WASHINGTON - With over 80 progressive organizations participating, the ninth annual conference of the Campaign for America's Future opened here June 18 under the banner of "Take Back the American Dream."
Robert Borosage, conference organizer, said at the opening that it was going to be an intense three day event because the stakes are so high: to reelect the president in November and take back the House from the "brazen billionaires" who are subverting our democracy.
The agenda was filled with high-profile speakers-Melissa Harris-Perry, Van Jones, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO's policy director and Molly Katchpole.
Katchpole is the young woman who cut up her Bank of America card on national television last year and forced the major banks to forego their intended $5 debit card fees. Her on-line petition started a movement for the public to switch bank accounts from large banks to credit unions and community banks.
Katchpole set the tone for the conference, which had a strong youth component. She spoke to the plenary of her solid grounding in the experiences of her working class family, her dad having worked for 30 years as a machinist. It's a mistake, she said, for the current budget battles to exclude or under-represent the young people because "we'll be one third of the electorate in 2016." She continued, " I look at the make-up of the Congress. Where are the machinists, the fire fighters the teachers, the youth representatives? It doesn't look like America."
In speaking of the effort to keep the interest rate on student loans from doubling this July 1, Molly had all the conference participants stand and repeat to each other, "I stand with you, the youth."
Van Jones, founding president of Rebuild the Dream, in his rousing presentation to the plenary, referred, too, to the energy and the courage of the youth. "Look at these extraordinary young people. They are blessed with not knowing that what they want is impossible."
"He then spoke of the courage of the "Dreamers," those undocumented immigrant youth who came from all over the country, at great peril to themselves, to sit in at government offices in Washington, resulting in President Obama last week granting immunity from deportation under certain conditions for those under the age of 30.
It was the young, Jones said, who sent a message to the administration by engaging in the Tar Sands civil disobedience last fall, who heightened the gender equality discussion, who, by their tenacity in the Occupy movement, put income inequality on the national agenda and "bought us a year." They showed us that if you struggle, you can win.
Youth activism was the central focus of several of the first-day "strategy sessions" at the conference, among them: The 99% Movement: Next Steps; and Student Debt Explosion: Trillion Dollar Trouble.
One theme that came out of the workshops was that while youth are boldly taking the lead in a number of anti-corporate direct actions such as at Walmart and at Wells Fargo and Verizon shareholder meetings, they count on the support and knowledge of older generations. Intergenerational struggle was recognized as essential for taking on corporate power. And it works both ways. An older participant suggested that the League of Women Voters could use some help from young activists in registering people to vote in the current voter-suppression climate.
An additional theme emphasized by plenary and strategy session speakers alike was the idea of the "fiscal cliff," which falls on the day after the Nov. 6th elections until the end of December when fiscal issues such as the payroll tax extension, the unemployment extension, the Bush Tax cuts and "all the other cans that have been kicked down the road," as Van Jones put it, will be decided. What's at stake in these elections couldn't be clearer.