Affecting change from within…

The addition of former Senator Mike Gravel (D-AK) to an upcoming Human Rights Campaign presidential candidate forum represents a sea change for the progressive gay blogosphere. Whether one thinks Gravel should have been included in the event — slated for August 9th on MTV’s LOGO channel — or not is not that important to the story. The lesson to learn from the experience is that the growing gay blogosphere is what fellow Huffington Post writer Sara Whitman called “a new form of political commentary leaving adolescence with all the swagger of a twenty year old.”

Kudos to the bloggers who wanted this to happen. The Human Rights Campaign deserves credit here, too. Exactly one month and one day after launching their own blog, , the multi-million dollar organization not only heard bloggers and their concerns, but they were able to keep the blogs informed with updates on the emerging event details.

This, of course, is not the first time GLBT bloggers have been engaged making change. When HRC went after Microsoft for not supporting an anti-discrimination bill and Ford for slashing ad purchases in community publications, bloggers helped mobilize petitions and phone calls. When the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation went after Snickers for an anti-gay commercial, bloggers helped engage consumers to pressure Mars, manufacturers of the popular candy bar.

And, of course, and perhaps most important of all, Lane Hudson’s posting of Mark Foley’s emails at StopSexPredators, helped bring down a homophobic Congress and changed the course of history.

What is interesting about the Gravel matter is that it is one of the the first times an effort by bloggers to bring about change within the community was met with such a resounding success. Other bloggers have tried to strong arm groups, as Andrew Sullivan is wont to do. In this case however, bloggers provided just the kind of feedback to bring their views — and those of their readers — to the kind of organization that just a few years ago would take weeks, if not longer, to make changes in response to member concerns.

A little bit about the evolution of the issue. Last Tuesday, HRC issued a press release announcing that Hillary Clinton John Edward and Barack Obama had agreed to participate in a presidential forum on August 9. The forum’s focus, the release said, will be “issues of importance to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.”

HRC responded to the initial question from bloggers: Why wasn’t Mike Gravel invited?

The other standard we set was that the candidates we invited had to have raised $100,000. On the Democratic side, that meant we also invited Sen. Chris Dodd, Sen. Joe Biden, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Gov. Bill Richardson. We wanted to make sure that with the limited time we had to present this forum, our community got to hear from candidates who could actually be President. We have gotten some feedback about not inviting Mike Gravel. Unfortunately, he didn’t meet the $100,000 threshold.

The folks at HRC are good people and I’m 100% certain there was no great conspiracy to exclude Mike Gravel from the debates. At the same time, because of Gravel’s strong support of the community’s issues, a number of leading bloggers — including Whitman, Hudson and Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend — wrote of their disappointment of Gravel not qualifying. (The fact that Gravel had, just days before, hit the $100,000 threshold bolstered the argument for inclusion.)

Blog posts were written, emails flew, calls were made, ideas tossed around. Netroots activists and organizational leaders were united by technology and by week’s end the event was expanded by thirty minutes (to an hour and a half) and Sen. Gravel was invited to attend. Gravel subsequently confirmed his attendance and participation.

“We won!” a friend who blogs about gay politics told me, “Can you believe that the blogs beat HRC at this?”

“No,” I replied, “there is no reason to declare a winner or a loser. The winner here is the entire community. The technology brought us closer together and folks on the same team don’t try to score points against each other.”

People who represent people in Washington listening to people outside the Beltway, what a refreshing change.

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