4,000-plus hear about importance of Social Security, Medicare


The Stand

(Aug. 10, 2015) — When Sen. Bernie Sanders accepted an invitation to speak at the Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid birthday celebration on Saturday, organizers may have wondered whether the event’s message about these critically important programs would be overshadowed by Bernie-mania. That didn’t turn out to be a problem.

Instead, it was two women from the Black Lives Matter movement who seized the microphone and the headlines, preempting the Democratic presidential candidate’s speech at Seattle’s Westlake Park and supplanting the event’s message. Much has been written about that disruption — see columns by WSLC Secretary Treasurer Lynne Dodson, state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, and this passionate Facebook post by Ijeoma Oluo of Shoreline for some of the best.

Here’s what happened during the hour and 45 minutes that preceded that drama.

Thanks to Sanders’ presence, a festive and energized crowd of more than 4,000 people heard from some inspiring community leaders about the importance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. There’s no doubt they were disappointed they didn’t get to hear Sanders speak (unless they were also among the 15,000-plus at the campaign rally later that evening at University of Washington).

They did, however, get an education about America’s most successful anti-poverty programs, the threats against them, and the growing support for not just protecting but also expanding their benefits.

They got to hear from Lynne Dodson (below), Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO:

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These are the programs that make lives better for everyone. They need to be constantly defended against those who would enrich themselves by cutting off the most vulnerable, seniors, the disabled, the poor, and people of color… On this important birthday, we need to recommit ourselves in the labor movement and the entire movement for social justice. We need to protect and improve these programs.

They got to hear Marcelas Owens (left) who, at age 11, stood beside President Obama as he signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Now a junior at Seattle’s Garfield High, a student leader and an active member of the Washington CAN, Owens described how Social Security has kept his family together following his mother’s death.

“Social Security doesn’t just benefit the elderly and the disabled,” Owens said. “I’m 16 years old and I’m benefiting from Social Security… That’s why I’m fighting for the protection and expansion of Social Security benefits and I’m fighting to ‘Scrap the Cap’ so the rich can pay their fair share of taxes and help support Social Security.”

They got to hear Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant explain that Social Security and Medicare “are under attack not because they do not work, they are under attack precisely because they do work. Because they efficiently provide human services to those in need while not creating a penny of profit for the billionaire class.”

Sawant added:

That is the real complaint by the corporate establishment with what they like to call ‘entitlement’ programs. They object because it conflicts with their entitlement, their deeply felt sense of entitlement to make profits off the backs of workers and retirees.

They got to hear Gerald Hankerson (right), President of the Seattle-King County NAACP, explain that Social Security is especially important to black Americans because they are less likely than whites to have pensions or retirement savings. In addition, blacks would be disproportionately harmed by proposals to raise the retirement age for Social Security because they have shorter life expectancies as compared to other races.

They got to hear Congressman Adam Smith (D-9th) make an impassioned call to action not only to strengthen Social Security but to tackle income inequality.

“We have to be relentless in telling corporations that this is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to pay your CEO $40 million a year and pay your employees minimum wage.”

On Saturday in Westlake Park, more than 4,000 people got to hear from these and other elected and community leaders. They heard how the struggle to protect and strengthen Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is inextricably linked to struggles to address income inequality, immigration reform, prison sentencing reform, and other social movements — including the Black Lives Matter movement.

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