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America’s Future Now: The Surliest Conference In America

Surly is about the best word to describe this conference in Washington after the first day. Speaker after speaker excoriated the trajectory from the political sphere as too accommodating, too solicitous, and not enough. Attendees cheered more at the comments about the failures of governance rather than its successes. Progressives – and at this conference, you can even include the institutional groups in that – are just unhappy.

And so far, I think there’s more heat than light. The general torpor hasn’t yet been met with many solutions. There’s a yearning for an independent progressive movement, but not a defined plan on how to get there. I think Gerald Taylor from the Industrial Areas Foundation Southeast came the closest yesterday, calling for a modern-day network of organizers to “invest in the slow, respectful work of talking to people in our country again.” That’s as good as any answer I’ve seen. Taylor, who appeared on a panel about financial reform, also had a novel idea about the entire nation going on a general mortgage strike to reset their principal, but I don’t see that happening without that slow, respectful work taking place. His major point was that the conversation of democracy has been derailed, and I think that’s right.

Attendees expressed that they can no longer – if they ever could have – expect this Administration to do the right thing, and that they must be pushed aggressively from the outside. “Uncomfortable” was a word I heard a lot. “When you treat Chris Dodd and Barney Frank like they’re your buddies, you’re doing it wrong,” said Rob Johnson, economist with the Roosevelt Institute. “You have to get under their skin. They are part of that resilient structure in DC.” And that was a persistent theme, though one without a full response. I suppose the “what do we do now” conversation is an important one to have, but you’d think it would be a little more advanced by now.

This conference will wrap up with a march to the Treasury Department to ask for the $13 billion dollars given to Goldman Sachs in the backdoor bailout. I don’t know where all this anger is going to go, but it’s nice to know it exists. If it didn’t, I’d think something was wrong.

CommunityThe Bullpen

America’s Future Now: The Surliest Conference In America

Surly is about the best word to describe this conference in Washington after the first day. Speaker after speaker excoriated the trajectory from the political sphere as too accommodating, too solicitous, and not enough. Attendees cheered more at the comments about the failures of governance rather than its successes. Progressives – and at this conference, you can even include the institutional groups in that – are just unhappy.

And so far, I think there’s more heat than light. The general torpor hasn’t yet been met with many solutions. There’s a yearning for an independent progressive movement, but not a defined plan on how to get there. I think Gerald Taylor from the Industrial Areas Foundation Southeast came the closest yesterday, calling for a modern-day network of organizers to “invest in the slow, respectful work of talking to people in our country again.” That’s as good as any answer I’ve seen. Taylor, who appeared on a panel about financial reform, also had a novel idea about the entire nation going on a general mortgage strike to reset their principal, but I don’t see that happening without that slow, respectful work taking place. His major point was that the conversation of democracy has been derailed, and I think that’s right.

Attendees expressed that they can no longer – if they ever could have – expect this Administration to do the right thing, and that they must be pushed aggressively from the outside. “Uncomfortable” was a word I heard a lot. “When you treat Chris Dodd and Barney Frank like they’re your buddies, you’re doing it wrong,” said Rob Johnson, economist with the Roosevelt Institute. “You have to get under their skin. They are part of that resilient structure in DC.” And that was a persistent theme, though one without a full response. I suppose the “what do we do now” conversation is an important one to have, but you’d think it would be a little more advanced by now.

This conference will wrap up with a march to the Treasury Department to ask for the $13 billion dollars given to Goldman Sachs in the backdoor bailout. I don’t know where all this anger is going to go, but it’s nice to know it exists. If it didn’t, I’d think something was wrong.

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David Dayen

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