog. It was a place to showcase WAC programs for writers and to billboard literary events around the state. It wasn't really exciting. We have a better blog now called Wyomingarts that I edit.

My personal blog was hit or miss at this time. In the summer of 2006, the events planner of a writing organization in Denver contacted me about appearing on a panel about “Writers Who Blog.” Leslie Petrovski had a blog about knitting and it was booming. The other presenter was writer and musician Larry Borowsky, founded of Viva El Birdos, a St. Louis Cardinals site (Cards flying high this weekened, eh Larry?). I looked at both of their blogs and they were wildly popular. I looked at my blog and saw tumbleweeds rolling across the screen surface. Not much action.
My 15-minute talk to the Denver group was entitled “Diary of a Failed Blogger.” It was funny, I guess, but also a little sad. But through my knitting and baseball colleagues, I learned a few things about getting and holding readers.  Find you focus and write original stuff on that topic.
I subtitled my blog “Prog-blogging Wyoming.” That was some sort of focus. I zeroed in on the state’s crazy politics as seen in the eyes of a lifelong Democrat, one of the few self-proclaimed Liberals in a truly Red State. I was an officer in the county Democratic Party but I tried to keep my independence from the party line. In the spring of 2008, Howard Dean sent me a nice video saying that I had been chosen to blog from the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. That was a great opportunity to meet my fellow prog-bloggers and exchange tips. We put each other’s links on our blogrolls and exchanged info. Over the next couple years, other progressive bloggers began popping up in Wyoming. Now we have a great group of people blogging from southeast Wyoming, some of whom are up her with me today. 
Last spring, I was voted in as a scholarship recipient at Netroots Nation in Minneapolis. It's great to be a scholarship student at the ripe old age of 60. At NN11, I was among my people. I plan on returning to NN12 in Providence, this time with my fellow outlaw bloggers. 
I blog on Daily Kos as Cheyenne Mike. In August, Chris Cillizza, editor of the Washington Post’s political blog “The Fix,” recently named Hummingbirdminds one of the best of the state-based political blogs in the U.S. Not bad for a failed blogger.

Now here comes the hard part. My fellow writers in my critique group in Cheyenne get on me often about spending too much time blogging and not enough time on my book projects. They are correct. However, I see blogging as a publishing project. Most of it is original work and not re-posting. I’ve started to put together chapbooks featuring my work through Blog2Print. My first effort is the chapbook, “The Chronicles of Tea Party Slim”). The idea is to use these chapbooks as thematic showcases of political essays, satire, humor and even short fiction. I can have them at readings and either sell them at cost or steer people toward the online publishing link where they can order copies for $18.99. It’s good to have your work out there, no matter in what form.
Michael Shay
I remember fondly the former poet laureate of Denver, Lalo Delgado. Lalo passed away 10 years ago. To my knowledge, he never blogged. Yet he published his own work in photocopied chapbooks. He sold them at his readings and gave them away. He went to events and wrote poems on the spot. On a trip to Wyoming in 1999, he and I were driving to a gig at Central High School when we witnessed a plane crash a few blocks away. A girl referred to as “America’s youngest pilot” crash-landed on take-off from the Cheyenne airport. She and her flight instructor were killed. At the end of the day, Lalo had written a poem about it and was reading it to another group of kids.

Lalo Delgado probably would be having a great time with social media if he were alive today. He was already doing it, you see. It was called “being a writer.”


LarsB said...

In your article you go to all lengths the degrade conservatives and republicans, yet at the top of the page is a photo of Meg Lanker-Simon. Can we expect a follow up with proper criticism of Meg Lanker-Simon?

Michael Shay said...


Libertarian said...

This page can't be taken serious after Meg was charged and convicted about the lie she reported to police. Lying to a peace officer is a serious criminal offense.

Michael Shay said...

The proper usage is "seriously," as in "I can't take any anonymous comment seriously."