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Netroots Nation: Obama tells progressives via video, ‘Change is hard’

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — President Obama made a surprise video appearance at the annual Netroots Nation conference, telling a hall full of progressive activists in a pre-taped message that “change is hard, but we’ve seen that it’s possible.”

The video appearance came amid some public grumbling by activists about the president, particularly regarding his lack of involvement in this week’s Wisconsin recall election.

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“Hi, everybody,” said Obama, flanked by an American flag and speaking from a hallway of the White House. “It’s hard to believe this is already the fourth Netroots Nation of my presidency. That’s like 200,000 news cycles on Twitter.”

He told the activists that “first and foremost, I just want to thank you.”

“Four years ago, we came together because we shared a simple belief — that people who love their country can change it,” he said. “And you have. I know it hasn’t always been easy. I know the petty political fights in Washington can be frustrating – and believe me, I know that. But I hope you’ll look back and think about the fact that everything you did — step-by-step and day by day — has helped bring about the changes we’ve fought for.”

Obama told the Netroots Nation crowd — who greeted the video with measured applause — that he had kept promises such as withdrawing troops from Iraq; he also touted the death of Osama bin Laden and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“At this make or break moment for the middle class, we face our most important fight yet, and now is the time to dig deep,” he said. “Change is hard, but we’ve seen that it’s possible, as long as you’re willing to keep up that fight, I’ll be right there with you.”

There were several hundred activists in the hall, but it was only half full — most of the crowd had left Saturday morning and afternoon.

The video — which also featured a testimonial from an Englewood, Colo., family touting the national health care law — came shortly before former Obama environmental adviser Van Jones delivered his keynote address, during which some of the activists’ dissatisfaction with Obama was on display.

“The local forces fought beautifully,” Jones said of Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall. “The local forces stood up. They created a miracle. They turned a national breakdown into a potential national breakthrough on their own. ... But they fought alone. Let’s be honest now. We’re all friends here.”

“Where was Obama?” yelled out one man in the crowd.

“Where were the national Democrats?” Jones responded. “And where were a lot of us?”

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