It's Conference Time in Progressive America -- Will You Be Attending?
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Spring and summer are when progressives in America come together to assess the political moment, advocate for various campaigns and priorities, show off their rhetorical skills, and carry the flag of movements for social change. Beginning in early June, there will be at least four major gatherings in four U.S. cities.
The gatherings come at a charged political moment. The insurgent Tea Parties, along with their wealthy backers and astroturf organizations, dominate media coverage and manage to kick up controversy at every turn. Of course, as always, the corporate media seems far more enchanted with what is happening in Conservativeland than in Progressiveville, even though the Tea Partiers already have their very own cable news network in Fox. As the media watchdog group FAIR pointed out, the Washington Post assigned a full-time reporter to the Tea Party beat: "That's a level of attention few progressive citizen groups will ever receive from the corporate press." (Except of course if you are ACORN, and the media gets taken in by right-wing charlatans out to smear you, and helps to destroy a long-established organization -- one of the very few that advocated consistently for poor people.)
Historically, the biggest gathering for progressives has been the annual soiree hosted and organized by Campaign for America's Future (CAF). The group's leaders, Bob Borosage and Roger Hickey, along with their staff, bring together a wide and diverse array of Progressivism's best and brightest. If you are a progressive activist leader, non-profit advocate or political junkie who wants to be aware of the latest trends and best analysis, this is a gathering you won't want to miss.
Since the June 7-9 conference (called America's Future Now since the old name, Take Back America, in some sense no longer applies) is in Washington, and CAF is a Beltway operation, there is a significant orientation around electoral politics. In presidential years, the candidates come to show their wares (I've seen Obama give two great speeches at CAF) but now that there is a Democrat in the White House -- and one whom many progressives are disappointed in -- the gathering in Washington at the Omni Shoreham Hotel will be in many ways a tense affair. ( Click here to register for the conference and get a special AlterNet discount.)
The CAF conference is being billed as progressives' answer to the Tea Party, and a good turnout will feel good. But make no mistake -- the underlying theme of the CAF gathering will be the large backlog of unfinished business with the Obama administration, and the many perceived disappointments and failures. Last year, Obama was just getting started and administration defenders were prominent among the speakers. This year it will be more complicated to be sure, as CAF has been a strong advocate for what isn't getting done.
In marketing for the conference, CAF offers that Obama deserves credit for stopping the economic free-fall inherited by Bush, but, "Where is the plan to bring back the eight million jobs lost in the recession?" You will certainly hear a lot of ideas about how Obama and Co. can address what most consider the nation's most acute need: getting millions of Americans back to work. There is a lot of hand-wringing about the White House and Congress' priorities as well as the influence of the "fourth branch of government" -- the enormous lobbying apparatus, in which hundreds of ex-members of Congress are making millions working against the interests of average Americans. As CAF emphasizes, Democrats have so far failed to break up the too-big-to-fail banks, and Obama has created a commission that "strengthens the hand of deficit hysterics and Social Security haters." These will be among the dozens of topics on the program.