Fifteen Years Ago Today I Saved Social Security
Today is the 15th anniversary of my saving Social Security from privatization. I remember it well and remember it fondly. Score one for the digital pamphleteer! I'm writing this to remind each of us here, myself included that passionate words, adherence to values, and solid framing can make a difference regardless of the size of your megaphone or your bank account.
So here's the story... It starts at Daily Kos, Feb 21, 2005 with a piece I Wrote: Thank You For Helping My Family
I'll copy the whole text below so nobody has to go there, although I really would recommend the comments. They're a big part of the story.
Thank You For Helping My Family by k9disc
(From the diaries -- kos)
I would like to thank you all for helping my family. Your help could not have come at a better time for myself, and your continuing help has enabled my grandmother enjoy her twilight years.
My grandmother is 92 years old. She was born in 1913. Her husband passed away over 20 years ago, and she has lived by herself in comfort mere miles from most all of her family, thanks in no small part to you.
I am 32, fairly well educated; 3 years of college as a scholar athlete at a relatively exclusive private school in Michigan, and also in Hawaii. I owe you one, big time.
[lost image attached of my grandma hanging out at her kitchen table with about 20 hand carved wooden bird decoys - just a nice little old dutch lady with white hair and a beautiful smile]
My grandmother has lived in this apartment for 20 years. It is a retirement community; beautiful 1 br apartments in a wooded setting with shopping only a mile away, plenty of neighbors and a small yard, and this is provided, in no small part to your contributions to Social Security.
That is what this diary is about. Putting a human face on Social Security. There are many human faces that depend on Social Security, millions. You know lots of people that depend on Social Security, but rarely do we think about them.
Something that the Republicans have done devastatingly well over the last 20 years is to make Social Security into a retirement investment. It is not an investment for retirement, it never was. It is insurance. Insurance against family tragedy for the young and insurance for a comfortable retirement.
My grandmother is a Social Security success story. If I were running for President and I wanted to preserve Social Security, I would need look no farther than my grandmother for my positive narrative.
She has been happy, healthy,comfortable, close to her family, and autonomous for 20+ years. For that, I thank you.
[lost attached image of my father in his red STP racing jacket and white t-shirt holding me as an infant, again with a massive smile, next to his 1966 Yamaha Bear motorcycle.]
This is my father and I a few months before he was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was a professional motorcycle racer and a carpenter at Ford Motors. My mother was a housewife.
Following right along in my father's footsteps was my brother who was 13 years older than I. My father and brother were getting ready to go on a long ride from Michigan to Florida, everything was all packed up and ready to go. Those plans didn't pan out, and things changed drastically when our family tragedy struck; not too long after this picture was taken(1976).
My mother did not handle this too well, not well at all. She went into a deep depression, as her husband was her world, and he was gone. She was left with the beautiful new home that her husband just created with his own 2 hands in what still is the exurbs of Detroit, 2 kids, and no idea what to do.
She sold the house of her dreams to get closer to the city so she could support her 2 sons. I'm not real well versed in the family economic history, but I believe that life insurance, pension, and profit from the sale of our dream home paid for a much smaller home in the suburbs. Wise financial management enabled us to move to a new home, but it was Social Security that enabled us to keep it.
As I said, my mother was deeply depressed for about 5 years. She drank and worked, drank and worked for 5 years. After 5 years of misery, she wised up. A few choice words from an 8 year old boy shocked her our of her depression. She went on the wagon.
10 years later, 10 years sober, Social Security continued to make life manageable for my mother. You, continued to make life manageable for my family, and for that I am very thankful.
One month after my 19th birthday, on the day of my brother's anniversery, my mother died. Her funeral procession was over a mile long. She touched the lives of thousands of people. She rebuilt her life and became a positive force in the lives of many. She was an amazing woman. Once again, you made that possible.
[another lost image of my grandma sitting in her green chair next to images of the family and her sliding glass door in her sweet little apartment - smiling and happy]
This is a shot of my grandmother 15 years ago or so. She is as wonderful as she is talented. There she is living in the same community. She has since switched apartments (this picture was taken in the old one) due to refurbishing the complex: new carpet, appliances, and repairs and such. She considers it an upgrade though because she has a small herd of deer that frequent her backyard now.
We all have people who are close to us that benefit from the help that Social Security gives us. Social security is far more than a retirement program. It is Americans standing together to honor their past, and Americans standing together to ensure their future. It is the public expression of our collective goodwill.
I am very angry that people, who for years have wanted to kill Social Security, now are speaking as if they alone can save it. Social Security is an extension of the goodwill of the American people. It honors the past and promises the future. These people pushing for radical reform intend to bleed dry the goodwill of the American people and replace it with another investment account that starts $2 trillion in the red. It is an amazing display of hubris.
In the twilight of our lives or when family tragedy strikes, Social Security is there; you are there extending a helping hand to your fellow Americans, to your family. Asking people to stand alone at these times, in the wealthiest nation in history, is selfish and mean. Americans are not selfish and mean.
If you would like to lend a hand in saving Social Security, please stop talking about dollars and cents and start showing people the faces of those benefitting from Social Security.
Thank you again for the help you have given my family.
This piece was picked up by the AARP, DFA, and a bunch of unions. Millions of Social Security stories started pouring in -- emotive stories that put a human face on Social Security and drew attention to the generational solidarity involved in 3 generations of Americans protecting each other via shared sacrifice.
Fifteen days after writing this, Social Security Privatization was OFF the table.
Many people think that Bush was a failed president. I disagree. Social Security was the one thing on the Bush agenda that he didn't get; tax cuts, surveillance state, perpetual war and perpetual war footing, binary politics, lost faith in public institutions, a mortgaged future for all Americans... We're still dealing with that shit today -- in spades. But Social Security? He didn't get that, now, did he?
He didn't get it because words and ideas delivered with empathy and ladened with humanistic values mean something. And they still do.
All of us here, and millions of us out there who speak and write from the heart, with empathy and for solidarity -- we matter more than we know. We have more power than we could imagine. Every single one of us, those of us here in particular, has at least one of these shots in the chamber.
The world happens at the speed of meme these days, and memes can jump across the planet in seconds. The meme I whipped up 15 years ago -- that Social Security is 3 generations of Americans standing together , that it is far more than an investment for old people, and that it has dramatic impacts on all Americans -- that meme smashed the Establishment and not only shut their mouths but stopped their plans dead. It took less than 24 hours to spread across the country. Today it could happen in minutes.
Don't stop writing guys. Don't stop fighting. Keep focused on the big ideas and stay away from the petty politics. Each of us is bigger and more powerful than we could imagine. I mean, I stopped the privatization of Social Security and smashed Bush... personally. You can too.