Can the Left Help Take Back the American Dream?

Can the Left Help Take Back the American Dream?

Can the Left Help Take Back the American Dream?

The Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington this week aims to turn grassroots energy into political action. 


Fittingly, this year’s Take Back the American Dream Conference started off this morning with a live video link to the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. The driving notion behind the annual event is to help develop a progressive movement to help push the political discussion leftward—and to push back against the Tea Party’s successful assault on regulation, fair taxation, and true jobs programs. The energy and frustration is there on Wall Street—and in Wisconsin, and Ohio—and the challenge is getting the political establishment to respond.

An Occupy Wall Street protestor in Boston told a reporter this weekend that “I’m fed up with politics. I’m tired of hearing campaign promises and getting the opposite. [I want] to bring attention to the fact that…you can influence politics at a grassroots level.” The conference wants to give that effort a name—the American Dream movement.

Robert Borosage of Campaign for America’s Future—which is running the event along with Van Jones’ “Rebuild the Dream” organization—quoted an old bit of George Carlin wisdom in his opening remarks this morning, and said that it’s called the American dream because for too many people, you have to be asleep to believe it. The conference is organizing behind an agenda that calls for jobs instead of cuts, curbing Wall Street’s excesses, protecting the social safety net, ending wars, creation of a green economy and investing in education.

Though there is a Democrat in the White House, progressives, particularly at the grassroots level, have been frustrated that many of these hopes have gone unfulfilled and in some cases not even pursued. E.J. Dionne, in a column titled “Can the left stage a Tea Party?” in this morning’s Washington Post, writes that the conference will “highlight a new effort to pursue the road not taken”:

What’s been missing in the Obama presidency is the productive interaction with outside groups that Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed with the labor movement and Lyndon B. Johnson with the civil rights movement. Both pushed FDR and LBJ in more progressive directions while also lending them support against their conservative adversaries.

The question for the left now, says Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future, is whether progressives can “establish independence and momentum” while also being able “to make a strategic voting choice.” The idea is not to pretend that Obama is as progressive as his core supporters want him to be but to rally support for him nonetheless as the man standing between the country and the right wing.

Over three days, Take Back the American Dream 2011 will share movement-building strategies to “map out a cross-country drive for economic revival.” Aside from the various workshops, highlights include a keynote speech from Robert Reich on job creation and an address from Representative Barney Frank about how to cut back military budgets. Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel will speak at an afternoon panel today on getting mainstream media attention to the movement. The conference culminates Wednesday with a march to Capitol Hill.

I’ll be blogging from the conference here, and posting additional updates on Twitter. You can watch major conference sessions at, or check out the livestream below.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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