Correction to This Article
In earlier versions of this story, including the print edition of today's Washington Post, the name of Bernita Smith, a blogger from Atlanta, was misspelled as Bernina Smith.

A Diversity of Opinion, if Not Opinionators

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By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 6, 2007

CHICAGO, Aug. 5 -- It's Sunday, day 4 of Yearly Kos, the major conference for progressive bloggers, and Gina Cooper, the confab's organizer-in-chief, surveys the ballroom of the massive McCormick Place Convention Center. A few hundred remaining conventioneers are having brunch, dining on eggs, bagels and sausage.

Seven of the eight Democratic presidential candidates have paid their respects this weekend, and some 200 members of the credentialed press have filed their stories. A mere curiosity just two years ago, the progressive blogosphere has gone mainstream. But Cooper sees a problem.

"It's mostly white. More male than female," says the former high school math and science teacher turned activist. "It's not very diverse."

There goes the open secret of the netroots, or those who make up the community of the Internet grass-roots movement.

For all the talk about the increasing influence of this growing group -- "We are a community . . . a movement . . . an institution," Cooper said in a speech Saturday night -- what gets scant attention is its demography. While the Huffington Post and Fire Dog Lake, both founded by women, are two of the most widely read blogs, the rock stars are mostly men, and many women bloggers complain of sexism and harassment in the blogosphere.

Walking around McCormick Place during the weekend, it became clear that only a handful of the 1,500 conventioneers -- bloggers, policy experts, party activists -- are African American, Latino or Asian. Of about 100 scheduled panels and workshops, less than a half-dozen dealt directly with women or minority issues.

A panel called "Blogging While Female," held Saturday morning, was an aberration -- an overflow room of about 75, mostly women, a few of them minorities.

"How many of the women in the audience blog?" asked a panelist.

Nearly three-fourths of those present raised their hands.

"How many of you get harassed?"

The hands stayed up. They complain of being harassed online for their views on issues such as abortion rights.

"There's an awful lot of work to do, and the thing to remember is, this progressive movement is at a place right now to bring more voices in, especially when you talk about issues -- abortion, voting rights, public education -- that directly affect women and communities of color," said Latifa Lyles, sitting in the back of the room, her arms crossed, and balancing her computer on her lap. She's black and works for the National Organization for Women.


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