The Take Back America Conference this year drew 3,000 leaders and activists from 40 states, 150 speakers, a bloggers' boulevard and radio row larger than ever, and an energy that couldn't be contained. This year was not only a larger gathering than any previous year; it had a very different spirit.
We witnessed the gathering of a movement that has come into a sense of its own power. Certain that the elections in 2006 mark the end of the conservative era that has dominated our politics for more than 25 years, progressives gathered confident that they were driving the political agenda and that they were on the verge, in fact, of taking back America.
There is both remarkable consensus and passion around a core agenda: ending the occupation of Iraq, affordable health care for all, a concerted drive for clean energy, and an aggressive change in economic policy to make the new global economy work for the many, and not simply the very few. In each of these areas, progressives have put forth detailed plans and are building major issue campaigns.
Progressives do so confident that the American people are moving our way. Three in four Americans want a new direction. Most have given up completely on the Bush administration. They are not neutral about what comes next. On issue after issue, from ending the war to affordable health care to government leadership on clean energy —- broad majorities embrace progressive views. That's also true on a broad range of divisive social and economic issues. This is not a conservative country.
Those trends in opinion —- led by self-described independents and moderates -— have been moving since 1994. What is different now is that progressives have the mojo to drive the debate. At Take Back America, progressives displayed the increasing capacity, the increasing sophistication and the increasing power of their infrastructure and movement. Progressives, in the words of the famed Yankee philosopher Reggie Jackson, are "the stick that stirs the drink" in the Democratic Party. The money wing of the party will always have clout, but they are discredited by their support of the debacle in Iraq and their failed and compromised economic strategies.
All of the leading Democratic candidates for president came to the Take Back America Conference, knowing how important the support of the activists and bloggers gathered there can be. All didn't simply show up, they competed in their embrace of the core agenda laid out above and much more.
There is no longer much profit in "pushing off" the progressive base. Embrace of progressive positions strengthens these candidates for the general election. And the candidates seem to understand that.
Progressives, however, are not satisfied simply with electing Democratic majorities, or even a Democratic president. They let Democratic leaders clearly know their dismay with the timidity of the current Congress. Progressives are building a movement with independent capacity. They seek an enduring progressive majority, not a transitory majority of cautious Democrats. The old days when New Dems and Blue Dogs could champion the corporate and, often, Republican agenda with impunity are over. Joe Lieberman's unhinged shroud demonstrates that. There is now an activist movement prepared to hold politicians of both parties accountable.
And some in the mainstream media, like The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne today, felt the change.
The challenges ahead are formidable. But Take Back America 2007 marked a turn. This is no longer a protest movement. This is a movement on the rise, looking to take power and change the course of this country.
Robert L. Borosage is co-director of Campaign for America's Future.
© 2007 TomPaine.com