Protesters urge Sen. Durbin to prevent cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security

By Kaley Fowler

As part of a nationwide movement urging lawmakers to preserve social programs, two protests took place outside the Kluczynski Federal Building, 230 S. Dearborn St., on Nov. 8 and 9, the latter resulting in 19 arrests.

Demonstrators called on Sen. Dick Durbin to denounce policies that extend tax cuts to the wealthy and asked him to block cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

If Congress doesn’t formulate a plan to reduce the deficit by the end of the year, $600 billion would be cut automatically from the budget Jan. 1. Durbin has not signed a pledge—currently supported by 29 senators—to prevent these budget cuts from affecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Clergy members, who believe cuts to these programs are unfair to middle-class Americans relying on the services, are dismayed by Durbin’s lack of approval.

“Sen. Richard Durbin, one of the most influential political leaders in this country, has the power to lead us away from growing adversity and toward a new, shared prosperity,” said the Rev. Barbara Morgan of St. Mark United Methodist Church, 8441 S. Saint Lawrence Ave. “But to do that he must make a clear choice to either serve the wealthy and powerful few or to stand with us who are all in this together.”

Carrying a golden calf symbolizing wealth and greed, roughly 40 clergy members from various faiths marched Nov. 8 from the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St., to Durbin’s office in the Federal Building.

The protesters brought an additional golden calf piñata that they smashed at the conclusion of the rally. The piñata exploded with gold coins, which the protesters said represented money hoarded by the wealthy.

“We’re here today because Congress is poised to set spending priorities that could slice the safety net out from under our most vulnerable community members,” said the Rev. Barbara Bolsen of The Night Ministry, 4711 N. Ravenswood Ave.

Religious institutions are often held accountable for helping people in need, but the wealthy should be charged with more responsibility, said Morgan.

“As a church, we are called to support the poor and challenge the rich,” Morgan said. “Over the past 30 years, the opposite has been happening. The working-class and middle-class families have shouldered an increasingly large portion of the burden as tax rates for the wealthy and corporations have fallen dramatically and economic inequalities have grown proportionately.”

The national coalition of clergy members has proposed the Fair Deal Pledge, which would end Bush-era tax cuts, increase the tax rate for the very wealthy and establish a financial transaction tax, or “Robin Hood tax,” on Wall Street trading that would allocate tax funds to social programs.

In conjunction with the clergy members’ movement, hundreds of protesters gathered outside Durbin’s office Nov. 9. The demonstrators represented the group Make Wall Street Pay Illinois, a statewide organization aiming to defeat corporate power.

According to Kristi Sanford, a spokeswoman for the organization, 19 protesters were arrested after they entered the Federal Building and demanded to speak to Durbin. They were denied access to the senator, who was not in his office. Sanford said nine protesters peacefully waited outside his office while 10 set up camp in the lobby of the Federal Building. After an hour of waiting for a chance to speak with Durbin via telephone, police arrived and arrested all 19 of them, Sanford said.

While Durbin has not taken a stance on the protesters’ demands, he maintains that he has the interests of his constituents in mind.

Durbin serves on the bi-partisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which works to achieve fiscal sustainability and debt reduction.

“I served on the Bowles-Simpson Commission, voted for their recommendations and have worked for the last two years to find a bipartisan and balanced approach to put our fiscal house in order while protecting the most vulnerable in our society,” Durbin said in an email. “It can and must be done, and I’m optimistic we can reach an agreement.”

Although the protesters have called on Durbin to further tax the rich, they do not adhere to the belief that wealth is negative.

“We are absolutely aware that money is not evil,” said Pastor Michael Russell of the Jubilee Faith Community in Country Club Hills. “Organized money is a form of power, and power can accomplish all kinds of good. However, the love of money, the worship of profits, can bring all kinds of evil.”