This was originally published in New Ground 99, March — April, 2005.
by Bob Roman
The campaign to protect Social Security got off to an auspicious start in Illinois with a demonstration outside the Charles Schwab brokerage offices on South Wacker Drive. Schwab was targeted as they are one of the players in the effort to privatize Social Security. The AFL-CIO in particular has been putting public pressure on the financial services industry and has had some success in neutralizing specific firms. For example the investment firm of Waddell & Reed recently announced it left the pro-privatization Alliance for Worker Retirement Security (AWRS) after activists prepared to demonstrate outside its Kansas office. Charles Schwab belongs to the AWRS. More recently, the Financial Services Forum, made up of CEOs of big finance companies, dropped out of Compass, the group leading financial industry support for President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security. Some 90 people participated in this Valentine’s Day noon-hour informational picket, including a delegation from UNITE HERE. It was particularly gratifying that a number of passers-by stopped to join the line.
Immediately after the picket, an organizing meeting was held at the AFSCME Council 31 office. In the month that has followed, Illinois United to Preserve Social Security (IUPSS) has grown to about a hundred organizations from around the state. IUPSS is defending Social Security on several “fronts”.
One is, of course, Congress. A number of Representatives have held town hall meetings, and IUPSS supporters have pressured others to do so. (You are invited to call your Representative to ask about them holding a meeting on the issue.) Two in particular have been helpful to the cause. Representative Lane Evans held several meetings around his district, using them as an educational tool, teaching why Social Security is not in “crisis”. Representative Jan Schakowsky also organized a similar meeting on the Loyola University Water Tower Campus at the end of February. This featured a very good PowerPoint presentation and appearances by Senators Durbin and Obama. An overflow crowd of several hundred attended. Representatives Lipinski and Rush have also held meetings. IUPSS is encouraging people to call their Representatives in support of maintaining Social Security, and a few downstate Republicans have been getting a steady flow of three or four dozen calls a day.
Thursday, March 31 will be a “National Day of Action for Retirement Security”. Here in Chicago, the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans are planning a noon hour demonstration outside the offices of Charles Schwab at 150 S. Wacker Drive in Chicago, again, because the brokerage has refused to budge. Invited speakers (not yet confirmed) include U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama and U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and U.S. Congressman Rahm Emanuel.
An April 2nd demonstration outside the Batavia offices of Representative Hastert is also in the works, and IUPSS hopes to bring several hundred, qualifying it as a major uprising by west suburban standards. Busses will be coming from several locations, including Chicago.
A resolution, HR128, has been introduced in the Illinois legislature, opposing Social Security privatization. It can be modified for other governmental bodies, and introducing it to the Chicago City Council is a possibility.
The media is another “battle ground”. Some of this effort has taken the form of multiple rounds of press conferences in the various “media markets” around the state. Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans President Hal Gullett has been a common denominator among them. While turnout has not been great at all of them, each has resulted in at least some press.
But the major field of struggle is simply public opinion. Because of our republican structure of government, public opinion is often a secondary or even tertiary consideration in politics. But in this instance, players on both sides of the question are judging the viability of Bush’s attack by changes in polling figures. So far, we’re winning.
The fight is far from decided. The Right is in the process of raising $200 million to support their attack. Those defending Social Security have already hired a political consulting firm to manage the campaign. The intent is to have each Congressional District have an organizer, and a small staff (including PR person) for each state.
This is a fight we can win. And should we win, could it be the beginning of the end of conservative rule in America? One might hope so.