Sunday, April 24, 2005

Mediated communities of affinity and geographic preference: A red/blue compromise?

When I moved to Madison two and a half years ago, I was excited to finally be living in a predominantly liberal area. It's not that I couldn't find like-minded people in western upper Michigan and Green Bay, but it was always clear that we were part of the "them" in those places. But beyond that, I was also excited to finally live in a place that had a vibrant local rock scene, was bike-friendly, had an easily accessible slate of events to check out most nights, etc. This was a place that had a lot of things that I liked, and presumably a lot of other people who also liked those things.

I don't think I'm alone in this. I've talked to people here who've expressed similar feelings about coming to Madison, have friends in my old towns who'd like to be elsewhere, and know people who've left here for places like Wichita and are learning to make due with the lesser communities that they can find. Indeed, I seem to recall reading last year that American cities are becoming generally more politically homogenous and polarized; people like me are finding ways to co-locate with other liberals, and the conservative children of Madison are finding their way over to Waukesha County.

But I've been seeing a peculiar sentiment expressed on blogs lately -- "red state" liberals are finding their communities of affinity online, and are taking the strength of those communities back to their offline lives. Rather than wishing aloud that they could move to Madison or Berkeley or even Austin, rather than threatening to bolt for Canada, they are trying to use what they get from the online community -- be it knowledge, moral support or even financial and in-kind donations -- to effect change in and from their conservative locales.

I'm not sure what we might be able to gather from this, but the one thing that pops out at me is that these people are probably seeing online organizing as a viable alternative to traditional democratic activism. But also, I suspect that the in-group trust level is extremely high. Other implications?

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