SAN JOSE -- Netroots Nation is coming home.
Not that location matters much to online political activists: Blogs, petitions, fundraising and social media know no borders. But as the annual convention of Internet liberals gathers Thursday through Sunday at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center amid new national concern over electronic surveillance and civil liberties, there's a feeling of returning to the place where the seeds of the Internet revolution were planted.
"The netroots -- those who wage politics online -- exist specifically because of Silicon Valley innovations, from blogging tools like Blogger, Movable Type and WordPress, to the all-important research tools that Google provides, to the Apple hardware that powers nearly every blogger and online activist in the country," said Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder and publisher of the Daily Kos online community that gave birth to the event in 2006 in Las Vegas.
The convention has since been held in places like Chicago, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, but none can match the Bay Area's reputation as the epicenter of liberal politics.
"It is no accident that one of the largest concentrations of visitors to Daily Kos comes from Northern California or, for that matter, that I've happily made my home in Berkeley for the last 13 years," Moulitsas said. "So it's fantastic to finally bring Netroots Nation to the place that has made everything we do possible. The fact that we'll be here at the same time as the PRISM revelations emerge is an interesting coincidence that should provide added color to that debate."
Added color, indeed -- especially as Google and Apple, which Moulitsas named as vital netroots building blocks, are among companies named in a leaked National Security Agency document about PRISM, an anti-terrorism program that collects billions of bits of information from emails, videos and phone calls.
These and other Silicon Valley icons like Yahoo and Facebook have denied involvement in the program, but it's an issue that's sure to be on the lips of more than 3,000 activists as they gather for 80 panel discussions and 40 training sessions plus an array of speeches, film screenings and other events designed to motivate a new generation of liberal leaders.
There will be a Q-and-A with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; a panel discussion on building a movement to prevent gun violence; and myriad sessions on subjects like engaging Latino voters, leveraging social media in social and political campaigns, same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, oil fracking and more. Registration costs range from $95 for youth participants to $355 for activists.
Netroots National executive director Raven Brooks said the legislative battle over the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect IP Act (PIPA) -- which critics said would curtail online speech and innovation -- in 2011 and 2012 sparked unprecedented activism in the tech community. Bringing Netroots Nation to Silicon Valley this year seemed like a good way to keep those new activists energized and engaged, he said.
Democracy for America Chairman Jim Dean recalled the innovative spirit of tech volunteers who supported the 2004 presidential campaign of his brother, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Both Deans will be at Netroots Nation, aiming to stoke those flames again.
"There's so much synergy about this with Silicon Valley, but it is as much about the entrepreneurial spirit as it is about the technology itself," Jim Dean said. "There's that kind of freewheeling spirit, in part networking but in part competitive for the best practices and the best people."
Expect plenty of electoral politicking from candidates wooing attendees.
"Silicon Valley's values are closely aligned with those of the online progressive community, including many issues I have championed, such as comprehensive immigration reform, civil rights, women's rights, and particularly cybersecurity and Fourth Amendment rights," said Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, who'll be on stage at the convention on Thursday evening. "Netroots Nation is the perfect forum to discuss these issues, as the progressive online community has been at the forefront of the debate between online privacy and national security."
Former Obama administration official Ro Khanna, a Democrat who's challenging Honda next year, will be working the convention crowd while his campaign co-chairman, Jeremy Bird -- national field director of President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign -- will be a panelist.
"Silicon Valley is the leading incubator for innovation," Khanna said. "So there is no better place for activists to share their insights, hear from progressive thought leaders and collaborate on using netroots activism to change the world."
What: Eighth annual Netroots Nation, a convention of liberal online activists
When: Kickoff party at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean; sessions run Thursday through Sunday morning
Where: San Jose McEnery Convention Center, 150 W. San Carlos St.
How much: Registration costs $95 for students, $150 for a one-day pass, $355 for the full convention.
Learn more: www.netrootsnation.org