If the tea parties can do it, so can the progressives.

Such was the message to some 300 unapologetic progressives who filled the seats and lined the walls two rows deep at a west-side YWCA at the inaugural meeting of the Tucson chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America.

With liberals underwhelmed by some of the deals made in Washington over the health-care overhaul and tax cuts, the crowd in attendance hissed at a reference to Wisconsin's Republican governor, cheered at mentions of universal health care and clucked in dismay at programs being slashed in federal budget cuts pushed by the new crop of congressional freshmen.

Carole Edelsky, a 73-year-old retired professor, for example, was one attendee who said the progressive wing doesn't have a strong enough voice within the Democratic Party. "It needs to be louder, stronger and bigger," she said, adding that she hoped the gathering would be a step in establishing momentum and a unified message.

And much like the tea parties that thumbed their collective noses at the Republican establishment, the group had a message for its own party leaders: We're sick of compromising.

"We are not the Demo-cratic Party," said Tim Carpenter, the organization's executive director. "We are what we want the Demo-cratic Party to become.

"We are the insurgency inside the Democratic Party," he said to cheers.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, speaking before columnist and radio commentator Jim Hightower, said he worries the Senate will compromise on what he called the "horrible" budget priorities outlined by Republicans. "It is not about fiscal responsibility," he maintained. "It is purely and simply an ideological document."

He encouraged the crowd to have a "robust response" to such congressional actions, saying it's going to take revisiting tax loopholes and subsidies as well as the "ill-fated engagement" in Afghanistan if the government is to have enough money to close the deficit and adequately fund education and health care.

Insisting that a majority of Americans support progressive values, Grijalva predicted the new crop of conservatives will overreach. "The euphoria of the tea party is short-lived," he said to applause.

But he said it's going to mean progressives not only have to sell their positions to their neighbors, but it also might mean contradicting the party leadership and the White House.

"The next Democratic majority in Congress will be progressive, independent and above all, beholden more to the constituents who put us there than the interests that want us out."

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.