An Historic Mobilization of Progressive Power

Isaiah J. Poole

One of the underappreciated success stories of 2008 is the growing ability of the progressive movement to accumulate resources and use them to push toward a set of common goals. That was on clear display at a news conference here at the Take Back America conference, where union, women’s, Latino, youth and grassroots organizations laid out what amounts to a roughly $350 million effort to build a lasting progressive coalition this year and beyond.

These organizations promise to add substance to the contention by Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, that the progressive movement is on the precipice of ushering a sea-change in the nation’s political direction—not just because of the implosion of conservatism under President Bush but because of the new energy within the progressive movement itself.

Most of the money is being put up by organized labor. The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition will put up a combined $200 million, said Karen Ackerman, political director for the AFL-CIO. The union’s commitment marks “the most aggressive, most ambitious grassroots mobilization” yet by organized labor, she said.

That will be buttressed by an effort by Women Voices. Women Vote to register an additional 1.3 million women, with a focus on unmarried women; a partnership by National Council of La Raza with Democracia USA to increase Latino turnout; a $35 million effort by ACORN to mobilize low-income families; a campaign by Rock The Vote to register 2 million new youth voters and to have at least 22 million youth voters showing up at the polls in November; and a declaration by MoveOn.org that its own political mobilization efforts will, in the words of spokeswoman Ilyse House, have “more coordination and more resources” than ever.

A reporter at the news conference asked if the idea of an increasingly politically powerful progressive movement is contradicted by the fact that neither Sen. Hillary Clinton nor Sen. Barack Obama came to the conference, even though both received repeated invitations. No, replied Borosage, because both candidates are on the campaign trail trumpeting many of the progressive issues on the campaign trail.

I would go as far to say that it is ultimately a good thing that the candidates are not at the conference taking attention from what the movement itself is doing and must do on its own: put serious money and serious effort on the table to build independent capacity to change the political environment. And while the right and its corporate allies might still be able to outspend progressives, for the first time in recent history progressives have the capacity to go toe to toe with the right with both the right ideas and the dollars to make it a fair fight.

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