ALIQUIPPA, Pa. — If you want to start a fight in this tidy, hard-working former steel producing center, defend Bush and speak up for privatizing Social Security.
So many people showed up at the Fez banquet hall, Aug. 11, to celebrate Social Security’s 70th birthday that organizers had to pull out more tables and chairs. Crowding into the hall were steelworker retirees, AARP and Alliance of Retired Americans (ARA) members, Teamsters among them, and their younger family members. The featured speaker was represented by an empty chair, reserved for Republican Congresswoman Melissa Hart.
Ed Pace, a soft-spoken retired teacher and ARA leader, was able to go to college on Social Security survivor benefits after his steelworker father died of cancer. Pace reached into his wallet and pulled out a card. “See this?” he said, holding up his voter registration card. “This is my gun permit. This lets me shoot down all those rogue elephants.” (The elephant is the Republican Party symbol.) “It enables us to take back what they — starting with this president — are trying to destroy — starting with Social Security. It’s time to sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ but it is also time to fight!”
Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Bill George, a former steelworker local union president, drew cheers when he called for “a revolution to take back our country!”
George also had unity on his mind. “We’ve had our differences, our family feuds. I’m glad to see AARP here today, but we remember the prescription drug fight,” he said with a smile, referring to divisions over Bush’s Medicare drug plan. “We are on the same side, together, to save Social Security, and it is going to take all of us because we have got to win this one. And we are. So far we have turned two Republicans in this state. With solidarity, we will turn more and make Bush and all his greedy cronies regret he even put privatization on the table.”
More than 130 events took place around the country Aug. 11-17 celebrating Social Security’s 70th birthday and condemning Republican schemes to privatize, cut, raise the retirement age, or increase taxes for the program. They were in places like Fayette City, Mo., Tallahassee, Fla., Helena, Mont., New Castle, Del., Seattle, and many more.
At Roosevelt University in Chicago, 200-plus retirees and friends got a powerful reminder of the struggle to create Social Security in a dramatic presentation by historian/actor R.J. Lindsey. Other events were held in Bloomington, Champaign and Joliet, Ill., where voters are putting the “save Social Security” heat on their Republican Congressmen Tim Johnson and Jerry Weller.
At the Ashtabula County, Ohio, fair this year Social Security joined the weather on the minds of farmers. “We collected over 1,000 signatures on our petition to stop the privatization of Social Security,” said retired Painter’s Union leader Wally Kaufman. Kaufman runs an organic family farm and his daughter’s beef cattle won a ribbon at the fair.
He told the World, “This one farmer comes over to see what we were doing and says, ‘What’s Bush trying to do to Social Security? I voted for him and now he’s trying to destroy Social Security? Don’t think I’ll be doing that again anytime soon.’ He signed. We also had a birthday party for Social Security and one of the mayors came and spoke — another Republican. Bush is in trouble, I’d say. Real trouble.”
The Cambridge Community Center in Las Vegas hosted one of the largest celebrations. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid attended and so did American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee.
Republicans are feeling the pressure. Derrick A. Max, executive director of the pro-privatization, big-business Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America’s Social Security, complained to The Washington Post that GOP members of Congress have “lost sight of why we’re here. That’s part of my angst with this whole birthday celebration.”
House Republicans confessed to the Post that they feel in a box. Despite holding a sizeable majority, they do not have the votes to act on the current scheme proposed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). His plan would transfer the Social Security surplus into private accounts for Americans 55 and under. Republican members of Congress went home for their break with two pages of talking points to sell this “privatization lite” ploy, known as Growing Real Ownership for Workers, GROW. GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa admits that it is “more symbol than substance” and a tough sell to the folks back home.
Meanwhile, ARA, AARP and the AFL-CIO are gearing up for an on-the-ground fall campaign to save Social Security and dump Republicans in 2006.
Beatrice Lumpkin contributed to this story.