Social Security: We have to win this one

PITTSBURGH, Penn. — Americans are talking, marching, storming congressional offices, petitioning, conducting town hall meetings and writing letters to save Social Security. Beneath the radar of headline news, the people have lit up the “third rail” of U.S. politics, Social Security, and Republicans and Democrats are both feeling the charge.

Loud applause rang out of the Antioch Baptist Church, on the east side of Cleveland, May 21, as the Rev. Marvin McMickle turned his pulpit over to Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), the Cleveland AFL-CIO head John Ryan and Cleveland NAACP leader Stanley Miller. Tubbs Jones, Ryan and Miller called on congregants to organize and act to save Social Security.

Responding to President Bush’s cynical appeal to African Americans to support the privatization of Social Security because African Americans do not live as long as whites and, thus, are not able to collect as much, the Congresswoman, fist clenched, demanded that Bush forget about privatization and “find out why I’m dying early!” The audience took to their feet endorsing her call.

Anger rising, Tubbs Jones turned her attention to the struggle to protect Social Security. “This is a benefit we have paid into,” she told worshipers. “We have earned it and we are not going to let [Bush] take it away from us.”

Up and down the pews volunteers handed out phone numbers of the Ohio congressional delegation to eager hands. A petition circulated.

Just down the turnpike, in Pennsylvania, Marie Malagreca was calling up members of Alliance of Retired Americans (ARA) for a series of town hall meetings across the Keystone State. Malagreca, former director of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees currently serves as regional director for the ARA. She is pumped: “We have to win this one. Social Security as it is, no changes, no gimmicks, no fine print.” Malagreca said she is concerned “what the Democrats bargained away to the Republicans in the Senate, is a cover for what they might do on Social Security. It sent off warning bells. Social Security is not a done deal.”

A town hall meeting in Philadelphia, May 27, kicked off eight meetings from big cities to smaller communities, including Republican strongholds like York and Erie. Republican Congressman Phil English of Erie has already told local organizers that he will not be attending the town hall meeting in that city June 29. Organizers plan to feature an empty chair with English’s name on it.

Actions in Pennsylvania are part of a national effort organized by Americans United to Protect Social Security. The mini-campaign, “Take a Stand,” is zeroing in on congressional representatives in 34 states starting when Congress adjourns for Memorial Day.

Americans United said they are urging Congress to vote up or down Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security. “Double talk, evasion and obfuscation will no longer be tolerated,” Americans United spokesman Brad Woodhouse said. “The President’s plan is on the table and members of Congress should have the guts to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” Woodhouse believes there’s no popular support for privatization and no support in Congress. “We want these folks to take a stand so we can remove risky private accounts and steep middle class benefit cuts from the debate once and for all,” he said.

With 250,000 members, Pennsylvania ARA, part of Americans United, is not a retirees’ social club. During the April mobilization against Bush Social Security privatization, Malagreca joined the coalition in Erie. “We stormed English’s office to hand over our petitions. There just comes a time and saving Social Security is one of those times.” Malagreca says English was not happy. “We were polite, but I think we got our point across.”

Recently, Malagreca spoke to a Presbyterian congregation. She said she deeply believes in Christian teaching, “especially the part about being my brother’s keeper.” She said when she speaks she always talks about the “we” because “unity is the only way we can win, and we have to win. Black and white, all denominations, all of us who will be injured if Bush gets his way with Social Security.”