June 20, 2003
Bob Borosage, Co-Director of the "Campaign for America's Future"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Normally, we provide an introduction to our interviews that tells you a little about the person we are conversing with. But, in this case, Bob Borosage introduces himself in the interview, so we thought we'd do things a bit differently and provide some enticing excerpts. That way you will be sure to read the whole thing -- and you should:
"In foreign policy, fiscal policy, judicial appointments, environmental and social policy, corporate corruption, this George Bush makes Ronald Reagan look weak-kneed. The movement conservatives that drive his administration must be stopped. And it will take a unified opposition to do it."
"That is a stark contrast to DLC conferences that are largely populated by corporate lobbyists who help pay for the event. The conference demonstrated that the activists of the party — the people who knock on doors, who register people to vote, who bring them to the polls, who talk to their neighbors – are largely united around a progressive 'kitchen table' economics. They don’t need to take back the party, they are the party."
"Wes Boyd’s presentation on the phenomenal growth of MoveOn.org on the web made one dramatic point: 'When we fight,' he argued, 'we grow and we get stronger.' This is a stark contrast with the Washington conventional wisdom that sees resources as limited and argues that you must pick your spots, keep your powder dry, and husband your energies."
Well, now you can't resist, right? So, read on....
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BUZZFLASH: From June 4-6, the Campaign for America's Future held the "Take Back America" conference in Washington D.C. What was the purpose of the gathering?
BOB BOROSAGE: The Conference was designed to bring progressive leaders and activists from across the country together to address the threat posed by the self-described “movement conservatives” that now dominate policy in Washington, and to talk about the progressive agenda and strategies needed to take back America.
BUZZFLASH: Since BuzzFlash was in attendance, we can testify to standing room only crowds for many of the sessions. How many people attended the conference — and why do you think that there was such an outpouring of interest this year?
BOROSAGE: Over 2000 people registered for the conference, far beyond our expectations. Part of this was due to the extraordinary efforts of our national partners who brought in activists from across the country. And a large part was a reflection of the opposition that is being generated by the destructive policies of this administration and Congress.
BUZZFLASH: Would you describe the attendees as a group of people who Paul Wellstone would have called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party"? Clearly, there was not much crossover between participants in the "Take Back America" conference and the DLC. Could this also have also been called "Take Back the Democratic Party" conference?
BOROSAGE: Yes, these were the leaders and activists of the progressive wing of American politics, largely but not exclusively fitting in Paul’s “Democratic wing.” That is a stark contrast to DLC conferences that are largely populated by corporate lobbyists who help pay for the event. The conference demonstrated that the activists of the party — the people who knock on doors, who register people to vote, who bring them to the polls, who talk to their neighbors – are largely united around a progressive “kitchen table” economics. They don’t need to take back the party, they are the party. They only need to organize and assert themselves – and then the limits and isolation of the DLC money politics become clear.
BUZZFLASH: What were some of the highlights of the conference from your perspective? From what we heard the Bill Moyer's speech at the Wednesday banquet was the most electrifying moment. But then again, you had several of the Democratic candidates for president give well-received speeches. And there were superb plenary and breakout sessions. But what do you regard as the high points?
BOROSAGE: Bill Moyers gave a stunning speech – passionate, learned, engaged. He placed today’s political challenges into the historic context of people mobilizing to tame corporate and financial power, spread the blessings of prosperity and preserve the democracy against entrenched oligopoly. With Karl Rove, Bush’s political guru, openly admiring William McKinley, the president who yoked corporate interests to the Republican Party at the turn of the century, Moyers argued that we need a new populist-progressive uprising to preserve democracy. It was a breathtaking performance – a 20-minute version will be available on our web site at www.ourfuture.org.
Another highpoint was the unveiling of the Apollo Initiative for Jobs and Energy Independence (http://www.apolloalliance.org/), offering the prospect of generating manufacturing jobs while moving towards a more sustainable economy. Steelworker President Leo Gerard was particularly passionate in his presentation. I thought the presentations on an economy that works for working people – Robert Reich, James K. Galbraith, Barbara Ehrenreich, Sen. Jon Corzine – were particularly effective. They made it clear that there is an alternative set of common sense policies that we need to pursue.
The opening session – particularly the presentations of the pollster Stan Greenberg and Wes Boyd, one of the founders of MoveOn.org – also were exciting. Greenberg made the simple point that on a broad range of choices – investment vs. tax cuts, preservation of Social Security vs. privatization, Medicare vs. HMOs, fair trade vs. free trade, protect the environment vs. deregulate, etc. – broad majorities of the American people are with us. We don’t have to change opinion as much as mobilize it and let people know there is a movement offering a different direction.
Wes Boyd’s presentation on the phenomenal growth of MoveOn.org on the web made one dramatic point: “When we fight,” he argued, “we grow and we get stronger.” This is a stark contrast with the Washington conventional wisdom that sees resources as limited and argues that you must pick your spots, keep your powder dry, and husband your energies. It offers a small “d” democratic politics of immense potential.
I was surprised by the quality of the candidate speeches. Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton got remarkable receptions. John Edwards gave a populist address, taking on the drug companies directly and calling for measures that would control the soaring cost of prescription drugs. Given that the Congress is about to pass a bill that will be a direct subsidy to those companies, his is a gutsy position. And John Kerry gave one of the most populist economic speeches I’ve heard from him, making the case that the right to organize unions is vital to our democracy and shared prosperity. I think the desire to win over activists from across the country concentrated their minds and moved each of them to reach out.
BUZZFLASH: Okay, the conference is over now. Progressive activists from around America attended, and now they have left D.C. What are they going to do with the skills and empowerment they picked up at the conference?
BOROSAGE: Part of this is simply to embolden people, to remind them that they are not alone, that there are alliances at the local level that can be made with unions, citizen activists, women’s, environmental and church groups. We tried to focus attention on the big issue fights of the coming months – health care, living and minimum wage campaigns, the Apollo initiative, and Supreme Court appointments that put at risk our rights and liberties. We introduced people to the new efforts being put together to register and educate voters. So our hope is that the participants will find ways to channel the energy we all got from the conference into local activity.
The Campaign itself will be working with allies to try to put together a “Take Back America” road show, to do a stripped down version that might help bring people together in different states. Plans are still in formation.
In addition, we’ll be doing email campaigns focused on the kitchen table concerns that were the centerpiece of the campaign. Even before we left, we got participants involved in the on-going fight over privatizing Medicare. We’ll be working with a range of groups to ensure that participants are informed of these battles and can be as engaged as they want to be.
BUZZFLASH: Can you explain what the Campaign for America's Future is and how you came to sponsor the "Take Back America" conference?
BOROSAGE: The Campaign for America’s Future and its sister research center, the Institute for America’s Future, were created to build a new majority for progressive reform in this country. Our focus has been an economics that works for working people. We work on basic issues that Americans struggle with every day – jobs and wages, educating their children, providing health care for their families, sustaining an environment healthy to kids and securing a decent retirement. In an era of increasing pressure on working and poor people, we show how conservative policies are part of the problem, not part of the solution – and we offer alternative policies, messages or ways of making our case, strategies and issue campaigns.
The “Take Back America” conference is the third of our annual conferences in DC, but the first where we’ve asked national organizations to join as partners, help plan the agenda and bring their activists from across the country. USAction, the Steelworkers, AFSCME, 1199, the transport workers, Acorn, NOW and many others joined and made this conference very special. It became, in a sense, the midterm convention for progressives and showed the national political press where the real energy is in American politics.
BUZZFLASH: The mood of the conference was upbeat, charged-up and defiant. It was quite a contrast to the Democratic Party leadership, which appears so tentative and skittish in its criticism of the radical Bush agenda. What is it that the participants at the "Take Back America" conference "get" — participants and presenters alike — that the congressional leaders of the Democratic Party don't appear to understand?
BOROSAGE: I’d go back to Wes Boyd: “When we fight, we get stronger.” I think the participants understand how destructive and radical the policies of the current gang in Washington are. Some believe they have no choice but to fight. Some, like myself, believe that a broad majority of Americans are with us, but are not aware of what is going on in Washington. All of us reject the notion that the President’s popularity should make him immune from criticism. Or that the opposition should bite their tongues, bide their time and hope to steal the election with a Bush-lite option.
BUZZFLASH: What are the next steps? What can progressives do next? How does your site, http://www.ourfuture.org, provide an empowering environment for pro-democracy activists who believe in the common good?
BOROSAGE: Now we’ve got to be serious about reaching out – with issue campaigns that oppose the wrong-headed policies in Washington, with voter registration and education efforts, with an aggressive grassroots democratic movement to challenge the corporate plunder that is so central to this administration.
Grassroots and community groups that have ignored electoral politics now better get the message that if they don’t do politics, politics will do them. And we’ve got to build independent capacity – like MoveOn.org, the Campaign, USAction and the new union energy – to generate a progressive reform movement that transforms the Democratic Party and American politics.
Our web site is a source of both information on these basic issues and an activist center – launching and joining web-based campaigns on issues of the day. We also run activist list-serves that provide an on-going flow of information on issues. And we coordinate a messagenet that links progressive leaders and columnists and provides ideas and “hot facts” for issues of the day.
BUZZFLASH: Tell us a little about your own activist and political background.
BOROSAGE: I was raised in Michigan, in the heart of the Midwest, which gave me an inalterable faith in the decency and common sense of the American people. I’m a child of the civilizing movements of the last decades – anti-war, civil rights, women’s, environmental. They brought me into politics, and transformed my values.
In the Reagan years, I directed the Institute for Policy Studies, daring to speak truth to that malevolent power. In 1988, I left to become a senior issues advisor to Rev. Jesse Jackson in his presidential campaign. That exposed an America to me that I had never seen, and imparted renewed faith in the possibility of a politics that crossed the boundaries of race, religion and region.
I write regularly for the Nation and sporadically elsewhere, chronicling what I believe to be the exhaustion of this conservative era and the possibility of an era of progressive reform. Since 1996, I’ve joined with Roger Hickey and many others in building the Campaign for America's Future.
BUZZFLASH: The Campaign for America's Future is sponsored by a coalition of groups. Do you think the Democrats, independents and Greens are going to be able to overcome their traditional disputes over agenda fine points and unite behind a Democratic ticket next year?
BOROSAGE: I believe that Bush’s extremism is beginning to unite his opposition just as the threat posed by Gingrich united Democrats for Clinton. I assume that Green activists will continue to build their independent party, and that independents won’t enlist in the Democratic Party.
But around the upcoming presidential election, assuming that Democrats nominate someone who will stand up and challenge the destructive course this administration is following at home and abroad, then it is likely that Greens and independents and even sensible moderate Republicans (if that isn’t an oxymoron) will vote together against Bush. Together, Nader and Gore totaled the highest center-left vote since Johnson wiped out Goldwater, so this is a Karl Rove nightmare. No doubt, it will require us all to unite behind someone who is less than ideal.
But while Bush is now beginning to don his “compassionate” garb for the election, no one should be misled about just how extreme and bold his reactionary agenda is.
In foreign policy, fiscal policy, judicial appointments, environmental and social policy, corporate corruption, this George Bush makes Ronald Reagan look weak-kneed. The movement conservatives that drive his administration must be stopped. And it will take a unified opposition to do it.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original