CHICAGO - Federal budget cuts will devastate social programs, "plunge communities into ruin and destruction, and cost lives," charged Pastor Michael Russell, vice president of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL).
Russell was referring to negotiations taking place in Congress to avert a looming "fiscal cliff" Jan. 1, 2013, that would result in cuts of $600 billion to social programs and tax increases to working class Americans, if no agreement is reached.
"People will die if these programs are not funded," he declared.
Forty clergy representing hundreds of congregations in churches, synagogues and mosques across Chicagoland had gathered at the office of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) joined Russell Nov. 8.
Durbin, the US Senate Majority whip, was part of a bipartisan group of six senators negotiating a "grand bargain" to solve the $4 trillion federal deficit through benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while cutting taxes to the rich.
Durbin has not pledged to oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, a pledge signed by 28 Democratic senators.
The clergy are part Make Wall Street Pay Illinois, a grassroots coalition demanding Congress choose people over corporate profits during the negotiations.
To dramatize their demand, Rev. Tom Gaulke of First Lutheran Church of the Trinity smashed a golden calf, representing a rejection of Wall Street worship of the false idol of greed.
"And the God of Liberation, the God of the Bible, calls us to smash this idol of Greed, in order that wealth might not be worshiped, but rather, shared, and used for the benefit of all, especially those most in need," said Gaulke.
The action helped kick off a week of nationally coordinated protests urging Congress and President Obama to side with the people not the wealthy interests and block the cuts.
Instead, they said, allow the Bush tax cuts to the richest 2% to expire, something Pres. Obama reiterated during a White House speech on Nov. 9.
The AFL-CIO, and scores of organizations involved in the reelection of President Obama also hit the ground running days after the election to stop the cuts.
"God lays out before you the choice of life and prosperity, death and adversity. Choose today whom you will serve," said Russell.
According to the clergy the cuts would mean in Illinois a loss of 15,000 HIV tests, 57,000 low income children will see cuts to their schools, and 300,000 women and children will lose maternal health benefits, 820 Head Start jobs will be lost and nearly 4000 children will be dropped.
The AFL-CIO blog posted a poll by Democracy Corps and the Campaign for America's Future (CAF) showing 70% of voters on Nov. 6 rejected cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
"The respondents said that protecting education, Medicare and Social Security was more important than broad cuts to reduce the deficit. More than half-58%-of the overall sample said that they felt strongly about opposing such cuts," said the AFL-CIO.
This supports a poll done by the AFL-CIO that showed protecting Medicare and Social Security from benefit cuts is more important than reducing the deficit (73% to 18%).
Voters believe making the wealthy pay a higher tax is more important than reducing tax rates across the board (62% to 33%), clearly showing the direction they want the country to go in.
"Fiscal budgets are not merely administrative line items, they are reflections of our most cherished sacred values whether it be in our homes, our communities or nation," said Rabbi Bram Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston.
Rosen called any budget is immoral that cuts vital social programs to the most vulnerable as working class incomes fall while the nation's richest 1% have seen incomes rise over the last 30 years by 224%.
"We cannot stand by on the wayside while a battle is being waged for the soul of our nation," said Associate Pastor Barbara Morgan of St. Mark United Methodist Church. "The battle is a conflict between the values of shared prosperity and the common good on the one hand and attitude of winner take all on the other."
Photo: Phil Solomonson