by Rob Schofield, NC Newsline
It’s amazing how terms that seemed so new and cutting edge just a few years ago now strike us as obsolete and almost quaint.
In the first decade of the 21st century, blogs – mostly rudimentary websites in which, typically, an individual or a small group posted a series of takes and initiated conversations with commenters on a subject or subjects – were very hip, modern and important.
Especially in the years before platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok had taken over the world, blogs were the first tool that gave every person with a computer and access to the internet the chance to be a publisher and to hold forth on the issues of the day without a filter or intermediary.
Most of the millions of blogs that emerged were (and remain) amateurish efforts with infrequent content and tiny audiences. Some, however, caught on. They became influential, and, as the saying goes, came to “move the needle.”
One such very important effort in the world of North Carolina policy and politics was the site Blue NC.
Launched in 2005 by a pair of UNC law students, Blue NC took its name from the color that, through no reason other than the quirk of having been selected by the designers of U.S. political maps for TV, had come to be associated with the Democratic Party. Blue NC had no affiliation with the party; indeed, contributors regularly blasted Democratic politicians. But as the site’s “about” page still notes, Blue NC was “an independent website committed to progressive politics in North Carolina.”
As countless other wannabe bloggers have discovered through the years, maintaining a website and populating it with timely, relevant and readable content can become a full-time job very quickly. It’s rarely a task for busy law students or beginning lawyers, so in the case of Blue NC, the task quickly fell to a rather unlikely pair of the site’s most talented and passionate early contributors – a remarkable duo of mid-career professionals named James Protzman and Steve Harrison.
Neither is the kind of individual that central casting would call up to spearhead an unabashedly liberal website chockful of hard-hitting commentary about issues like combating racism, homophobia, and misogyny; promoting public education; championing higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy to fund a robust social safety net; and pleading for policies that would protect our fragile natural environment.
Both men are proud military veterans. Protzman is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served as a Navy officer. Harrison was a U.S. Army Special Forces paratrooper. As Protzman recalled in a recent conversation, the idea that two vets with “hippie” politics would come together online and become such an effective and prolific pair of voices for progressive change over such an extended period is pretty astounding.
But effective and prolific they did become. Both men authored thousands of posts over the last 17-plus years (click hereand here) that skewered reactionary politicians and the big-money plutocrats whose bidding those pols so often carried out. Recognizing that the anti-government right had, as Protzman recalled, so effectively purchased control of the state’s conservative movement, Blue NC attempted to respond by “fanning the flames of outrage” amongst the state’s under-resourced progressive communities. At its peak, Blue NC boasted a corps of 10 active front-page contributors and at least three to four new and original posts every day.
And while the website never shied from pointed and provocative broadsides against those whom its contributors saw as the leading forces of reaction – conservative megadonor Art Pope came to be known on the site as the “Puppet Master” – it also featured plenty of spirited debate between and amongst progressives. Democratic gubernatorial competitors Bev Perdue and Richard Moore even came on to do live Q&A sessions in 2008.
After Republicans took control of the General Assembly and embarked upon an aggressive campaign to roll back scores of progressive policies, Blue NC readership soared during 2010’s and both men found themselves drawn more directly into politics.
Harrison became a member of the planning board in his hometown of Gibsonville and ran for the town’s Board of Aldermen, even as he continued to work full-time and post a steady stream of content on environmental issues.
Protzman even launched a brief campaign for governor a couple of years ahead of the 2016 election in hopes of prodding Democrats to marshal a spirited and progressive challenge to incumbent Republican Pat McCrory – a challenge that Roy Cooper ultimately obliged.
Not surprisingly, the Trump years provided a target rich environment for progressive outrage from Blue NC authors – often in ways that made the actions and stances of people like Pope and McCrory seem rather tame by comparison.
Earlier this year, however, the combination of the rapidly evolving online environment and the competing demands of real life – other work, family obligations, health concerns for Protzman – led the two men to decide that the time had wind things down.
It hasn’t been a particularly happy process. During our chat, both evinced deep concerns about the current state of the state, nation and planet and a sense of regret that Blue NC hasn’t been able to do more to stymie the wave of hate and demagoguery that has overtaken the modern political right.
To me, however, that seems unduly pessimistic. It’s true that we inhabit very tough times in which the health of American democracy (and even the planet itself) are much imperiled.
But that’s not Blue NC’s fault. If anything, it’s because of gifted, dedicated, courageous and inspiring keepers of the flame like Protzman, Harrison and other Blue NC contributors that thousands of caring and thinking North Carolinians remain alert, engaged, and committed to doing the work that’s necessary to turn the current regressive tide.
And for that, both men deserve our profound thanks and a hearty congratulations on a job well done.
NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.