You Shoulda Been There – #TXOnline

So this weekend I attended #TXOnline in The Woodlands, an Americans for Prosperity Texas conference for conservative activists.  I could tell you about the panels, but Jim Geraghty already did that pretty well.  I could tell you about the Twitter-as-it-happened reactions, but Bryan Preston caught a lot of the best ones.  I could shock you with Dana Loesch’s statement about the tea party being dead, but Matt Vespa explained it so I don’t have to.  Or I could tell you about the post-event Twitter conversations still going on over the ‘Culture is Upstream of Politics’ panel, but you can see those for yourself if you’re on Twitter by searching the hashtags #TXO and #TXOnline.

No, I want to tell you about the other things that happened.  How I met Leslie and Amanda and Chad and Joand Stephen Kruiser for the first time, though I’ve known them online for a while – it felt more like a reunion.  And how many great discussions I got into with people like Cory and Dave and Tracee and too many others to mention.  And how I got the opportunity to shake hands with Charles and Kevin, two of my favorite writers, and didn’t end up TOO tongue-tied to speak.   (And you should totally read them and Jim Geraghty – who has a new book coming out! – at National Review Online every time they write something!)  And how Kurt Schlichter is probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, unless you’re a lousy restaurant manager (go read his latest at Townhall!)

I love going to political conferences, and I’ve been to, and even put on, quite a few.  But this one was by far the best I’ve attended in sixteen years of political activism.  AFPTX created an intimate conference of around one hundred people, including the panelists.  There were no ‘speeches’ (except from a few in the audience who wanted to have their say, rather than engage in sincere inquiry of the panels); instead each topic was presented as a conversation, with differing views and friendly sparring and an opportunity to compare the perspectives of some great thinkers in the movement.  It wasn’t a Red Meat pep rally, as we’ve sometimes seen (see CPAC).  It was, instead, being invited into a think tank; albeit one with quick wits, better jokes, running gags, blistering blows delivered at progressives and their ideas, cupcakes, and a constant reminder that conservatism (and conservatives) can be seriously fun.

And the panelists didn’t deliver their presentations and then leave – they became the questioners for other panels, asking pointed questions and inviting more serious debate.  And they stuck around to talk with other attendees when the Q&As were limited, due to the constraints of the schedule.  They heavily ENCOURAGED it.  At #TXOnline, I had the opportunity to speak face-to-face and pick the brains of some of the thinkers and doers I most admire.

I talked with Mike Hasson, AFPTX’s new chief (congrats, btw!) via Twitter about the conference, and AFPTX’s plans for the future:

Fishie:  What drove the shift to a state-focused conference (as opposed to RightOnline or Defending the American Dream)?

Mike Hasson:  First, not really a shift, more of an expansion of existing philosophy and strategy. It’s still important to have national conferences.  But AFP empowers state/local activists (bottom-up), so a conference model designed for state-specific training/networking seemed natural.  We recognized a need from experienced activists: (intimate, less 101 info vs higher level/robust debate, state strategic info/goals).

F:   Are there plans for more, and if so, where?

MH:   No immediate plans (we started planning this in February), but intend to roll out the blueprint to other state chapters for next year.

F:    Kemberlee Kaye (Event Organizer and Conservative Rock Star) mentioned that AFPTX will provide activist tools training for small groups as well going forward.  Can you give more detail around the kinds of trainings coming for small groups?

MH:   The smaller trainings are a continuation of this expansion.  Experienced state activists need intellectually challenging material. But many other people are just getting started. So we want to take a set of social/online 101 courses to local groups, teaching basic best practices.

The broader goal is to foster/encourage growing integrated network of activists in localities across Texas as the eyes, ears, and voice of the movement.  Not dictating activism, but cultivating ORGANIC action, leveraging power of people-driven content in low-barrier new media.

F:     Why no official recordings?  I ask that because I thought of a hundred people at least who needed to hear things that were said.

MH:   We will certainly record future events, but two reasons prevented it this time:1) budget/resources (the event was first proposed in February) and 2) we wanted to encourage strong debate.   Since this was a first event, and the goal was better panel content, we didn’t want to make participants nervous about candidness or going on record.

F:     Are there any plans to expand, say, AFPTX’s Google Plus presence?

MH:  Absolutely. Now that TXO has concluded, we want to grow our presence and respective content on G+, Buzzfeed, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat.

F:   I know AFP has an event in Dallas around Labor Day.  How different or similar will that conference be from TXO?

MH:   The Dream Summit in Dallas will be broader, while staying just as informative. Meaning, the summit (to be held Aug 29-30) will include field work and organization training as well as online training. It will be larger, around 2,000+ attendees, and will have workshops, breakouts, as well as full crowd sessions.  Speakers will include national politicians and popular celebrities as well as the great speakers TXO had.

F:  Finally, what’s the best way for people to keep up with AFPTX doings?

MH:  The best way to follow AFPTX  is twitter (@TexasAFP) , Facebook, and the website.

In my next post, I’ll have quotes from some of the TXO panelists, and some of the reactions as well.