Washington Post Staff WriterTuesday, February 24, 2009; Page C01
Only the blogosphere, perhaps, has room for Pam Spaulding — a black lesbian who lives in North Carolina, the only state in the South that has not banned same-sex marriage.Pam’s House Blend is an influential voice in the gay political blogosphere, must-reads that include the Bilerico Project, Towleroad and AMERICAblog, each attracting a few hundred to a few thousand hits a day. Just as the liberal Net-roots and the conservative “rightroots” movements have affected traditional party structures, the still relatively small gay political presence online is rebooting the gay rights movement in a decentralized, spontaneous, bottom-up way. It’s spreading news via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Online, a story about two 16-year-old girls in a Lutheran private school in California being expelled for “conducting themselves in a manner consistent with being lesbians” — as the school’s lawyer describes it — goes viral. And hits nerves.
“California, Arizona and Florida all passed marriage amendments in November,” says Spaulding, 44, an IT manager by day and a round-the-clock blogger. “All eyes are on North Carolina now.” A few days ago, after reports that groups such as NC4Marriage and Christian Action League are organizing a rally in Raleigh to support “traditional marriage,” Spaulding wrote on her blog, Pam’s House Blend: “As predicted, the professional anti-gay forces plan to descend on NC.” What she doesn’t write is that, so long as she’s blogging, what happens in North Carolina won’t stay in the Tar Heel State.
“Those two girls live in California. California! Imagine what’s happening in, say, Alabama. Or Mississippi,” Spaulding says in an interview.
In the past, someone like Spaulding would have been relegated to the sidelines. She doesn’t work for national gay rights organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign or the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. She lives with her partner, Kate, an audiologist, in Durham, far from San Francisco, New York or Washington, where gay activism has been historically based. But now she’s helping shape the agenda, one voice in a chorus of sometimes dissonant, sometimes harmonious, often in-your-face voices that is pushing established gay groups and redefining the meaning of grass-roots action in this new media age.
Take the immediate reaction to Proposition 8, the California initiative that banned same-sex marriage: Gay bloggers and online activists scheduled rallies across the country, from Providence, R.I., to Albuquerque. Opponents of Prop. 8 gathered on a Web site called Join the Impact, founded three days after Californians passed the initiative by a vote of 52 percent to 48. Facebook groups were created. “Californians Ready to Repeal Prop. 8? has 256,000 members and “Repeal the CA Ban on Marriage Equality — 2010? has 277,000.
“What happened after Proposition 8 caught the national gay groups completely off guard. I think it surprised them. I think it really showed them that when it comes to harnessing grass-roots energy, they need to get online,” says Kevin Naff, editor of the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper. “What happened online came together overnight for little or no money, and the protests were covered by the mainstream press. If national groups wanted to coordinate the kind of mass protests we saw, they would spend $1 million and take six months to do it.”
One of the ways the national groups have adjusted is by blogging themselves. Both GLAAD and HRC have bloggers. Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, regularly reads blogs, including Spaulding’s. Reading them can be challenging, Solmonese says. “Put 10 bloggers together in one room and they all have 10 different ideas about how to make HRC better,” he says.
Though Andrew Sullivan, the openly gay Washington media veteran, has been blogging since 2000, for many, the gay political presence online began nearly five years ago. That’s when blogger Mike Rogers, a longtime activist, began outing gay staffers on Capitol Hill who worked for Republicans supporting what he called “anti-gay” policies. It was controversial, it was provocative, it got everyone’s attention. But the gay political blogosphere wasn’t just about outing. From the outset, it highlighted issues that bloggers felt were misunderstood, back-burnered or not fully covered by the mainstream media.
For instance, when it was announced that the Rev. Rick Warren, whose megachurch in Orange County, Calif., endorsed Prop. 8, would deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration, gay bloggers pounced. “The press made it seem like it was just a Warren versus gays story. It wasn’t. It was a Warren versus gays and a Warren versus choice story. His stance on choice got less attention,” Spaulding says. On inauguration weekend, when the opening prayer by Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be ordained as a bishop in a major Christian church, was excluded from the live HBO broadcast of the concert at Lincoln Memorial, bloggers pounced again. HBO ended up re-airing the broadcast with Robinson, and pressure from the gay blogosphere was one of the reasons why.
“There will be times when the relationship between the White House and gay bloggers will be contentious,” says Steve Hildebrand, who as deputy campaign manager was the highest-ranking openly gay person in Obama’s campaign. He’s now serving as chief strategist for Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), who’s running for a Senate seat. “But because they agree on a lot of issues, 95 percent of the time, it won’t be.”
On the Internet, no group — however controversial or on the fringe — is invisible. Everyone is but a Google search away. And the sheer diversity of blogs written by gays, lesbians and transgenders proves that, like all minority groups, the gay community is not monolithic. Though they may blog about the same topic — say, Prop. 8 — it doesn’t mean they’ll arrive at the same conclusion. After Prop. 8 passed, the meme that religious blacks helped provide the margin of victory was omnipresent. But what about religious anti-gay whites, Spaulding wondered. It wasn’t about race, she insisted in her postings.
“For me, blogging has been about looking outside my own lens. If it wasn’t for reading blogs, for example, I wouldn’t know as much as I know now about transgender issues,” Spaulding says. “At first I thought, ‘I’m not transgender. This is not my issue.’ But then you read about it, you make the connections and you realize that, yes, I’m a part of that, too.”
Spaulding started blogging in 2004, the year 11 states passed laws banning same-sex marriage. She blogged because she wanted to express her frustration, not because she thought people would actually read her postings. But slowly, through online word of mouth, people did. Her influence is not due to the total number of people who read her — she averages about 8,000 unique visitors a day — but the kind of people who do, many of whom are movers and shakers in the gay community.
Often her blog postings are linked to by more highly trafficked blogs before finding their way to a mainstream portal like the Huffington Post. Ads on Spaulding’s site bring some revenue, which usually end up paying travel expenses for her to cover an event or attend a conference. But she doesn’t blog for money. On any given night, she sits on her leather recliner at home, her dogs Chloe and Casey resting on her feet as she browses the Internet.
Shortly after President Obama was sworn in, for example, she headed to WhiteHouse.gov.
There on the home page, up in the main navigation bar, she scrolled through what’s called “The Agenda” and clicked on a section labeled “Civil Rights.” A few paragraphs down, after a laundry list of promises that include ending racial profiling and curbing voter fraud, lies an eight-point, 660-word manifesto detailing the White House’s support for the gay community. With the exception of same-sex marriage, which Obama does not support, it was all there: “Support Full Civil Unions.” “Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell.” “Expand Adoption Rights.” The paragraph on AIDS prevention links the continued stigma surrounding HIV-AIDS to homophobia.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” recalls Spaulding. “I mean, he had listed those issues on his campaign site and also on the transition site. But this is the White House site.” She quickly posted an item about it on her blog, drawing many hopeful and a few skeptical comments. Later, she visited the sites of groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition and the American Family Association, which noted “Obama’s pro-homosexual agenda” on the White House site.
“Obama has said over and over again that his will be an inclusive presidency,” Spaulding says. “So we’ll see. Words are just words. They must become actions. Everyone will be closely watching.”
Including this blogging black lesbian from the South.
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National Black Justice Coalition’s Jewel of the Week: Pam Spaulding
In the blogosphere, success is often judged by the quality of the opposition. By this standard and many others, Pam Spaulding, creator of the influential LGBT political blog Pam’s House Blend(née July 2004), is on top of her game. Ex-gay “Christian” activist James Hartline called Spaulding “a twisted lesbian sister and an embittered lesbian of the self-imposed guttural experiences of the gay ghetto.” On the so-called “Concerned Women for America” radio show, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth Against Homosexuality called Spaulding “a vicious anti-Christian lesbian activist.”
Ouch! Spaulding might well look at this, blush and say, “I’ve done my job!”
“Fibromyalgia: when your brain is not your friend.”
It’s clear – even to the opposition – that Pam Spaulding is doing something right. And folks, she is. As the name of her blog suggests, loyal readers can count on Spaulding to stir up dialogue on politics and race relations in America, among other issues. Spaulding has blogged about her battle with fibromyalgia, including a heartfelt April 2009 post entitled, “Fibromyalgia: when your brain is not your friend,” which discusses her battle with the disease even before her diagnosis:
“In my case, I’ve been battling this since early 2008 without a diagnosis, just when I began ramping up a ton of election year-related blogging and traveling. Normal aches and pains were turning into debilitating fatigue, and pretty severe all-over aches particularly in the AM. I’m not talking about feeling the need to rest, I’m talking about you’re in the middle of an activity and all of a sudden it’s like a switch is flipped and you literally feel like you can’t continue, as in drop dead tired.”
Her struggle, and that of her friends and family, has made her an advocate for health care reform, to a degree that if she weren’t running Pam’s House Blend, she’d be front and center advocating for health care reform. Spaulding notes that “it’s a topic so confusing for many, and equally intimidating – no wonder everyone is mad at Washington; it shouldn’t be rocket science to eliminate people being dropped for pre-existing conditions or ensuring everyone has access to a decent standard of care without going bankrupt.”
Sources of inspiration
Spaulding is no stranger to blazing trails. Being among the first LGBT minority bloggers is consistent with Spaulding’s experience as the first Black woman in quite a few past positions throughout her professional career – like her personal hero Jackie Robinson.
“Every time I thought about the pressure of being a ‘first’ and knowing others would be judged who came after me, fairly or unfairly, I thought of the hell Robinson experienced as the first Black player in Major League Baseball. … While I cannot imagine the depth of terror he must have dealt with on a daily basis, I certainly have found out that race-baiting, threats and demeaning language does come with the territory as a lesbian Black blogger – and it comes from a rainbow of sources, sorry to say.”
Her grassroots activism through Pam’s House Blend makes her other personal heroine, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and one of NBJC’s founders Mandy Carter, proud. Carter has been a source of inspiration and a great mentor to Spaulding, who remarks:
“[Carter] has taught me that even introverts like me can find the gumption to speak out offline as well as online. The beauty of seeing Mandy’s legacy of grassroots activism in action is essential for online activists to see because we have way too many armchair activists who aren’t willing to test their mettle in offline organizing. My efforts to visit local GSAs, to write for the local newspaper as an out lesbian columnist, to speak at NC Pride, and to lobby my state legislators have been inspired by Mandy’s courage to act when it was much less safe to do so.”
Direct line to President Obama
Among the avid readers of Pam’s House Blend are representatives from the White House, who seek out the Blend to keep their ear to the community. And the community, admittedly, has grown impatient with the White House.
“He has run out of time to do little more than hate crimes and possible DADT repeal,” says Spaulding. “While candidate Obama chided Sen. McCain for his inability to multitask, it’s quite apparent that this White House and advisers were banking on stringing our concerns out over two terms.”
If Spaulding had a direct line to the President, she would advise him to focus on education, and to support fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, specifically addressing the misinformation in some segments of the Black Church; ENDA, which she says is “the single-most important piece of legislation that will free many from their closets;” and other pro-LGBT legislation.
The Low Down on the Blend
Pam’s House Blend began solely for self-expression out of political frustration and has grown to expressing a point of view for an audience of more than 8000 readers a day – not including the people she reaches through Twitter and Facebook.
“I find myself thinking about the various constituencies out there, from the religious anti-gay conservatives (who read the Blend too!) to LGBT organizations and movement leaders to politicians and the White House to LGBT youth trying to connect and find common experiences with other commenters. All will take away something different from what I write, so these days I’m more conscious of that, although it still surprises me that anyone really cares about ‘my two cents’ about current events,” Spaulding said.
Her two cents is indeed valuable in a space that is largely devoid of prominent LGBT political blogs representing the views of people of color. Spaulding tells us, “With so many blogs out there, the issue is getting the attention of larger LGBT minority bloggers so that they will link to you, driving traffic to that blog and hopefully earning a bookmark or addition to someone’s RSS reader so they revisit.” She benefited from early adoption, having launched The Blend when there were fewer LGBT blogs of any color, but understands that it’s much more difficult to break in now than back then.
And we sure are happy to have our daily dose of Pam’s House Blend.
We loved Spaulding long before, but seeing her write so openly and honestly about her battle with fibromyalgia and remaining committed to us loyal readers, providing witty and informative commentary on the right-wing’s anti-gay agenda – and also tackling important issues of the day such as the Henry Louis Gates affair last year, or the rank racism during the 2008 presidential race – all while maintaining a full-time job, is heroic in our eyes.
Sharon J. Lettman, NBJC’s executive director, recalls asking Pam what would it take for her to move to DC and be a force on the national scene. Pam remarked that quality healthcare insurance with same-gender marriage recognition was one of the key elements keeping her where she was. This was back in 2008.
Lettman now has a little more insight on this conversation and states, “Advocacy is not a spectator sport, and Pam Spaulding lives and breathes justice for all. It is our pleasure and honor to recognize Pam Spaulding as NBJC’s Jewel of the Week.”
Article by Stacey Gates, NBJC Communications Manager.
Blog TalkBy Blog Talk
Thursday, August 28, 2008; A26
DENVER, Aug. 27 — Here in Confab City, you can’t swing a messenger bag without hitting a blogger; the place is lousy with them. Hundreds are credentialed; here’s one worth clicking on.
Your blog: Pam’sHouseBlend.com, born July 2004.
Your real job: IT manager at Duke University Press.
Your blogger name, and why: Pam Spaulding. “Yes, I blog under my name. Boring, right? But this is who I am. I don’t blog under a handler. I don’t do that. I’m Pam.”
Your real name: Pam Spaulding.
Other deets:45, married (to a woman, whom she wed in Vancouver, Canada, in 2004), lives in Durham, N.C.
We’re dying to know — do you actually brew any of that hazelnut-vanilla flavored junk?
In the blog or in real life?
[Laughs.] I don’t drink coffee, actually. [Laughs again.] I know, I know. That’s the irony right there. [Laughs some more.] I drink tea. English Breakfast tea with half-and-half.
English B reakfast? A little uppity, don’t you think?
[Laughs.] That’s my favorite. But let me make this clear: I call the blog Pam’s House Blend to evoke the imagery of a coffeehouse, where discussions, casual discussions, about politics, about anything, really, take place.
So you happen to a black lesbian blogger . ..
Who’s also a native Southerner . . .
So you happen to be a blogger who’s black, who’s a lesbian and who’s a native Southerner. Anything else before we go on ?
Who is your audience?
I never really think about that — and, in a way, that’s the beauty of blogging. You don’t look for an audience. The audience finds you. I inhabit many universes. Sometimes it’s wonderful. Sometimes it’s a real pain. And in any given community I inhabit, I don’t seem to be entirely in sync with them. Maybe that’s what the appeal is of my blog. Maybe even though we categorize ourselves or people categorize us as “black,” “lesbian,” “Southerner” — whatever — what we experience is somehow always universal.
Isn’t there conflict, though, within those universes?
Well, a lot of black bloggers don’t identify with me, because I write about gay issues. When I write about race-related issues, a lot of my readers — predominantly white, half [of them] gay, half [of them] straight –find it hard to read. This election has really shown how uncomfortable people are when it comes to talking about race. Like, people, especially people in the mainstream media, keep talking about how this is the first post-racial election and Obama is a post-racial candidate.
Wait! That’s not true?
No! No! And I just laugh hysterically when I hear it. Think about it: How can we be post-anything if we haven’t gotten past talking about race? If we haven’t really confronted it head-on? If we keep on getting defensive, both blacks and whites, whenever we hear something that makes us uncomfortable? There’s a certain amount of self-segregation going on in both sides.
What was it like to watch Michelle Obama give her prime-time speech live?
An amazing moment is all I can say. She’s the full realization of a woman, a black woman, who has risen through the ranks. She’s the image of a professional black woman who, aside from Oprah, we usually don’t see. The Cosbys, in effect, were not fiction. There are black families like that. My family is like that. But you rarely, rarely ever see them.
– Jose Antonio Vargas
Agence-France Presse, August 27, 2008
DENVER, Colorado (AFP) — A new media army has descended on the Democratic convention in Colorado this week, boldly claiming to offer a fresh perspective on US politics distinct from the mainstream media.
For the first time ever at a major convention, bloggers say they are being treated with respect normally reserved for print and electronic journalists, a reflection of the Internet’s growing influence on the campaign trail.
Democratic convention organizers issued around 120 credentials specifically for bloggers at this year’s convention –roughly three times as many as they did at their last extravaganza in Boston four years ago.
Dedicated work areas for bloggers have been set up inside the Pepsi Center, while those reporting from the sidelines are gathering at “The Big Tent”, a two-story structure catering to around 500 independent bloggers.
Jen Bruenjes, a contributing editor at the liberal blog Daily Kos, which is one of three sponsors of the facility said for 100 dollars bloggers got a workspace, free wi-fi, and perhaps most attractively, free beer.
“We had a lot of feedback from the 2004 convention that activities during the day were pretty boring but that the bloggers enjoyed hanging out together,” Bruenjes said. “So we thought let’s create a zone where we can do that. Once we started down that road the interest skyrocketed.”
“I think four years ago in Boston there was nothing. Just a conference room with a couple of crates of beer and wifi.”
As well as allocating more dedicated blogger credentials, Democratic organizers have also chosen 55 online commentators to represent 54 states and territories attending the convention.
This band of bloggers are granted access to the convention floor in order to report on their state delegation from the front lines.
“(Democratic National Comittee chairman) Howard Dean told us yesterday that we had better access than the mainstream media and I actually think that’s true,” said Cheryl Contee, a founder of JackandJillpolitics.com, a blog set up to focus on black issues.
“We’re getting access to the podium, to the floor, there really aren’t many places that are off limits.”
The embrace of new media has not been limited to the Democrats. The Republicans have also rushed to woo bloggers, issuing around 200 credentials for next week’s convention in St Paul, Minnesota, up from a handful in 2004.
“A lot of people find the traditional media very stale, very programmed,” said the Daily Kos’s Bruenjes. “Our readers are looking for something more than a 30-second soundbite on important issues.”
Contee echoed that view, arguing that the explosion in blogs reflected a growing distrust of traditional media, citing the reporting by US media of the build-up to the 2003 war in Iraq as a key reason.
“Blogs have become important because there’s been a declining trust in the mainstream media particularly in the lack of hard-hitting reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war,” Contee said.
“That combined with the new availability of tools that allows anyone to publish and create their own audience, which didn’t exist before.”
JackandJillpolitics.com was launched in 2006 with only two bloggers and now has a staff of six people, even if it is only a hobby for Contee, who is a full-time technology consultant.
Now the site is attracting 100,000 unique users every month and has carved out a niche for people want “news without the usual filters.”
Pam Spaulding, the founder of PamsHouseBlend.com, which specializes in commentary and reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, the religious right and race matters, also blogs around a day job in academic publishing. “I had to take my paid time off to come here,” Spaulding told AFP. “I’ve pretty much exhausted my allowance for the whole year. I’m going to have to take unpaid leave for the rest of the year if I want to travel, but fortunately my employer is supportive.
“My goal is to cover the stories that you’re not going to see on television or primetime. We can’t compete with the resources the networks or traditional media have.”
Feature on the Blend in the New York Times, August 22, 2008
The Year of the Political Blogger Has Arrived
By AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS
Published: August 22, 2008<!–NYT_INLINE_IMAGE_POSITION1 –>
WHEN Pam Spaulding heard from two contributors to her blog, Pam’s House Blend, that they couldn’t afford to attend the Democratic National Convention, she knew that historic times called for creative measures.
Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times
UNPAID HOBBY Pam Spaulding called on readers to help her get to the Democratic convention.
For Ms. Spaulding, 45, who works full time as an IT manager at Duke University Press in Durham, N.C., blogging is her passion, an unpaid hobby she pursues at nights and on weekends. So she called on her 5,500 daily readers to help raise funds: “Send the Blend to Denver” reads the ChipIn widget on her blog’s home page that tracks donations from readers; so far they have pledged more than $5,000 to transport Ms. Spaulding and three other bloggers to the convention.
Beginning Monday, hundreds of bloggers will descend on Denver to see Barack Obama accept his party’s nomination. Next week, hundreds more will travel to St. Paul to witness John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. But now these online partisans, many of whom are self-financed, must contend with all the logistical and financial hurdles just to get there — not to mention the party politics happening behind the scenes.
This year, both parties understand the need to have greater numbers of bloggers attend. While many Americans may watch only prime-time television broadcasts of the convention speeches, party officials also recognize the ability of bloggers to deliver minute-by-minute coverage of each day’s events to a niche online audience.
“The goal is to bring down the walls of the convention and invite in an audience that’s as large as possible,” said Aaron Myers, the director of online communications for the Democratic National Convention Committee. “Credentialing more bloggers opens up all sorts of new audiences.”
But some bloggers see the procurement of credentials as less of a privilege and more of a right, in recognition of their grass-roots influence. “This is stuff we deserve — we helped the party get people elected,” said Matt Stoller, a political consultant and a contributor to the blog Open Left, who worked as the volunteer in charge of getting credentials for bloggers at the Democratic convention four years ago. “Maybe in 2004 it was about being accommodating and innovative — but this time around there’s a real fight for power in the party.” The major political parties first gave credentials to bloggers in 2004. The Republicans allowed a dozen bloggers to attend their convention in New York, while the Democrats gave bloggers 35 seats in the nosebleed section of the Fleet Center in Boston.
This year, the R.N.C. gave credentials to 200 bloggers as a means to “get Senator McCain’s message out to more people,” said Joanna Burgos, the press secretary of the convention.
For bloggers attending the Democratic convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, two types of credentials are offered. The first is a national credential, which offers the same access granted to members of traditional news media organizations.
The second, more coveted credential is the state blogger credential. It allows one blogger per state to cover the convention alongside its state delegation, with unlimited floor access. Inspired by the strategy of Howard Dean, the D.N.C. chairman, to organize in all 50 states, the state-blogging credential was highly sought after, with as many as 14 blogs vying to represent a single state.
D.N.C. organizers said the recipients of these credentials were chosen by looking at the posts and mission statements of the competing blogs, and at the traffic these sites generated. But controversy soon arose in the blogosphere about whether political favoritism played a role.
“It’s a recognition from the D.N.C. of the work that you’ve done, of your import, your significance,” said Phillip Anderson, 38, whose blog, the Albany Project, has covered New York State politics since 2006. “We were the site the D.N.C. was talking about — we just assumed we would get it,” said Mr. Anderson, who received a national credential instead of the state honor.
Mr. Myers of the Democratic National Convention Committee conceded that tough calls had to be made. “Nobody here, certainly not I, believes there’s only one good blog in every state,” he said. “It’s just not true.” In the last week, the D.N.C. released an additional 100 credentials that will allow multiple contributors from the same blog to cover the convention in tandem.
But the last-minute disbursement of credentials has only exacerbated many bloggers’ frustrations.
“It’s unprecedented access for bloggers, yes, but it’s certainly not equal access,” said Ms. Spaulding, who learned last week that Pam’s House Blend would receive two extra credentials. “What, pray tell, is the big secret?”
The annoyance felt by many bloggers is familiar to those who previously attended conventions as correspondents for smaller print publications. “This is very reminiscent of being at the low end of the totem pole,” said Micah Sifry, the co-founder of the group blog Techpresident.com, who formerly wrote for The Nation magazine and attended his first convention in 1984. “They can’t buy a sky box, they’re scrambling.”
One perk that bloggers will have access to in Denver is the Big Tent, an 8,000-square-foot two-story structure adjacent to where the convention is being held. For a $100 entrance fee, 400 credentialed bloggers will be allowed to enter the air-conditioned space, hosted by a coalition of progressive blogs and organizations and sponsored by the Web sites Google and Digg, where they can eat meals and find work spaces with Wi-Fi.
“I’m telling everyone to meet me at the Big Tent,” said Fred Gooltz, 30, an online strategist with Advomatic, a Web development and strategy firm. “That’s where I’ll be meeting everyone else who’s like me, folks that I’ve only met online or blogged and e-mailed with.” Mr. Gooltz sees the $100 fee as a bargain, especially since he would rather network “with movementarians, who see themselves as a progressive movement, separate from the Democratic Party hierarchy.”
Markos Moulitsas, whose Web site, the Daily Kos, is one of the Big Tent’s organizers, said he would probably remain in the tent for much, if not all, of the convention. “I have no interest in going to the convention hall and chances are I will not,” he said. “There’s nothing happening in the convention hall that would justify braving the long security lines and crowds.”
For bloggers who do not wield as much influence as Mr. Moulitsas, paying for the trip to Denver meant appealing directly to their readers for contributions — an uneasy bargain for many writers who value their independence.
This summer marked the first time that Mr. Anderson of the Albany Project asked readers for donations on his own behalf. “I would never go to my readers and say, I really need a vacation,” said Mr. Anderson, who makes his living as a consultant, and earns a few thousand dollars a year from the advertising revenue his blog generates. “It’s kind of humbling that people value what we’re doing to the point where they’re willing to give us $20.”
Through contributions as small as $5 or $10, Mr. Anderson said, he was able to raise about $1,500 for his Denver trip.
John Odum, 40, the lead author of the political blog Green Mountain Daily, felt similarly conflicted. Though his readers did supply him with a new laptop computer on his 40th birthday, Mr. Odum, who lives in Montpelier, Vt., and works for a local environmental nonprofit, was reluctant to ask them for further acts of generosity. In an election year, he said, “People ought to be giving it to a candidate, not giving me their spare money.”
Now a yellow “donate” icon on his site links to a separate PayPal account, where readers can contribute toward Mr. Odum’s estimated $1,000 travel costs. He said he had received enough support to pay for the $400 air fare.
“It takes me back to my hippie-ish youth, thrown in a situation with very little to fall back on and not 100 percent certain where I’ll be sleeping,” Mr. Odum said. He said he might have to unfurl his sleeping bag on someone’s hotel room floor if the housing space he reserved on Craigslist does not pan out.
Among the devoted readers who believe Mr. Odum deserves their donations is Nate Freeman, one of two Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor of Vermont. Mr. Freeman, 40, gave about $100 to Mr. Odum’s laptop fund, and said he would contribute $50 for Mr. Odum’s convention trip.
“Barack doesn’t need my 50 bucks,” Mr. Freeman said, “but John does.”
Feature on the Blend in Raleigh News & Observer, July 7, 2008
In today’s Raleigh News & Observer, there’s a long profile by Sadia Latifi, “Blogger gets respect: Durham resident writes on progressive issues.” It’s a good look at the blog, with quite a bit of personal background included. Actually, I didn’t think most of the information I gave to Ms. Latifi would make it into the article. You know, you sit down with the reporter for a couple of hours and figure they’ll pick a few quotes here and there and it will end up a little squib somewhere in the back of the paper, but it’s a full-blown feature piece…with photos (argh!). But at least it gives non-bloggers a peek into my world.
Ian Palmquist of Equality NC and former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal were also interviewed and had kind words to say. The N&O’s Sadia Latifi gave me the thumbs up to repost the piece.
Blogger gets respect
Durham resident writes on progressive issues
Published: Jul 07, 2008 12:00 AM
By Sadia Latifi, Staff Writer
It was her third time seeing John Edwards in person, but this time he was with his wife and kids shopping at Target. So the supporter of the former presidential candidate kept her distance.
But when she went home, Pam Spaulding did what she does most nights: She blogged about it. A few days later she got a response to her post about the sighting: “You should’ve spoken up!”
The comment was from Elizabeth Edwards.
Spaulding, a Durham native, is a bit of a local celebrity these days, recognized in supermarkets and airports by her dirty-blond dreadlocks. And it’s all because of her blog, Pam’s House Blend, which turns four years old this month. The progressive, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issue-centered blog is also one of the first to acquire press credentials to this year’s Democratic National Convention, which is granting access to bloggers for the first time.
It’s a responsibility Spaulding takes seriously — even if some politicians and mainstream media don’t think a blogger deserves to have it.
“Sometimes, yes, it’s profane, sometimes it’s rude, sometimes it’s not grammatically correct, but the medium is different. It’s fast and loose,” she says. “But that does not mean that the ideas are bankrupt, that the criticism isn’t legitimate.”
Pam’s House Blend has won a number of awards, including the Distinguished Achievement Award from The Monette-Horwitz Trust, for making strides toward the eradication of homophobia; Best LGBT Blog in the 2005 and 2006 Weblog Awards; and accolades from the likes of gay activist Mandy Carter and former Democratic Senate candidate Jim Neal.
The site gets about 5,500 hits per day and is one of the top 50 progressive blogs on the Internet, according to the New Politics Institute. Though there are four other contributors on the site now, the quick-witted Spaulding posts multiple times a day.
“She knows what she’s talking about, so you need to be careful before you challenge her,” Neal says. “She will pound you if she doesn’t agree with you or if she doesn’t think you’re giving her the answer to your question.”
Spaulding’s particular blend of posts focus on doggedly following gay issues in Washington and exposing the seeming hypocrisy of media outlets and politicians; a current target is alleged bathroom foot tapper Sen. Larry Craig, who is co-sponsoring a Marriage Protection Amendment in Congress. Each post contains well-documented links and footage, and Spaulding makes sure to add a healthy dose of snark.
Pam’s House Blend doesn’t focus on North Carolina issues, but Spaulding says she uses her experiences here to form a perspective that’s different from those of pundits in Washington and New York.
“Those guys live, sleep, eat and breathe politics, and they don’t know how real people live,” she says. “They get tunnel vision, and they’re convinced that they’re right. They think of the population at large as illiterate and easily manipulated.”
She’s found this year’s election interesting to cover, though disheartening in the ways the topic of race has been used and — in her opinion — abused.
“It was pretty clear in mainstream media coverage that they didn’t know how to talk about it except only in the most exploitative terms and that made it very dangerous — to unearth it and not really deal with it,” she says. “Why are the people in Appalachia so easily stimulated into saying, ‘I just won’t vote for a black man.’ There’s no exploration of those issues.”
Becoming an activist
It was when she entered junior high school that Spaulding first became aware of the significance of her racial identity. She was the first black student to make the honor roll at Pearsontown School in Durham (now an elementary school) — where blacks were the majority.
“Even at that age, I was stunned,” she remembers. “I knew something was wrong.”
The realization put experiences into perspective for her, but she didn’t become an activist until much later. In fact, political action is a bit of a legacy. Her grandmother Elna B. Spaulding founded Women-in-Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes, a group born in 1968 amid civic unrest in Durham. Her grandfather, Asa Spaulding Sr., was the president of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Durham County’s first black commissioner.
“When I was growing up, Sunday morning talk shows were always on at my house,” she remembers. “So I was definitely always aware of things that were going on, but it didn’t activate me.”
Her activism wasn’t spurred when she came out, either. She first told her family she was gay in the ’80s; she describes the experience as uneventful. In July 2004, she was legally married to her partner Kate, in Vancouver, British Columbia — right around the time she started Pam’s House Blend. Duke University Press, where Spaulding has worked for 15 years, offers benefits for same-sex partners.
The blog, launched the summer before the 2004 election, became an outlet for her frustrations as a gay, black woman living in the South.
“When you saw people put marriage on the ballot to vote on, that activated me. I could not believe it was happening,” she says. “I was really just venting my frustration at the way the religious right has a stronghold on both of the parties.”
Neal says he didn’t realize how much influence Spaulding’s blog had until he was in Washington.
“I was at a cocktail event at Ted Kennedy’s house and somebody came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re Jim Neal. I recognize your picture from Pam’s House Blend,’” he recalls. “I realized then that she was a big deal with a very wide readership.”
Ian Palmquist of Equality NC, a gay rights advocacy group, agreed.
“Her blog is one of the most preeminent online. It’s a great way of educating progressives and the LGBT community of what the issues are and how to take action on them,” he says. “It pushes the envelope and really challenges people in the community to think about issues in a new way.”
Though she originally supported Edwards because of what she believes are progressive policies toward health care and LGBT issues, Spaulding says she’s pleased with the presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama. “There is meaning in symbolism,” she says. “If we elect a black man, it’s a huge thing that children can see, children of all colors.”
She’s nervous for Obama, though.
“I think everyone is going to be disappointed,” she says. “No one can live up to what they see in him. D.C. has been the way it has been for decades –he is not going to change it in four years. You would have to be superhuman to be able to undo what Bush has done.”
At this point, blogging has become like a second job. She even occasionally takes time off work to attend panels and make appearances on shows like CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
Yet she says she’s not entirely comfortable with her notoriety, even if it’s only in a small part of the blogosphere.
“I’m uncomfortable with the idea that people think I’m right about everything,” she says.
Interview, Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Magazine, Fall 2007
In August 2007 I received an email from Chris Johnson, the blogmeister of Human Rights Campaign’s institutional blog, HRC Back Story, asking whether I’d be interested in participating in an profile/interview for the organization’s membership publication, Equality.
I said yes because there seems to be a lot of mystery and misconceptions about political blogging (and bloggers) out there. Based on many conversations I have had online and offline, people think: 1) you’re online all the time; 2) you blog for a living (I wish!); 3) the goal of your writing is to conquer the political universe and destroy political institutions and people from the comfort of your keyboard, and 4) bloggers are somehow disconnected from the real world.
Pam Spaulding’s blog is one you want to definitely keep your eye on – if you don’t already. Spaulding, 44, is the whirling force behind Pam’s House Blend, one of the most admired and beloved blogs coming out of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. As an out lesbian living in the South, a woman of color and a shrewd political commentator, she offers a singular voice that cuts through the congested blogosphere. Every week, more than 40,000 visitors – gay and anti-gay alike – stop in. Spaulding’s blog has become a high-profile counterpoint to right-wing, anti-gay propaganda. It’s also a national outlet for discussing election issues, the Iraq War and anything else on which she has an opinion. Spaulding, of course, will be the first to tell you how mind-blowing it is to know how much of a voice she has -considering she’s just “someone typing away opinions as a hobby in their jammies in the dead of night in Durham, N.C.”
Recently, Spaulding took time from her busy work-by-day (she’s an IT manager at Duke University), blog-by-night schedule to talk to HRC’s Chris Johnson about “third rail” topics, married life and, especially, the Larry Craigs of the world.
[I've added hyperlinks...]
Why did you start blogging? How did you come up with the name, Pam’s House Blend?
I was completely frustrated by the political climate when I launched the Blend in July 2004. The religious right and the Republican Party were working mightily to re-elect Bush and other social conservatives by continually flogging LGBT citizens … I had to find an outlet to put my thoughts down.
The name of the blog was originally a play on words about coffee — ironically, I don’t drink it myself — reflecting my own blend of opinions and oddball takes on life and political matters. Once the Blend became more popular, and the commenters found their way there and shared their opinions, it became the idea of the blog being branded as a welcoming “coffeehouse” where civil conversations and debates could take place. It just sort of fell into place.
Why do you think your blog is so popular?
There aren’t too many black Southern lesbians blogging about politics. I’m a mixed bag of perspectives in other ways as well. I lived for many years in New York City — Hollis, Queens and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in the ’70s and ’80s — as well as in Durham, N.C., where I grew up and reside now, so I’m well aware of the regional cultural divides. I’ve also been poor (nearly homeless in fact), but I have also lived a middle-class existence as well. All of these circumstances inform my work…. And perhaps because … I’m really just an average person — I’m not a lobbyist, a political consultant or a professional activist — living my life out and proud in a Red-turning-Purple state…
Blogs are so personality-driven. What part of your personality really comes out when you write?
I think it depends on the blog post in question. My blunt, snarky, sarcastic side comes out at times, usually when dealing with issues such as the classic Republican sexual hypocrites, you know, the ones who engage in the most outlandish sexual behavior while attempting to pry into your bedroom with legislation or endless biblethumping.
When I write more long-form posts, such as one I wrote about my religious beliefs, I am usually just … opening myself up in a way that encourages readers to share their views in the comments. I’m not afraid of being vulnerable out there.
You’ve done substantial reporting on issues surrounding the ultra right and its efforts to exploit homophobia. What has surprised you the most in your research into that?
I think that the more I learn about the right wing, the more I’m convinced that they all need a good therapist. The level of dysfunction, intellectual inconsistency, hypocrisy and even worse, the craven amount of fund raising by fearmongering is outlandish.
One of my most interesting interviews was with former staff attorney for the American Family Association, Joe Murray, a conservative who has since “come out” a conservative who has since “come out” as an ally for LGBT rights….
For whatever reason, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth Against Homosexuality seems to like to spar with me…. Part of his efforts related to “exposing” the agenda is to attend events like Chicago’s International Mr. Leather (on multiple occasions) undercover in leather gear to take pictures – to inform his readership, of course. Now how can I not write about that?
A busy blog and a day job … How do you do it? Lots of coffee?
No coffee, but quite a bit of English breakfast tea, and a few Chessman cookies! The grind of writing 5-7 articles a day is taxing.
Do you think the majority of mainstream journalists now understand the power of the blog? They’re your most avid readers, right?
Journalists are reading the blogs, but don’t quite understand them very well yet. It’s still somewhat of a wild west out here in blogtopia. There are no deadlines – we’re out here 24/7, analyzing and comparing stories, digging up facts and inconsistencies, that i makes it difficult to compete. On the other hand, most bloggers are quite dependent on the mainstream media to do the original reporting – we do analysis and followup. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
The bottom line is that many talented bloggers don’t have the ad revenue, infrastructure or corporate expense account to travel and do original reporting that the mainstream press has.
Are you optimistic that more lesbians will launch blogs? Any advice to those who do?
I hope there are more out there ready to take the plunge! More voices and perspectives are welcome. One piece of advice — don’t be afraid to promote your work by commenting and leaving links to your work (known as ‘blogwhoring’) at sites you visit that have a similar feel. E-mail links to your favorite bloggers — nice ones will provide link love (link back to your blog). That’s how I gained readership — and it’s the right thing to do.
Regional and state blogging, when it comes to LGBT issues, are fertile ground to break into. Some of my most popular entries are about first hand accounts (sometimes with photos or video) passed on from other bloggers about news events in their area that don’t hit the major media — fundamentalist protests of local pro-LGBT legislation, gains made that can inform people in other small towns or cities about how to effect change at the local level. All of this is powerful activism — sharing information.
And finally — find a writing style that is comfortable to you. Many blogs are personality-driven, I find those interesting. What has been the most surprising impact of your blog that you can point to?
That what I write seems to resonate with so many people all over the country — and around the world. It’s pretty clear that there are many ways we can learn from one another as we work toward the common goal of equality. Our differences sometimes result in our talking past one another and not keeping our eyes on the prize of civil rights for all.
The issue also features a conversation with Chris Johnson about Back Story, as well as a chat with Jeremy Hooper of Good As You.
Thanks to photog Judy Rolfe for taking shots that didn’t break her camera.
Here are a few questions and answers that didn’t make the cut in Equality (the feature takes up two-and-a-half pages as it is, so that’s understandable). I’ll post them here, since they are questions I’ve been asked fairly often.
What does your wife think about your blogging? Does she have a role of any sort?
Kate is very supportive of my blogging, though she does worry that I don’t get nearly enough sleep. She doesn’t blog, but she has gone “on assignment” with me, helping to take pictures and stills at the last Servicemembers Legal Defense Network annual dinner, which I liveblogged. She finds it fascinating that by simply speaking my mind or wrestling with tough subjects online — that there are actually people directly involved in the LGBT rights movement that read my work with interest. She is glad that blogging has given voices outside the institutional infrastructure — mine, as well as many others — a chance to be heard.
Kate keeps me grounded. I’m just the geeky wife when not online. We plan on saving our pennies to take a nice long vacation to Vancouver, BC sometime soon (we married there in 2004) and escape blogworld for a while.
Are you looking forward to the campaign months ahead?
I think the 2008 races will be very interesting to watch and blog about. The candidates know that the response time to gaffes and political miscues is almost immediate — that’s why they are desperately wanting to get ahead of the blog curve. Campaigns on the left and the right, at local, state, and national levels, are figuring out that they really cannot ignore or co-opt bloggers. The army of keyboarders is too large.
Regarding the races and LGBT issues, I would like to think that the right-wing has retired its homosexual strawman after 2006, but something tells me they may have no choice, since they have boxed themselves in — the GOP presidential candidates have not only chosen to ignore LGBT issues, but have taken pretty fringe positions at this point — not opposing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — come on, the American people are ahead of them on that count. Even Bush managed to squeak out vocal support for the concept of civil unions in the 2004 race. When you have Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, former supporters of the LGBT community running from their own positions, that’s a party in shambles. At the very least, it will be entertaining to watch.
Here’s the rest of my answer to what surprises me about the impact of my blogging.
…What really surprises me is the fact that I have been asked to speak or serve on panels because of my blogging. It’s a pretty big leap of faith to think that someone typing away opinions as a hobby in their jammies in the dead of night in Durham, NC is going to be remotely interesting or enlightening as a panelist. That’s the recovering introvert talking.
And I guess the flip side is that it’s shocking to know that so many anti-gay activists read the blog frequently. I receive a ton of email (it’s hard to keep up these days), but the taunts, reactions and comments that land in my inbox from these folks makes me think they are in a perpetual state of rage. You know you’re popular with that crowd when they start emailing you links to their anti-gay diatribes — one landed in my inbox today. And yes, it was too unhinged to resist posting about it!