I want to share an important message sent to all of us via the Alliance for Retired Americans from Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of our staunchest supporters:
“While the budget agreement to prevent government shut-downs and partially end sequestration was far weaker than I had wanted, it did not include any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Why? Because you, and hundreds of thousands of other Americans across the political spectrum — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — were loud and clear! You made members of Congress an offer they couldn’t refuse. You told them you were following what was going on in Washington and that if they cut these life-and-death programs they would face a heavy political price. You participated in a grass-roots political process — and you made a difference.”
Citing the petition signed by 700,000 that warned Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in the country — the elderly, children, the sick and the poor, he noted:
“Despite an intense and well-orchestrated effort from some of the most powerful special interests in the country;
“Despite the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars from Wall Street billionaires and their lobbyists;
“Despite support from every Republican in Congress and some Democrats;
“Despite the never-ending carping from the corporate media that Social Security ‘is bankrupt’ and that we need ‘entitlement reform’;
That accomplished, the article continued: “Where do we go from here? How do we work together to demand that Congress creates national priorities that protect the interests of the middle class, and not just the millionaires and billionaires? How do we create an economy and governmental programs that work for working families and the most vulnerable Americans, and not just Wall Street and big corporations?”
Sanders suggests this is not the time to rest on our laurels, but that we keep matters in our own hands and move forward:
“In 2014,” he continued, “we are not just playing defense. We are not just working to protect Social Security but to expand Social Security and other programs a disappearing middle class desperately needs.”
The senator’s article followed up with an invitation to join him in a conference call on Jan. 27 in which RTC Secretary George Altomare, president and chair of the New York City Chapter of the ARA, participated on our behalf. He reported that the call centered on the need for “eternal vigilance.” While we have a right to feel some optimism as a result of our success in stopping a chained CPI, privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare, he reported the conversation always doubled back to a reminder of “the ever-present threats and dangers” facing us.
Remembering the repeated warnings of former RTC Chair Tom Pappas, “the bad guys never go away,” Altomare said: “The conference call was a useful booster and a much-needed reminder that it’s never over and you’ve got to keep marching.”
While Altomare and several other RTCers represent us here in New York City, I represent the UFT and NYSUT at the national ARA executive board. Around the country — Richie Miller in Nevada, Mickey Abend in Arizona and Marna Davidson, Ken Goodfriend and Donesa Jackson in Florida — RTCers play major leadership roles in making the ARA a major AFL-CIO force for retirees in their areas.
And we appreciate Sen. Sanders’ unflagging support in Washington. We certainly will “keep marching.”