Last Week’s Take Back America Conference – Building Bridges

I attended the Take Back America conference last week, and it was great. I am inspired, and you should be, too.
Two years ago I was at this same conference and it was a very different experience. I felt it was attending a tired, demoralized gathering of people associated with the older, Washington-based, established, celebrity-driven issue-organizations. I left discouraged, wondering when the liberal establishment would start to catch up with the ideas circulating around the blogosphere – especially with the ideas about building “progressive infrastructure” organizations for reaching out to the public and promoting core progressive values and ideas, instead of the focus on issues.
After that conference I wrote,

At the recent Take Back America conference … it seemed to me that the focus was largely on development of political infrastructure – the tactical field operations for getting out the vote. This is, of course, necessary. But that effort is one of trying to get to the polls a larger and larger share of a shrinking base.

This conference was very different. At the opening plenary session, Bob Borosage, one of the two heads of Campaign for America’s Future, gave a visionary talk. I “live-blogged” it at the time, writing,

Bob Borosage is speaking, his theme: the conservative era is at an end and our task is to outline what comes next.
Summary: They failed – Iraq, Katrina, economy not working for working people. So we have to make sure he public understands this. The conservative words sound good because they are meant to — they have been tested to sound good. But the reality of what they did is different.
Katrina was a teachable movement, but you do have to teach it. Republicans aren’t going to, they will say that things went wrong because they were not conservative enough. But they failed not simply because they were corrupt and incompetent – they failed because they get the world wrong, and we have to teach this lesson over and over again so Americans learn it.
… The progressive bloggers are here and they have taught us how to fight.
This is not the time for timidity – don’t want to hear people talking about tracking to the elusive “center.” This is our time to claim the future. We have to grab this opportunity and if we don’t grab it somebody else will and they will take it in the wrong direction. [emphasis added]

This year’s conference invited bloggers, had a “Blogger Boulevard,” gave a Maria Leavey activist award, and gave an award to the “progressive bloggers” at a Gala Dinner in front of a well-dressed Washington DC crowd. These are the people who had been hearing that bloggers are scary, uncivil, foul-mouthed and hairy. But we weren’t, and they saw that. Digby’s talk ( read a transcript here and see a video here) set just the right tone. This event built bridges between the progressive netroots and the Washington establishment, and the payoff for both will be huge. And I give credit and kudos to Bob Borosage and Roger Hickey and the Campaign for America’s Future for building this bridge!
The sessions/panels covered the right topics – sessions like How Conservatism Has Failed and The New Progressive Majority.
Of course, the self-organized session Reaching the Public was the most important. But seriously, I attended one session, Winning Hearts and Minds: Why Rational Appeals are Irrational if Your Goal is Winning Elections put on by Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain (see my earlier post) that was important to our understanding of how people make political and voting decisions.
Also at this conference the Democratic Party candidates for President spoke. I “live-blogged” Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton’s speeches. Obama was the winner. He gave a rousing, solidly progressive talk with a delivery that you have to experience in person. I hadn’t been a big Obama fan before this, but now I am starting to understand the appeal. (I like all three of them and will be happy whoever gets the nomination.)
So things are changing. The netroots and the DC crowd are connecting. The activists are all talking infrastructure and core values instead of selfishly splintering into issue silos. And the energy level is high.
Next it is on to YearlyKos in August in Chicago, the big netroots gathering. It is an exciting time – sign up to be a part of it!