SAN FRANCISCO - Birthday cakes were cut all over the country last weekend as Americans young and old celebrated the 75th anniversary of Aug. 14, 1935 - the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law.
"Ever since that day, seniors, people with disabilities, widows, widowers and children have all received their monthly benefits and have been saved from living in the poorhouse or on the streets," Nan Brasmer, president of the California Alliance of Retired Americans, told hundreds of union members, retirees and community members who gathered at San Francisco's Federal Building to celebrate, cut cake, and vow to uphold the program against all attempts to cut or privatize it.
Calling Social Security "by far America's most successful social insurance - in fact, the most successful social insurance in the world," Brasmer told the crowd, "We are here today to celebrate it, and to demand that our elected officials keep their hands off of it."
Despite its consistent success, Social Security has been plagued in recent years with claims it contributes to the national deficit, and that it will run out of funds under pressure from impending "baby boomer" retirements.
Though the Bush administration's drive to privatize Social Security was soundly defeated, the concept remains alive in a bill introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and in statements by several far-right Republican legislators.
Others, including members of President Obama's budget deficit commission, are floating proposals to cut benefits and to further raise the age to receive full Social Security benefits.
Speakers at the celebration here emphasized the program's importance to all generations.
When she was not quite 4, Andrea Gorman's father died, leaving her mother to support eight children, ages 2 through 12. Though the family was separated for a time, they were ultimately reunited with their mother thanks to Social Security's dependent benefits, Gorman said. "That was the first time I realized how important and how wonderful Social Security is."
"When I was 56 years old, and working in a factory," the now-retired Machinists' Union member said, "doctors told me I was totally disabled and would not be able to work any more. "I am self-supporting, and didn't know what would happen to me. But I was very lucky. Again, Social Security was there for me."
Rally participants shared their stories with the People's World. Mary McDonnell and Erlinda Villa, California State Employees Association (CSEA) retirees, said while they are glad to have job-related pensions, they would be poor without Social Security.
"While we are working, we state employees take care of everyone in the state," Villa observed. "When it's not broken, don't ‘fix' it!"
That was a rallying cry throughout the celebration, as speakers emphasized that despite claims to the contrary, Social Security is solvent into the foreseeable future, and any needed fixes can be accomplished by raising or eliminating the cap on earnings taxed for the program.
All present were urged to help circulate CARA's petition, which can be found at www.californiaalliance.org, under Social Security News.
In the days just before and after the anniversary, participants in similar gatherings all over the country pledged their active support to uphold the program for future generations.
Meanwhile, President Obama observed the anniversary by vowing "to safeguard Social Security for our seniors, people with disabilities and for all Americans, today, tomorrow and forever."
The Strengthen Social Security...Don't Cut It national coalition of over 60 labor and community organizations including the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the NAACP, and many women's, seniors' and Latino organizations is now campaigning "to improve - not weaken" the program.
In its "Top 5 Social Security Myths," MoveOn.org points out that without any changes, Social Security can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next 25 years, and could do so indefinitely "if the very rich paid taxes on all of their income." MoveOn also points out that Social Security does not add to the deficit, because it is separate from the federal budget and must pay its own way.
Photo: PW/Marilyn Bechtel