The Campaign for America’s Future expected their conference to be a launching pad for an American Dream Movement that would be a counterpart to the Tea Party, a left populist movement that would branch out across the country. And that movement has built itself up over the past couple months, and was in part responsible for the invisible town hall revolution over August.
But CAF found itself caught by an organic protest movement, a disparate movement organized by a simple theme, an expression of the feeling of mass injustice. Nobody on the left was totally prepared for #OccupyWallStreet, which sprung up on its own. But the groups that have been organizing in similar ways and with a similar theme were more than prepared to support it.
The spirit of #OccupyWallStreet has given a booster shot to this Take Back the American Dream Conference, which last year was completely moribund. The first session at the conference was a paean to #OccupyWallStreet, with video from New York City (the live feed crashed, unfortunately) and even one organizer who camped out in Zuccotti Park speaking. “If we demand something from Wall Street, we’re telling them that they have the power, but we do,” said the organizer from the Working Families Party in New York.
“They went down there to the scene of the crime against our future,” said Van Jones at his keynote address, in admiration of the #OccupyWallStreet protesters. “They’ve been beaten, they’ve been pepper sprayed, they’ve been falsely arrested, but they never broke their discipline. They told the police officers who were arresting them, we are the 99%, we’re fighting for you, we’re fighting for your pensions too.”
“Something’s happening in America. Don’t you give up on this movement!” Jones concluded.
This conference has almost been rearranged on the fly to accommodate #OccupyWallStreet. There’s a pre-planned march on the Capitol for jobs set for Wednesday. But organizers are pushing people to visit #OccupyKStreet and #OccupyDC, offshoots of the occupation movement. The organizers have been reportedly careful not to be seen as co-opting the movement, but celebrating it.
When Jones announced from the stage that Marines were coming to Wall Street to protect the occupiers, the loudest sustained cheers came from a crowd, seemingly desperate for something to give them hope.
Bob Borosage hailed the Wall Street protests as “a politics that’s disruptive,” adding that “The kids in Occupy Wall street gave us a taste of that.”
The only possibly off key note came from Donna Edwards (D-MD), the progressive liaison from the DCCC, who gave a well-received speech, but one that was wrapped in an electoral message. “We gotta return the gavel to people who understand what to do with it,” said Edwards, and that’s not untrue. But more of the messages in the first half of this conference had no electoral focus at all. They were strongly progressive, populist messages about building a movement, and building off the energy and, yes, the anger of #OccupyWall Street. Van Jones even referenced Richard Nixon, and the environmental policies he signed into law. “You can have a crappy president, if you have a strong movement to get the job done,” Jones said.
That’s the feeling here from the overflow crowd. It has more to do with getting in the streets than getting into the polling place.