Maybe you've noticed Boise looking uncharacteristically ... mobilized of late. Dozens of people of all ages and demographics, from students to retirees, have regularly been seen marching in front of carefully chosen businesses during the downtown lunch rush. Press conferences taking issue with presidential policy pop up almost weekly, complete with pins bearing catchy anti-politician slogans. It's enough to make Boise seem downright Berkeley-esque.
And the fire is catching. On April 26 in Idaho Falls, 50 people protested outside the offices of Mike Crapo, a hometown hero who ran unopposed for U.S. Senate seat last fall. Only a monumentally divisive issue could rile that many Idahoans, but President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security into personal retirement accounts is just that kind of issue.
"This was definitely my first one," said Maggie Schweitzer of Idaho Falls of the protest. Schweitzer, a 40-year-old medical records specialist who once had to draw on her Social Security benefits due to an injury, admits that at first, she didn't have an opinion on privatization. But after talking with people on both sides of the issue and doing a little number crunching, she concluded, "Don't fix it yet if it's not broken. Leave it alone."
That opinion is shared by Lucinda Hormel of Idahoans United to Protect Social Security, who helped to organize the recent rallies-most of which took place at pro-privatization investment firms like Wachovia and Charles Schwab. Of privatization, Hormel says, "At best, it's a bad idea." To portray this, as well as Idahoans United's stance that Social Security will be financially solvent for far longer than the Bush administration claims, Hormel has locally conveyed a slew of reports by the think-tank Institute for America's Future, each of which takes a bleak view of America's future under privatization.
According to a report released in April, Idaho retirees would face significant cuts in benefits under privatization, even with optimal stock market conditions. According to another released last week, Social Security-dependent retirees would face benefit cuts of at least $100,000 under Bush's plan, even if they choose not to participate. With polls showing tepid public opinion of the plan, Hormel said she is confident that the messages of organizations like hers are getting through.
On Thursday, Idahoans United will hold a 5:30 p.m. meeting at Boise Public Library, where Hormel expects around 200 people to attend. The group invited Sen. Crapo to attend the event, but Hormel said they were told he would be out of town all week. So instead, the group will hold an "empty chair" town hall, where audience members can ask questions, or have their written questions read, to be videotaped and later sent to Crapo, who has not yet made his views on the Bush privatization plan public.
"We're planning to pack the place," Hormel said.