Grassroots defense of Social Security deepens

Bush got a rocky welcome to Denver, March 21, in the 17th stop on his 60-city, election-style campaign to sell the privatization of Social Security.

“We’re here to tell him to go back home!” Colorado AFL-CIO President Steve Adams roared to over 150 workers and peace activists. “It’s not wise to privatize!” the crowd yelled back.

Also speaking was Dean Ames, representing the Colorado Alliance of Retired Americans. He charged that the president’s plan to replace Social Security with private investment accounts is the “first step of scrapping Social Security.”

Earlier this year, Colorado U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar asked the Senate Finance Committee to analyze the impact Bush’s scheme would have on Colorado residents. The answer: the average benefit would be slashed by 23 percent, from $10,000 to $7,700 per year. About 650,000 Coloradans’ lives depend on Social Security.

Salazar, a freshman Democrat, is a vocal critic of Social Security privatization. He has been receiving almost daily communication from union members like teacher Tom French, who took a personal day to join the March 21 demonstration. “To me, George Bush’s whole attitude is that they’re trying to take care of the wealthy and to hell with everybody else,” French said.

Bush stepped outside his carefully orchestrated Denver pro-privatization rally to walk a neighborhood. Not just any neighborhood, though. The Lowry community, an upscale master-planned new neighborhood, was the bull’s eye for the Bush message. But even on these streets, filled with young affluent families, the only agreement was that Social Security is a good program and needs attention. Stephen Skobel, a 24-year-old bartender and a registered Democrat, voted for Bush last fall. Although he believes that Social Security will be exhausted by the time he retires, “that is not a reason to destroy it,” he said.

Even with the president walking her streets, Teresa Zoltanski, 49, was not shy about her displeasure with the Bush scheme. “I am opposed to it,” she said. “It creates a whole huge market for people to put their fingers in and manage it. Social Security has been there a long time; it was a plan people voted for years and years ago. If we give it to private investors, there will be no cushion for people.”

Organizing the sentiment in the neighborhood is what John Gallo, coordinator for the northeast Ohio-based Coalition to Protect Social Security, works at seven days a week. In his bloody, battleground state, where residents are still weary from the national elections, the coalition of labor, community and religious groups has tapped into the rank-and-file ferment and launched a massive education and lobbying effort. The meetings, letters, faxes, e-mails, petitions, and door-to-door conversations are pushing the Republican Ohio congressional delegation. Recently, Ohio U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine and four other Senate Republicans crossed the aisle and voted with the Democrats to reject any Social Security plan that would cut benefits or increase deficits.

In the past two and a half months, DeWine received 2,700 phone calls about Social Security, and only 88 supported Bush’s privatization scheme, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported recently. “I guess DeWine wants to get re-elected,” said Gallo.

“Privatization of Social Security is a stupid idea if you want to save it,” he commented. “It’s not stupid if you want to get rid of it.”

On March 31, picket line protests will take place outside investment firm Charles Schwab offices around the country, in what is being billed as the largest single-day grassroots mobilization against Social Security privatization. Under the slogan “Don’t Pick Our Pockets To Line Yours,” union and community leaders, workers, students and retirees in dozens of cities will join in rallies, town hall meetings and more. For more information, see www.wallstreetgreed.org.