WASHINGTON -- As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations inspiring scores of similar protests nationwide, a progressive conference in the nation's capital has drawn thousands of activists dedicated to harnessing that energy into a full-blooded political movement.
The conference is an overhaul of the annual progressive event hosted by Campaign for America's Future, which teamed up with Van Jones, former adviser to President Barack Obama, for a three-day gathering starting Monday dubbed "Take Back The American Dream." Like most major political events in recent years, the conference was dominated by economic concerns, with the political prominence of too-big-to-fail banks, widening income inequality and rampant unemployment taking center stage. Speakers at the conference and activists in attendance excoriated Beltway politicians for focusing on the federal budget deficit instead of addressing the American jobs crisis.
Leaders at the conference also pressed progressives to focus their energy beyond Obama, highlighting broad dissatisfaction with an administration that has repeatedly derided liberals, dismissing many of the activists present at the conference as "the professional left." The message from progressive leaders -- who included Jones, economist Robert Reich and The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, among others -- was clear: Neither political party in Washington is listening to working Americans struggling through the worst recession since the Great Depression. Progressives will have to continue hosting events like Occupy Wall Street that bring voters into the streets and pressure political leaders to take action on the jobs crisis. Progressive members of Congress have already taken note, with the Progressive Caucus -- the largest alliance of House liberals -- endorsing Occupy Wall Street amid the conference cheerleading.
Conference events continue through Wednesday, with an official Occupy D.C. jobs rally scheduled for the early afternoon.