The Campaign for America’s Future has held an annual conference every year, and typically the attendees would discuss how conservatism has failed and how their leaders can be brought out of power. The next iteration of the CAF conference, titled America’s Future Now and scheduled for June 7-9 in Washington, will have a much different focus – an open discussion among the progressive community about how to best position itself in an age of governing.

“The progressive community is somewhat divided, between the folks who think Obama is doing everything he can against a broken political system, and the folks that think he’s not doing enough, and that we need an independent force to push him,” said Bill Scher, the Online Campaign Manager for CAF. “We’re going to have that debate at this conference.”

Scher highlighted a session called “The Great Debate: Progressives in the Obama Era,” where Executive Director of the Progressive Congress Action Fund Darcy Burner and Executive Director of the Center for Community Change Deepak Bhargava, who sit on opposite sides of the aforementioned divide, will argue how best to achieve progressive goals in the Obama age. This will be followed by community discussions and opportunities to engage on the question, which overhangs virtually the entire conference. “No matter where you line up in that debate, we need to come together and engage” on it, said Scher. “Are we the wingman of the Obama Administration or an outside pressure force?”

Some of the other elements of the conference, which also features speakers like Dick Durbin, Donna Edwards, Howard Dean, Tom Udall, Barbara Lee, Nancy Pelosi and Alan Grayson, introduce more interactive sessions meant to get people talking about this key issue of how to engage. “We have a series of workshop sessions, which we’ve never done before,” Scher told me. “There are more opportunities to get together and talk in a way that’s not scripted. You’re not there to be a potted plant sitting in a chair, there to shape the movement.”

Two important issues getting a high-profile spot at the conference include jobs and the war in Afghanistan. “We have a jobs panel with Jared Bernstein from the White House, Richard Trumka, Bob Herbert and Angela Glover-Blackwell,” Scher said. “So far there’s been nothing on the table of a New Deal, WPA-sized solution to the crisis in unemployment, so this attention can hopefully elevate the debate.”

“We’re also featuring a debate between Juan Cole and Michael O’Hanlon on Afghanistan, another intractable, complicated problem that no one would say (the Administration has) solved, but the progressive view of it rarely gets a lot of airing. Again, this is a way to elevate the debate.”

Whether you believe that the progressive movement thus far has been successful or unsuccessful in moving the debate and pushing the agenda, clearly this question of how to best achieve that goal is central to moving forward. This conference is perhaps the first formal opportunity to do that.

The America’s Future Now conference is open to the public, and registration continues for the next couple weeks. I’ll be attending as media in the “blogger’s row” and reporting from the conference.

David Dayen

David Dayen