The Campaign for America's Future’s America’s Future Now! conference just finished. It revealed a remarkable unity of vision, and a careful balance in troubled times.
Progressives came together and credited President Obama and the Congressional Democrats for accomplishments so far. Comprehensive health care reform. A Recovery Act that kept us from falling off the cliff. Giant increases in college student aid, financed with money from the banks. Even financial market reform is appearing around the corner.
At the same time, we expressed disappointment that the reforms don’t go far enough. The economic hole is deep and the Recovery Act was too small. Health care reform was dangerously compromised. Conservative deregulation brought us the financial meltdown, lead paint in our toys and excessive unsafe drilling in the gulf — and re-regulation has barely started. Much work remains to be done.
On every point, sessions fleshed out plans for reform . Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect showed how to grow the economy and shrink the deficit by putting people back to work. Economists Robert Johnson and Simon Johnson proposed practical financial regulation. Roger Hickey described next steps on health care. The Apollo Alliance explained how clean energy can create new jobs and save the environment at the same time. Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers and Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing explained why the parts need to be made in America.
Of course, there were politics too . Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) showed how to challenge corporate money in politics. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee made the case that conservative Democrats were as bad as conservative Republicans, and both needed to be replaced for change. Cenk Uygur and the Young Turks organized a march on the U.S. Treasury Department immediately after the conference, to demand Goldman Sachs give back to us taxpayers the $13 billion they pocketed during the AIG bailout. Civil rights veteran Roger Wilkins reminded us that elections matter, but a mobilized electorate matters more.
And there were changes in narrative. We came together around a story of government activism, not to take over but to serve the people. Our democratically elected government is our collective tool, the expression of our common good, and the people’s protection from predatory corporations or rapacious greed. We need our government to work for us.
The only sad part was the media coverage. The mainstream media is obsessed with its prewritten story line of progressive infighting and Dems in disarray, so it missed the impressive unity. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank acted as if a highly unfortunate 15-minute disruption during Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s presentation were the entire event; he selectively quoted the “disappointment” section of Robert Borosage’s opening remarks, not the “credit” section nor the clear steps ahead.
A thousand people mixed and mingled for three days. Some sessions brought everyone together and others allowed people to pursue their own priority issues — but the mood was clear: We’re happy for what we have. We want more. Reversal would be disastrous. Not just for the progressive movement, but for the country.
We heard it again and again during the three-day conference. Hopefully, we’ll continue to hear it through the fall elections: Elections matter. A mobilized electorate matters more.