When the hawk advises the chicken that its eggs are better off in the hawk’s nest, it makes sense to be suspicious.

Perhaps with that proverb in mind, NAACP chairman Julian Bond and other African American leaders kicked off a nationwide lobbying initiative and cross-country campaign against President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.

In a concerted and highly targeted effort to win over Blacks to the private investment scheme, Bush has tried to use African Americans’ relatively shorter life expectancy, a legacy of chronic systemic inequality, as an argument to junk Social Security. At an April 11 press conference in Washington, Bond called Bush’s ploy “playing the race card to set Americans against Americans.” Instead, “we urge the administration to address the long-term problems the system faces now,” the NAACP leader said. “Recognizing the shorter life expectancy of people of color is commendable, but placing them further at risk is no solution.”

Also speaking at the press conference, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, warned President Bush not to use the fact that African Americans are suffering from a legacy of inequality as an excuse to privatize Social Security.

Dubbed “SOS — Save Our Social Security,” the NAACP campaign will go to New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta, Columbia, Mo., and Washington, D.C. The tour will include meetings with community organizations and on college campuses. Participants will be urged to contact lawmakers to defend Social Security.

The Congressional Black Caucus says it has already held more than 100 town hall meetings on Social Security in the past two months.

Polls are showing that these and other grassroots efforts are having an effect on public thinking. According to the Washington Post, “barely a third of the public approves of the way President Bush is dealing with Social Security.” A majority says the more they hear about Bush’s plan to “reform” Social Security the less they like it. In a Pew Reseach Center nationwide survey, the percentage of Americans who say they favor private accounts has tumbled to 46 percent, down from 54 percent in December and 58 percent in September. Support for private accounts among African Americans is the lowest, slipping from 50 percent to 36 percent.

AARP President Marie Smith, cited by Ebony magazine as one of America’s 100 most influential African American leaders, said in a recent statement, “Social Security is critical to our community. Today only one-fourth of African Americans have a private pension or investment income. That is not expected to improve, so Social Security will remain the foundation of retirement security for the next generation.”

She and other African American leaders say private accounts are risky and would drain the Social Security fund, endangering retirement, survivor and disability benefits their community especially relies on. One out of every three Blacks over 65 counts Social Security as the only source of income, and one in 16 African American children receives income each month from a Social Security check.

According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog over how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, “Because of higher disability rates and lower lifetime earnings, African Americans and Hispanics actually receive greater benefits relative to taxes [from the Social Security system] than whites.”

Many agree that the Bush administration would do better to expand the job market if it is sincere about alleviating the African American condition. In its annual report, released last month, the National Urban League concluded that, 40 years after passage of landmark civil rights legislation, economic and social progress for Black Americans remains worrisome. The report shows that the median wealth for African Americans is 10 times less than the median for whites. The official Black unemployment rate, 10.8 percent, remains double that for whites.

While many African Americans agree that Social Security needs to be improved, there is growing consensus that any changes should not be based on the unpredictability and insecurity of private accounts or left to the whims of the stock market. African Americans are also justifiably suspicious of a salesman who has previously paid little attention to their plight.