CLEVELAND — “We’re on a roll,” said Samanthie Brooks, as she welcomed nearly 300 retiree activists at the Senior Voice legislative action conference Feb. 26 at Trinity Cathedral.

“We are moving forward based on the tremendous victory we had in the elections last November,” she said. “We are going to deal with the problems we face in health care, retirement, housing and community services.”

Newly elected Sen. Sherrod Brown, symbolizing the historic election victory, received a standing ovation as he rose to deliver the keynote to the meeting. Brown, a Democrat, recalled that four years earlier he had spoken in the same location to an overflow crowd protesting the then-imminent invasion of Iraq.

“Ending the war, beginning immediate redeployment,” he said, to enthusiastic cheers, is “at the top of the list” of priorities.

Listing those priorities, he declared, “We have to get out. We have to cancel the Bush administration tax cuts for the rich and deal with the problems of health care and education.”

Brown said that, as a member of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, chaired by Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), he intended to work for the Democrats’ agenda of raising the minimum wage, restoring college Pell Grants, giving Medicare the right to negotiate prescription drug prices and restoring labor’s right to organize through the Employee Free Choice Act.

John Gallo, chief organizer of the conference, said he believed it was the first senior legislative conference to be held anywhere in the U.S. since the election. The meeting was put together in seven weeks time, he said, at the initiative of the Cleveland AFL-CIO Retirees Council. Other sponsors included the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans, the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), the Council on Older Persons and a number of community and religious groups.

“The response was great,” he said. “People are obviously ready to win things back.”

Workshops dealt with specific legislative initiatives and proposals to expand access to health care, strengthen Social Security and protect pensions, restore funding for the Older Americans Act and establish an Ohio Housing Trust Fund to address the state’s record rate of foreclosures.

A meeting to follow through on the proposals was set for March 13 at the AFL-CIO. Norm Wernet of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans said his group hoped to initiate similar regional conferences throughout the state.

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