This weekend, thousands of conservatives from across the country descended onto Washington D.C. for the 2017 edition of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Last year, during a “simpler” time, it was one of the many flashpoints between the Trump campaign and the “Never Trump-ers,” with Trump being a no-show and holding a rally in Wichita, Kansas instead.
This year’s conference was bound to be interesting, to say the least, with many of the tensions between more traditional conservatives and Trump supporters coming to the fore as the Republican party looks both inward and towards the future. Events included conversations with Reince Preibus, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway as well as panels ranging from “The Alt Right Ain’t Right at All”, “FREE stuff vs FREE-dom: Millennial’s Love Affair with Bernie Sanders” and “Breaking out of the Regulatory Prison”.
Many universities’ conservative and Republican groups – including those at the University of Connecticut – attend on a yearly basis. With attendees able to choose between a “campus activism” and “community activism” track, students can come away with communication and campaign skills to implement back on campus along with networking opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, CPAC is in part specially designed to foster engagement, excitement and camaraderie among the youth of the party.
As a former College Democrats president, I’ve often wished there was something similar that our club could attend – both to grow and benefit our organization on campus, but also to support our club members as individuals going on to pursue political or policy careers. Perhaps now more than ever, it is time for a liberal “CPAC.” Although different liberal organizations host similar summits, there is nothing of the same scale or scope. The only convening event for liberals and Democrats on a national scale is perhaps the DNC – the Democratic National Convention – held every four years, which offers the chance to debate the party platform, but is more about nominating our party’s presidential nominee than anything.
There needs to be something more. With widespread, grassroots engagement on the Left that has arguably been around since the 1970s, it is critical that we build off the momentum of events such as the Women’s March and packed town hall meetings across the country. Such a conference would provide concrete strategies and tools individuals can bring back to their communities and use to organize. While there is much coordination and organization through social media, there is no substitute for meeting in person. Long term, it would also make the Democratic party stronger and more unified overall – and with a focus on the millennial age group, train and build the future of the party.
This past primary and election season, many differences between the moderate and liberal wings of the party were highlighted. These tensions aren’t a bad thing – they are just the opposite, giving the party life and wider appeal, and should be celebrated. We agree on far more than we disagree, our shared values and visions versus how exactly we think is best to get there. Throughout the primaries, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders kept debates civil, dynamic and centered around the issues and honest policy disagreements. Yet although I supported Clinton throughout the primaries, it is no secret that Bernie Sanders tapped into something for many millennials, and many of my peers grew increasingly frustrated with the party establishment. If the party is being honest with itself, some of this perceived disconnect between establishment leaders and the young, liberal base of the party led to apathy and distrust, which may in part have cost Clinton the election.
A liberal “CPAC” – whatever clever name we decide on – would allow for increased youth engagement and bring liberals and Democrats together more than once every four years. The early days of the Trump administration and the “resistance” have emphasized that we cannot afford to remain divided, or still. Many citizens are becoming politically active for the first time, and we must harness that energy. Organizing for the next midterm elections must be a priority, as well as on the state and local government level. Both the need and enthusiasm for such a conference is there.