We can’t afford their cutbacks

November 14, 2011

Tom Arabia reports on a rally that brought together seniors, unionists and Occupy Boston protesters to demand no cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

BOSTON--Over 2,000 trade unionists, seniors and supporters rallied November 9 to demand that the congressional "supercommittee," which has been appointed to reduce the national deficit, not touch Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. With "Hands off! No cuts!" as its slogan, the event echoed a similar protest of nearly 1,500 members of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus in Chicago on November 7.

"The father of my 11-year-old grandson died unexpectedly," said one senior woman as she nearly broke down during the rally's open mic portion. "Social Security helps them keep their home."

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction of 12 congressmen was formed out of the manufactured debt-ceiling "crisis." It is charged with the task of cutting $1.2 trillion--at a minimum--from the budget by November 23.

Even though a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this year showed 78 percent of respondents are opposed to Medicare cuts, and another poll by Lake Research Partners and American Viewpoint showed 70 percent opposed to Social Security cuts, the supercommittee is expected to go after these programs, long held to be "the backbone of dignity and support that have been earned and paid for over a lifetime of hard work," according to grassroots coalition MassUniting.

The group also noted that "the proposed cuts would include a $112 billion cut to Social Security by changing how the Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) is calculated and reducing benefits; raising the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67; and, increasing out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare."

MASS SENIOR Action, the AFL-CIO, the 1199SEIU health care union, the American Association of Retired Persons, and other unions and community groups built the diverse, multilingual rally at Boston's historic Wang Theatre, which featured song and sketch comedy along with speeches from labor leaders and activists.

"Where did we go wrong? Tax cuts to corporations and the most wealthy," explained Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman. He warned that cuts to critical social services are an effort to divide ordinary people, but simultaneously represents "an historic opportunity to unite across generations and races." He pointed to Ohio voters' overwhelming defeat of the anti-collective bargaining Senate Bill 5 as a success.

Perhaps the greatest applause was given to Henry Yee of the Chinatown Residents Association, whose impassioned speech translated from Chinese intoned, "They always tell us the government has no money, but poor people know the truth. They are taking the money from the poor and give it to banks and corporations."

One group of seniors performed a choreographed dance and lip-sync of Aretha Franklin's "Respect." Another performed a tragicomic skit of death and suffering due to raised retirement age, while a politician and a wealthy elite were happy to make the cuts because they "don't need that," only to be defeated by a caped superhero representing the movement against cuts.

Notably absent from the front of the rally was any mention of the trillions in military spending--widely sited as a chief source of excess government outlays. "There is a lot of conservatism among some of the organizers around the war, especially AARP, which is more of an insurance company than a membership organization," noted one organizer, who chose to remain anonymous.

After the rally, over a thousand seniors and trade unionists led by Boston's Pipe Fitters Union and IUE-CWA local 201 marched to Sen. John Kerry's office. Kerry is a member of the supercommitte.

Joined by a handful of protesters from Occupy Boston, who publicized the demonstration through their blog and other social media, seniors and trade unionists heartily picked up the chants, "How to fix the deficit? End the wars and tax the rich!" and "We are the 99 percent! Tax the 1 percent!"

Protesters delivered hundreds of signed cards to Sen. Kerry demanding that he reject proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The cards also stated: "Cuts to these programs are unacceptable and would do tremendous harm to the lives of seniors, children, veterans, and people with disabilities. Cuts to these programs would also destroy many jobs in health care and be a major setback for our economic recovery."

Although Sen. Kerry was in his office, he refused to come down the elevator to meet the protesters face to face. "We'll be back!" they chanted as they marched away.

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