Keep On Takin' Back

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Today's Obama speech in Philadelphia underscored something about Take Back America: the conference is right, smack in Washington, D.C., and the grand guignol of the campaign is happening everywhere else. Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, confirmed to me that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both invited to speak. He didn't expect the campaign to drag on this long, did he? "No, we moved this up from June," he said. "We wanted to have some time before the convention, and… we expected to have a nominee by now," he said.

This isn't great for attendees, who I see swarming into sessions with anyone they've heard of: Jim Webb, Naomi Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich. It's good for reporters, who can avoid crowds and talk to activists in wide-open sessions. Last night I cracked beers with some members of the United Steelworkers who were funny and blunt about the election. "We needed to get rid of Hillary, and it looks like she's done," one said. I asked him about the chances of passing the Employee Free Choice Act (which would let people unionize by signing cards instead of holding elections) if a Democrat won the election. He looked at me like I was drooling. "If the sun comes up in the morning, we're passing card check."

Updates a-comin' in this thread.

2:07: I'm at a session on "empowering workers," all about what the labor movement wants from the Democrats. Mary Beth Maxwell from American Rights at Work warms up the crowd with a "pop quiz" about unions and the right-wing movement to stop them. Which country did Human Rights Watch say was violating human rights in the labor force? (A) – the United States! (Fun fact: the Chinese Embassy is a 5-minute walk from here, and currently being protested by Free Tibet-ers) Another question:

How long did Domsey Trading workers have to wait for the National to provide compensation for being harassed, assaulted, and even fired for trying to form a union?

(a) 6 months
(b) 1 year
(c) 5 years
(d) 18 years

See if you can guess!

Next up is a representative from Change to Win, who makes a passionate appeal for passing card check. "There are lot of strategies for mobilizing support behind this," he says. "I… don't want to go into them all now, in this public setting. We just got three racketeering suits against us."

2:28: I'm not live-blogging as much as taking notes, but here's Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO on why the economy is in decline: "The root cause is that workers lost any ability to form unions and bargain effectively." Acuff's speaking style is very reliant on snapping his hands together and pulling them apart ("wages and work were" *snap* "decoupled!"), which convinces me of his arguments.

2:43: From Change to Win's man: "We had some just desserts from Bear Stearns. When they sold the company [Chairman] Jimmy Cayne's net worth dropped from $1.3 billion to $12 million. Now, $12 million isn't nothing, but it's not $1.3 billion." Ha, ha!

2:49: A questioner (who works for the Social Security Administration) asks if EFCA can really be passed if the Democrats don't get 60 Senate seats. Mary Beth Maxwell points out that the Act got some Republican votes. But: "It's a beginning, the sea change moment that shows we can turn this around, we can secure this right for millions of workers." From Change to Win's representative: "The reason we endorsed Obama is because we think that movement behind Obama gives us the opportunity to do that." He avers that we're a "long way" from federal workers getting the right to strike.

2:56: Hrm: Stewart Acuff points out that the enemies of labor are "recording everything we say." I look at my sturdy Olympus without shame. Acuff is winding us up, though: "I don't care who hears this: We're going to beat those anti-EFCA Republicans!" The Senate seats he wants to take: Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Virginia, Oregon, New Mexico, Mississippi and Kentucky. "Don't give up on the 60," he says. And about legislative strategy: "If we have to build a bridge somewhere to get it passed, then build the damn bridge! If we have to rename a highway after somebody, rename the highway!"

3:25: In the media room, I chatted a little with some liberal journalists and Phyllis Bennett, a radio personality and friend of Jeremiah Wright, about the Obama/Wright saga. Actually, they were talking, and I butted in, suggesting that the "God damn America" line has been misunderstood.

"That's not it," Bennett said. "It wasn't 'goddamn America,' the adjective. It was God DAMN America. He was using it as a verb."

I understood this, actually, but I was trying to point out how that and the CIA/AIDS Wright moments were being splattered across TV screens to damn everything Wright had said. One of the other reporters shook his head. "What we're doing right now, parsing this, that's exactly the problem. Why are we talking about this at all? Why is a cable news network discussing this for four hours at a time?"

One thing Obama's speech did: It made the interviews around the convention a little more pleasant. People grumbled about the amount of reporters asking about Wright yesterday, but today they're getting asked about Obama's awesome speech.

3:49: It's not part of the conference, but John Derbyshire loses me here.

Segregation was not "the law of the land" in the 1950s. It was the law in a minority of states.

And this is an important distinction because…? The deep South has land, you know.