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Conservative and Tea Party Rallies and Trainings Dominate the Capital: Are Progressives and Liberal Democrats About to Be Out-Organized?

Conservative protests in Washington show the breadth of energy and money marshaled to organize the right-wing base, while progressives lag behind.
 
 
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On the terrace that graces the FreedomWorks office suite, right-wing bloggers are chatting jovially, clustered around a beer keg. It's a perfect September night, cool and breezy. The sun is setting over Washington, and from this prime piece of real estate occupied by one of the Tea Party movement's prime movers, one glimpses the top of the National Archives, a large Romanesque structure just a block away, and the twinkling lights of the city beyond. The mood is gleeful: the bloggers smell a big win coming their way in November, when the right could very well win control of the Congress.

Just days ahead of its second 9/12 march on Washington, FreedomWorks has gathered 175 bloggers from 35 states, according to Tabitha Hale, FW's coordinator of interactive media, for a weekend of training just ahead of the November elections, in which FreedomWorks has no small stake. Early in the campaign, FreedomWorks and its chairman, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, set out to rock the Republican establishment and did, backing a handful of Senate candidates in primary challenges to those endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Now, the job is bigger. It's time to beat the Democrats, and polls are indicating that Republicans have a good shot at winning the House and making significant gains in the Senate.

Twice in the course of the last two and a half weeks, the right has drawn thousands of its activists to Washington, D.C., a town once known as a liberal's paradise, overtaking the National Mall, and its surrounding restaurants and coffee shops. This weekend features not only FreedomWorks' 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington and its blogger conference, but a September 11 rally by a more far-right group, Unite in Action, and an organizing conference directed Ralph Reed, the GOP campaign consultant and former Christian Coalition executive director who was implicated (but never charged) in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. Two weekends ago, Glenn Beck's rally filled the Mall with as many as 300,000 Tea Partiers. What is the progressive counterpart to these activities? Not much.

Even the Beck weekend was about more than the rally: while the Fox News personality made a big show of his show at the Lincoln Memorial being (cough) non-political, both FreedomWorks and David Koch's Americans for Prosperity Foundation drew thousands to surrounding and openly political events. The AFPF/Koch convention in the days preceding the Beck rally featured all manner of how-to break-out sessions on how to turn out the vote for right-wing candidates and turn up the heat on liberal lawmakers. And next weekend, several thousand more activists will be in town for the Family Research Council's annual Values Voter Summit.

When progressives head to Washington for the October 2 One Nation march, it will mark only the second time in a year that they have descended on the nation's capital in major numbers; the last time was the big pro-immigrant rally in September 2009. But unless the October rally is as surrounded by hands-on organizing sessions and lobbying how-to seminars as the right's events have been, it will fall short by comparison, even if thousands come to rally at the Lincoln Memorial, as MSNBC host Ed Schultz has called them to do. Don't get me wrong: this looks to be a wonderful event with a great sponsoring coalition, including the AFL-CIO and the NAACP, as well as a number of peace groups, feminist groups and LGBT organizations. But it's just one event in a town that has seen right-wingers bused in for made-for-media protests multiple times over the course of a year.