PITTSBURGH PA – ‘You all are the folks we need on the ground raising awareness about enforcement and detention in our immigrant system,’ said Jacki Esposito, from the Detention Watch Network, here at the national Netroots conference.

‘You need to talk about it, write about it, raise public awareness about the fact that there are an estimated half-million immigrants in detention centers across the country, people who have no due process of the law and no right to council,’ added Esposito.

According to Esposito, running the detention centers costs taxpayers around $1.8 billion annually. However, she continued, ‘there are other proven effective alternatives to detaining people.’

For example, ‘alternatives programs, which are generally non-profit organizations that contract with the federal government that serve a supervisory role and provide services, are more cost effective, don’t separate people from their families, and have a high rate of appearance during the deportation process, while costing around $12 a day instead of $99 – which is what detention costs.’

Rinku Sen, from the Applied Research Center and Colorlines Magazine, told workshop attendees that ‘people have to reframe the immigration debate.’

She said the right-wing ‘restrictionists’ try to frame immigrants as ‘potential terrorists, criminals and job stealers.’ However, she added, ‘this doesn’t take place in a vacuum. It is in the context of hundreds of years of stereotypes, myths and prejudices.’

She also said, ‘While comprehensive immigration reform is a way of legalizing the estimated 15 million immigrants that are already here, it also expands the criminalization and enforcement of a deeply racist policy. Progressives have to challenge this racism.’

Cheryl Contee, from JackandJillpolitics.com, urged journalists, bloggers and activists to ‘partner with organizations and coalitions, while challenging racism in the media. Use social media, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Create alliances.’

Additionally, she said, ‘go around the media. Create you own media. Send it out.’

The theme of grassroots action by journalists, bloggers and activists ran through other workshops as well.

In a workshop on building bridges between the religious community and the progressive blogosphere, Presbyterian minister Janet Edwards said, ‘We have to be yeast and spread out like the ripple effect in a pond.’

Edwards was referring to Luke 13 in the Bible: ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ ‘Because of the yeast the dough rises and spreads,’ said Edwards. ‘While it was small it became large.’

Edwards, who advocates for LGBT inclusion in the Presbyterian Church, was attacked by the church hierarchy. However, ‘I was acquitted twice. I did not violate the scripture,’ she said.

Edwards urged participants to ‘talk to those you disagree with. Use shared values and religious imagery to fight for, pass and win progressive policies.’

‘Most voters believe in God,’ she continued, ‘and are fluent in religious imagery. We can help ourselves by sharing that space with them.’

‘Marriage equality rests upon our idea of equality under the law,’ said Edwards. ‘We will win when we are able to converse with those who go to church weekly. Coming together will help us gain votes and win elections, win constantly and pass progressive policies.’

The Netroots Nation conference touches on dozens of different issues that progressives organize around. However, a central theme in every workshop, panel discussion and speech is the use of new technology, interactive media, blogs, tweets and social net working sites to build solidarity and unity, to build relationships and connections, and to win progressive change.