It's an interesting time to be a progressive in the United States. In many ways, the election of President Barack Obama represented a logical, if improbable, end to the era of phony Reaganomics and demonization politics. But the Obama presidency has been a serious test for the progressive movement. The leaders in Washington who were elected with progressive support have repeatedly settled for needlessly weak reforms while ignoring important progressive priorities. There's a critical lesson here: Progressive organizing doesn't start or stop at the voting booth. Grassroots activism from the blogosphere to the union hall is the force that moves both political power and public opinion. We have an opportunity to rekindle the progressive flame that reshaped Washington at the America's Future Now conference June 7 - 9. I hope you will join us.
We will be organizing around every key issue in the progressive pantheon, from the rise of the Tea Party to the future of health care. The contemporary political turmoil will be underscored by multiple in-depth discussions of economic issues--areas in which, I confess, I am deeply personally invested. In addition to working as AlterNet's economics editor, I'm a fellow at Campaign for America's Future, the group sponsoring the conference. On June 8, I will be speaking on a panel about bringing economic populism to Washington. It's a critical topic for my fellow bloggers and journalists, and I strongly encourage anybody reading this article to come and make their voice heard.
When the U.S. House of Representatives first shot down the bank bailout bill in the fall of 2008, I was working in a financial newsroom. Dozens of reporters and editors were crowded around a television, watching CNBC's coverage of the House floor, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average embedded in the corner of the screen, glowing green. When it became clear that the bill did not have the votes to pass, the room broke into a panic--people scrambling for the phones, clattering furiously at their keyboards, shouting across the room and pounding on desks, all while the green numbers on the television grew more ominous by the second. Much of the hubub was about the news: "Congress Rejects Bailout, Dow Crashes! That's your headline!" But the furor was intensified by an economic anxiety so intense that it was manifesting itself physically--raised voices, grinding teeth and sinking stomachs.
My coworkers at the time were well-intentioned, but as you might imagine, financial newsrooms are not hotbeds of progressive thought. My colleagues were facing an intellectual crisis. How could Wall Street possibly have screwed up this badly? How could Congress not come to the rescue? Am I going to have a job tomorrow?
To a great extent, this newsroom chaos reflected the nation at large. All but the most die-hard right-wingers found themselves drawn to progressive ideas. Ronald Reagan's worldview, which had dominated economic policy for nearly thirty years, was collapsing with the Dow. If anything, that worldview has been discredited even further by the events that have transpired since the Great Financial Crash of 2008. Unemployment has surged to double-digits, while corporate malfeasance has created the greatest environmental calamity in history in the Gulf of Mexico. The banking oligarchs have restored their bloated bonuses, even as the foreclosure crisis deepens unabated.
Nearly two years after The Crash, Obama and Congress are all-but-certain to enact Wall Street reform legislation. Like much of the Obama presidency, it is a bittersweet victory. Regulators will get real and necessary tools to fight financial excess, but without major and unexpected improvements, the bill will not meaningfully rein in the capital markets casino that wrecked the global economy. The bill's shortcomings ensure that our recovery will be weaker than necessary, and leave us vulnerable to another Great Crash in the near future.
America's Future Now will provide several opportunities for progressives to plan the next steps for our economy. What further reforms must Congress address next year? How can we press Congress to stand up for its non-corporate constituents? What are the most effective avenues for progressive activism? Some of today's most important economic thinkers will be presenting, from economists like Simon Johnson and Robert Johnson, to commentators like Robert Kuttner and Arianna Huffington, to labor leaders like Richard Trumka and Andy Stern, to activists like George Goehl and Heather McGhee, to Congressional stalwarts like Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Alan Grayson.
The progressive movement is capable of extraordinary things. With Corporate America allied against us, we forced Republicans out of Congressional control in 2006 and pushed them out of the White House in 2008. Today's fight is more complex, as the executive class strengthens its ties to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic leadership softens its tone on corporate abuses. That's what makes an event like America's Future Now so important. Today, the progressive movement faces a set of decisions more critical than any in its recent history. Please join us and help shape the future of that movement.
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