The Battle of 2016

Progressives and Bush’s Wall Street Go to War Over Your Social Security Benefits

What's crucial, others say, is to raise awareness of how Social Security already helps younger people, especially through survivors' benefits. USAction and its affiliates are collecting testimonials from young beneficiaries, as is 2030. At a press conference before last week's commission meeting, Tyra Brown, a woman who just finished a master's at Regent University in Virginia, talked about losing her mother to heart failure at 15 and having to live with her grandmother. "We received Social Security survivors' benefits to help us with expenses," she said. "Without those benefits, I'm not sure we could have made it."

Last month the Bush commission held its second meeting while the Campaign for America's Future and USAction organized nearly 40 grassroots events around the country that same day to protest its privatization agenda. It was a month after a demo attended by hundreds that the Campaign and the AFL-CIO hastily organized outside the World Trade Center when Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill came to Wall Street to help launch a new pro-privatization group, the Coalition for American Financial Security.

Boycotts have been an effective tool of the anti-sweatshop movement, and they may become an element in the campaign against Social Security privatization too. In June, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka said he would urge union pension funds, which control close to $500 billion in assets, not to do business with financial services companies that help promote Bush's private-accounts scheme.

The anti-privatization forces will have to replicate and sustain these kinds of initiatives if they want to defeat the movement against Social Security, though. Wall Street and conservative think-tanks have been pressing the issue patiently for decades on many levels: through their pull with Washington lawmakers; through reports, recommendations, polls, and op-eds; and even through Web sites that challenge visitors to "solve" the Social Security crisis with a preselected list of policy changes. While privatization may not succeed this year, the idea is not likely to go away, and the Bush commission's final report will at least provide the movement with more intellectual capital.

Shaun O'Brien, benefits analyst for the AFL-CIO, believes they can bring young people into the streets because despite the famed UFO poll, younger people's commitment to Social Security tends to grow as they get older. Time is on the side of the system's defenders.

In the end, pro-privatization groups "will get more support from young people than from others, but not enough to win the debate," Riemer predicts. One encouraging piece of evidence: the anti-globalization movement. If activists can build a mushrooming movement around opposition to something as arcane as neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus on global trade, then there may be hope for Social Security.

Related links:

President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security

Campaign for America's Future

Cato Institute

Americans for Tax Reform

Heritage Foundation


Third Millennium

Pension Rights Center

2030 Center

Coalition for American Financial Security

National Organization for Women

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