Another outstanding feature of Take Back America 2012? Fully thirteen members of Congress, all Democrats and one Independent, eight representatives and five senators, are attending, realizing the importance of taking back a contingent that was crucial in 2008 to putting President Obama into office. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and former DNC chairman, is also here.
In attendance are the following representatives: Joe Courtney (D-CT), Peter DeFazio (D-VT), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Barney Frank (D-MA), John Garamond (D-CA), Raul Grijala (D-AZ), Christopher Murray (D-CT), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Nan Orrick (D-GA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have also attended.
I seem to remember a dearth of federal legislators at previous conferences; Keith Ellison, elected only recently as the first Muslim in Congress, is a previous attendee, along with Barney Frank and Jan Schakowsky, but few others come to mind.
A small percentage of the whole federal legislative body, but a huge statement. They need us. A significant contingent of Progressives who attended TBA last year, have decided that they don't need them. Like Rob Kall, some of them at least have placed their hope in Occupy or other sources. Rob estimates that compared with the showing of one thousand Progs this year, two or three thousand attended last year.
Yesterday I attended a plenary "Jobs First: Prevent the Fiscal Train Wreck in December," featuring Rep. Schakowsky, along with Molly Katchpole of Rebuild the Dream, and Damon Silvers of AFL-CIO; the panel was moderated by Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future.
Schakowsky, pointing to the number of new jobs created during the Obama administration, descried the Republicans for their austerity policy, so similar to the one eating away at the Euro economy. She came down hard on the Bowles-Simpson plan, calling it the "BS Plan," noting how it has raised the retirement age, increased the cost of Medicare, undermined employer-sponsored health insurance plans, altogether an resounding attack on the middle class and those who aspire to join it.
As a group also, not splintered the way Democrats are, the Republicans voted against the Economic Fairness Act, warring against seniors, poor people, and the environment. Progressives must lead the way back to sanity and hope for the future, said Schakowsky. We must organize with a view not only toward this coming November 6, but the day after (to arms against a small margin in Romney's favor, I say!).
She pointed out that in the disastrous Election 2010, large numbers of youth, Hispanics, and seniors stayed home from the polls, unmobilized. The House of Representatives needs to net twenty-five more Democrats; in the Senate, the destructive filibuster must be eliminated.
In other words, we've got a lot to win.
The impressive Molly Katchpole of Rebuild the Dream spoke next, focusing on youth-relevant issues. Youth unemployment hovers around 16 percent, including 10 percent of recent college graduates, she said. Those who are employed suffer from low wages, and this figure encompasses 20 percent of recent college graduates, and gargantuan college debt; their future entitlement programs are in jeopardy, as is their habitat.
Consider our legislators in Congress, whose median age is sixty-two in the Senate and fifty-five in the House. (Our Supreme Court Justices are no spring chickens either.)
To an appreciative audience Katchpole noted that few professions are represented in Congress. Young people from more diverse backgrounds should sit in Congress. She said that we are in the midst of a cultural shift; her generation is more connected. For example, the website Opensecrets.org will reveal how much is donated to political organizations by whom.
Our lives should define our jobs, rather than the reverse, she continued.
On an optimistic note, an initiative to eliminate a 5 percent monthly fee imposed by the Bank of America was struck down by a group Katchpole led--a stunning victory, considering the odds.