WASHINGTON – Over 2,000 participants in a “Take Back America” conference here June 2-4 cheered speakers who urged a bolder, pro-peace, pro-worker, pro-equality program to rally voters against George W. Bush and the Republican right in November.

“America must be given a choice, away from this vain and failed war policy and a weakened America,” declared Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, in the concluding luncheon. “There needs to be a clear gap between Senator Kerry and the Bush position and the bigger the gap on the [Iraq] war, the bigger the margin of victory in November.”

It is “blue-collar boys and girls that are doing the dying,” he said. “We cannot afford both guns and butter. An expensive war of empire will drain our programs of social uplift.” The torture of Iraqi detainees, he added, has cost us “our national honor.”

Conservative Democrats take positions marginally different from Republicans while ignoring millions of Black, Latino and white working-class people who do not vote, Jackson charged.

“If we want to win the presidency, we need common ground economic messages for the Midwest,” he said. “If we want to win back the Senate and even the House, we have to try a new Southern Strategy. We have to boldly enter the Southern Red Zone. … We have to forge a Black/Brown coalition to register and mobilize millions.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa said L.A., a city of fabulous wealth, is also the “homeless capital, the capital of the uninsured. … We come together for an America that doesn’t leave immigrants behind. … We will not allow the right wing to wrap the flag around themselves and steal our America.”

More than 54 organizations participated in the conference sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), including the AFL-CIO, Steelworkers, AFSCME, NAACP, ACORN, MoveOn.org, the National Organization for Women, United Church of Christ, and the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Maria Echaveste, co-founder of the Nueva Vista Group, said consultants are “trying to figure out how to attract Reagan Democrats to our side, NASCAR dads. And I’m saying: let’s grow our base! Latinos can be a critical part of that base building.”

NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond said Black voters, 90 percent against Bush and the ultra-right, “can’t be left to last-minute afterthoughts or early November drive-by politics.”

He urged vigilance so that “the irregularities, suppressions, nullification, and outright theft of Black votes that happened Election Day 2000 never, never, never, ever happens again.”

Former Democratic presidential aspirant Howard Dean pointed out that CIA Director George Tenet had just resigned. “That’s one down!” Dean quipped as the crowd roared. He called for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other “neocons.”

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, cited the million-plus protesters in the April 25 “March for Women’s Lives” as proof of a majority upsurge against the right. The crowd erupted in cheers.

Pollster Stanley Greenberg said his polls show that the people favor “bold policy innovation. … If we give people ‘bold vs. minimal,’ people want bold.”

For example, 78 percent favor “a date certain for military withdrawal from Iraq” and equally large majorities favor a national health care system, not piecemeal reforms, he said.

The conference began with a hearing by the National Workers Rights Board, initiated by Jobs with Justice. Workers told of being harassed or fired by Comcast Cable or Wackenhut for union organizing. The Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Chicago-based Community Renewal Society, chaired the hearing. He said, “the right to organize is a human right.”

Sarah Fox, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, said 200 House members have endorsed the Kennedy-Miller “Freedom of Choice” bill that requires union recognition when a majority of workers have signed union cards. Kerry is an endorser of the bill.

A workshop on the youth vote featured leaders of Rock the Vote and the Youth Vote Coalition. Ben Brandzel told the World his Internet group, ClickBackAmerica, has signed up 200,000 youth. “Our goal is to get 1,000 campuses doing get-out-the-vote programs and to register a million new voters,” he said. “We think we are well on our way.”

Joelle Fishman, chair of the Communist Party USA Political Action Commission, told the World, “This conference is on a very high level and reflects a new understanding of the need for broad unity and a commitment to work collectively in the next five months to defeat reaction and change the direction of our country.”

In one plenary session, Robert Borosage, CAF co-director, expressed concern that more people from the faith community be drawn into the movement. Bill Clinton was at ease speaking from pulpits, he said. The anti-Bush coalition “needs a strong voice from the community of faith.”

A cheer went up when a speaker mentioned that Democrat Stephanie Herseth had just defeated the Republican in a special U.S. House race in South Dakota. Murray Hudson, a sixth generation farmer from Halls, Tenn., said the failure to address the rural crisis cost Al Gore his home state in 2000. “The Democrats didn’t even get us the Gore lawn signs and literature until 10 days before the election,” he told the World. “It was incompetence. It can’t happen again!”

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