No deals, no surrender: Social Security fightback rumbles across nation

In towns and cities across the country, Americans are turning up the heat on Republicans as well as Democrats to guarantee that Social Security, the country’s most successful and reliable program for the people, will be preserved — safe from any inside-the-Beltway deals.

The Alliance of Retired Americans’ Social Security Truth Truck has traveled through 12 states. On June 1, they delivered 1 million signatures to Oregon lawmakers.

A day earlier, the state Senate had passed Memorial 1, demanding that Congress reject “any and all plans” to privatize Social Security.

Oregon Republicans voted in a bloc against the memorial, but Democrats stood firm. State Sen. Frank Shields (D-Portland) hit the floor with poll numbers showing that 69 percent of Oregonians oppose Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme.

The next day, Truth Truck riders joined Oregon ARA members and coalition partners delivering a heap of Save Social Security petitions to U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith in Portland and Rep. Greg Walden in Medford, both Republicans.

Verna Porter, president of the 23,000-member Oregon ARA, told reporters, “We do not support the president’s plan, which will reduce our Social Security benefits and increase the deficit.”

Social Security is a life and death matter for Oregon residents, Porter said. Over 590,000 Oregon residents rely on the monthly checks to pay the bills. Many are dependent children and disabled workers. Social Security has kept 168,000 senior Oregonians out of poverty, she noted.

Going up the steps to Sen. Gordon’s office, ARA member Howard King turned to the mostly young reporters and said, “Don’t put any money you can’t afford to lose in the stock market. Especially your retirement!”

As many have noted, the Bush privatization scheme would do just that — take money out of Social Security, set up private accounts for workers and toss their hard-earned cash onto the ups and downs of the stock market.

On June 2, the Truth Truck rolled into Reno, Nev. That state’s Legislature had already passed a resolution rejecting privatization. With 1,300 signatures on petitions from Nevadans in hand, ARA members visited the Reno office of Rep. Jim Gibbons (R), where they were greeted by silence and an empty desk.

Across the continent, Ohio workers continue to put the heat on their Republican members of Congress. John Gallo, retired hospital workers union leader, heads up the Greater Cleveland area drive to save Social Security. The Hands Off Social Social Security Coalition has active organizations in 11 counties and is still growing, he said.

“Our goal is flipping one, maybe two, of Ohio’s Republican senators,” said Gallo. “Built on the unions, our successful drive for state prescription drug coverage, and folks from the Kerry campaign, we helped push Sen. Mike DeWine into voting for a nonbinding resolution rejecting Social Security privatization.”

That was achieved by “meetings, letters, postcards, demonstrations, marches, press conferences, town hall meetings and lobbying by rank-and-file people.” In Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s district on Cleveland’s West Side, 400 to 800 people attended the town hall meetings he hosted, Gallo said.

“We believe DeWine is shaky. He’s been silent since the vote in the U.S. Senate that rejected privatization. We are not convinced that DeWine will maintain that position. So we build every day.”

The Ohio coalition is training people to explain Bush’s “progressive indexing” ploy, which Gallo called “the privateers’ next move to sneak in the back door.” The coalition will have tables at county fairs this summer. “We are taking this campaign directly to the people, urban and rural, red county and blue county,” he said.

Gallo believes there is no reason to tinker with Social Security at all. “Social Security isn’t broken. There is no need to fix it. We have four Ohio members of the U.S. House who agree,” he said, and the coalition is working on the others. “There is no need to compromise, no need for deals.”

The Social Security battle could affect next year’s elections for Congress and state offices. Gallo thinks it is possible to seriously weaken, if not overturn, Republican rule in Ohio.

The same could happen in Pennsylvania, where Rick Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, is closely identified with the Bush privatization drive. Anti-privatization town hall meetings in the central part of the state began June 6. GOP Congressmen Michael Fitzpatrick and Jim Gerlach both got an earful from retired workers, disabled residents and women demanding that they reject privatization.

Meanwhile, a June 7 ABC/Washington Post poll reports 62 percent disapprove of Bush’s “work” on Social Security, and if transferring the program to the stock market means reducing the growth of guaranteed benefits, that disapproval rating skyrockets to 73 percent.