Jillian Bandes

Call it CPAC for lefties. The Campaign for America’s Future held their three-day political fest in Washington, D.C. with a lineup of speakers that would make Stalin himself do a happy dance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, SEIU president Richard Trumka, and Gov. Howard Dean were just a few that spoke on topics such as “The Great Debate: Progressive Strategy in the Obama Era,” and “ART + ADVOCACY: How music, film, comedy, and pop culture are rocking the progressive movement.”

“We’ve learned that bipartisanship is not the way for fundamental change,” said Ariana Huffington, one of the keynote speakers, during an opening day session. “Everyday we see more pictures of pelicans and dolphins covered in bipartisanship.”

Rush Limbaugh

Her words followed a general theme that mainstream liberalism is not enough, and that Barack Obama is too moderate to get anything accomplished. The public option on the health care bill was thwarted, and Wall Street reforms have been watered down. Most infuriatingly, the conservative movement has more momentum, as expressed through the indefatigable tea parties that threaten to flip both Houses back to the Republicans.

“The lesson that we have all learned is that conservatives don’t accept defeat after the election is over,” said David Brock, President of Media Matters for America. “And it’s a lesson that I think we’re going to have to remember.”

Heathy Parton, otherwise known as Digby, founded the progressive blog Hullballo, and spoke at the panel “Tea Parties, Beck, Bachman and Blarney.”

“Every time we validate their ideological viewpoints, we solidify it, and end up having a terrible problem – this is about beliefs, it's about values, its about our principles, what we care about, the country we want to live in,” Digby said, speaking about the ways the liberal movement should attempt to combat conservative rhetoric. “We have to be careful not to perpetuate the propaganda disseminated through the past 20 or 30 years by the conservative movement.”

Surprisingly, at one of the main events during the convention, the rhetoric was similar to what you would find at a lot of tea party rallies. At the “March On The Treasury: We Want Our Money Back,” Air America host Sam Seder talked about financial firms stealing taxpayers money via federal bailouts.

“Goldman Sachs and the entire financial industry know that without any oversight, that money is just waiting to be pilfered,” said Seder. “The idea that we’ll get it back is completely naïve.”

Two speakers at the march, Michael Shure and Richard Eskow, agreed that some of the rhetoric was similar, in that activists think their money has been stolen by the federal government, and they want more accountability for how the bailout money is being spent. Finance reform is one area in particular where both the left and the right can find common ground, said Shure.

“It’s something that helps everybody,” said Shure. “You have to have people who are willing to talk to the other side, you have to find where they have middle ground.”

One of the attendees at the march was not so optimistic.

“The big difference between this and the tea parties is that this is real grassroots,” said Alex Zapata, a CPA in D.C. “The tea party is AstroTurf. It’s corporations fund buses to find a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re protesting. We do know what we’re protesting.”

Turnout at the march was about 50 people – not many for a convention that numbered several hundred, even if it was a rainy afternoon. Still, Zapata said that his movement was on the upswing.

“When people start understanding the message, we’ll start having the numbers that show up at the tea party,” he said.


Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com