WASHINGTON — Thousands at the “Take Back America” conference here March 17-19 cheered as speakers called for a concerted get-out-the-vote drive to end 30 years of right-wing Republican dominance and open the way for progressive change.

“Today, progressives are on the march,” said the opening declaration of the Campaign for America’s Future, sponsor of the three-day event. “The objective conditions are present for a sea-change election, one that launches a new era of progressive reform.”

CAF Co-Director Bob Borosage said the get-out-the-vote campaign by the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and other progressive organizations will be the “largest and most expensive mobilization in history designed to drive the debate this election season and to define a mandate after the elections.”

Borosage told a news conference as much as $350 million will be devoted to registering millions of voters and getting them to the polls. He credited Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s spirited race for the Democratic presidential nomination with galvanizing a huge turnout in the primaries. But now, he said, the two senators “are focusing too much on the division and the fight and not enough on the excitement and the unity and the demand of the people for a change in course.”

AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman said the AFL-CIO will devote $53.4 million to mobilizing union members to vote, and affiliates will spend an additional $150 million. (See story, page 3.)

Also at the news conference were representatives of MoveOn.org, National Council of La Raza, Women Vote Action Fund, ACORN and Rock the Vote.

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, addressing a conference luncheon, said either of the Democratic presidential candidates, if elected, will sign the Employee Free Choice Act, making it easy for workers to join unions.

“When workers have unions and a real voice on the job, we can change our own lives and unite with you to change all of America,” he said to applause.

Van Jones, president of the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said the lesson of the Bush administration’s callous response to Hurricane Katrina is, “We will not leave our sisters and brothers to ‘sink or swim,’ we are all in this together.”

In a workshop panel of antiwar leaders, Tom Swan, executive director of Connecticut Citizen Action, told the crowd, “While we’re here, John McCain and Dick Cheney are in Iraq proclaiming ‘victory’ once again. They say the surge is working. And meanwhile sometime this week we’ll hit 4,000 soldiers who have died since the Iraq war began.”

He cited gasoline soaring toward $4 per gallon, millions of homes in foreclosure, unemployment surging and markets plummeting.

“What can Washington do to turn around the economy? End the war in Iraq,” he said. “It is incumbent upon us to put forward the concept that the war is driving the nation into recession.”

He spoke of the need for the peace movement to throw itself into the election campaign. “I want to wake up that cold morning next November and know that I did everything I possibly could do to set the framework to end this war.”

After adjourning, conference participants planned to join an antiwar march to the White House sponsored by United for Peace and Justice.

Greeted with an ovation was Donna Edwards who defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn in Maryland’s Feb. 12 primary largely because Wynn voted for the Iraq war resolution. Edwards was one of six candidates for Congress who spoke in a panel about their joint “plan to end the Iraq war responsibly.”

“Three thousand nine hundred eighty-eight,” she said. “I think it’s important to repeat that number, the number of honorable service men and women who lost their lives in Iraq.” She spoke of visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center and seeing “triple amputees, soldiers with severe brain injuries. We should make their sacrifices valuable by bringing the troops home.”

Edwards told the World she was not surprised by her landslide victory. “When you knock on doors, canvas in the neighborhoods, make phone calls, you know something is happening out there. I think the American people are ready for a change.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told the World she found the candidates on the panel “so impressive.” She said, “Many of these candidates are running in districts that are traditionally Republican. They think they can win on the basis of ending the Iraq war.”

“We just did that in Dennis Hastert’s district in Illinois,” where Democrat Bill Foster ran on an antiwar platform and won, she said. “There is no district that is safe for the Republicans.”

William McNary, president of USAction, told the World he believes the nation is on the verge of sweeping change not seen in a generation. He emphasized, “Real change can only happen when real, ordinary people get in motion.”