The PWW recently talked with Pedro Rodriguez, executive director of the Philadelphia branch of the Action Alliance of Senior Citizens. Rodriguez is also executive vice president of the state Alliance for Retired Americans. In these roles, he is currently busy organizing a regional Coalition to Defend Social Security. Ben Sears interviewed Rodriguez for the PWW.

PWW: What response are you getting in your attempts to mobilize people in defense of Social Security?

PR: The response is overwhelming. People want to be part of generating an organized response to President Bush’s privatization scheme. They are literally knocking on our door. We are assembling a broad coalition of organizations from the community and from the labor movement. Besides the ARA and the Action Alliance, the coalition includes, among others, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, NOW, Citizens for Consumer Justice, MoveOn, an AIDS organization, the AARP, the Jewish Labor Committee and Jobs with Justice.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is in support so we expect strong participation from labor in the form of resources and staff. The first goal is to create an awareness of the issue in this region that privatization would destroy Social Security as we know it; that this is a trick to drum up business for Wall Street firms and do away with the Roosevelt New Deal legacy and the legacy of the War on Poverty.

PWW: Is the coalition reaching out to young people?

PR: We have work to do to educate youth on this issue and let them know that Social Security is not simply a retirement program; it is social insurance. If something happens to your family when you are young, you get benefits from Social Security. Every study indicates that survival benefits would be the first to go. A lot of people don’t know that today more children get Social Security benefits than get welfare. This is a family program.

PWW: Does Social Security need reform?

PR: We have some proposals to make on this issue. First, we could raise the cap on taxable income for Social Security from the current $86,000 to $120,000. We could raise the minimum wage in order to bring in more money. Or we could say we are going to limit tax cuts for any individual to not more than $10,000 per year.

Those changes would resolve the issue of “fixing” Social Security without resorting to draconian measures such as raising the retirement age.

PWW: What actions is your coalition planning?

PR: First, we know that members of Congress will be home during their recess the week of Feb. 21. We plan to organize visits to the offices of senators and representatives while they are home to let them know how people feel about this issue.

Then we aim to organize 100 house parties during the week of March 7 and a “funeral march” for Social Security on March 11. The march will start at 12th and Market Streets at 4 p.m. and go to Sen. Rick Santorum’s office at Broad and Chestnut. We are urging people to wear black and bring candles. Also we hope to organize actions around International Women’s Day on March 8, since parity in Social Security benefits is a women’s issue.

Finally, I have a message for activists who frequently find themselves facing so many issues at the same time: When you choose your battles, remember that if we defeat Bush on Social Security, he will be a “lame duck” earlier in his term than most second-term presidents and we would be in a much stronger position in the 2006 midterm elections to move a progressive agenda forward in the country.

Contact the Philadelphia regional branch of the Action Alliance at