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Friday, Jul 15, 2011, 11:50 am

200,000 Progressives Tell Obama: We Won’t Donate if You Cut Safety Net

By Taylor Long



(Activists deliver a petition to President Obama's re-election campaign headquarters in downtown Chicago on Friday, July 15, 2011. Photo by Taylor Long)

The chief operating officer at Obama for America, Ann Marie Habershaw, didn’t have a response when roughly 12 representatives of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee took Obama’s campaign headquarters in downtown Chicago by storm early this afternoon.

The group, led by press secretary Neil Sroka, was there to deliver a petition signed by 200,000 of its members. If Obama allows Congress to make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security funding during deliberations over the debt ceiling and the federal deficit, those who signed the petition pledge to refuse to donate or volunteer to Obama's 2012 presidential campaign.

“We want to be able to donate,” Sroka told In These Times. “But if Obama doesn’t take a strong stand against cuts to our benefits, then we simply cannot.”

Sroka said the 200,000 who signed the petition account for $17 million in small donations and 2.6 million volunteer hours to Obama’s 2008 Campaign. “This is the grassroots movement that powered Obama in 2008,” he said.

The group was stopped by security officials at One Prudential Plaza before being met inside by Habershaw, who quickly collected petitions before retreating to campaign headquarters, refusing to engage the group or publicly comment on PCCC’s message.

Jan Bees of Elmhurst, Ill., said she was disappointed Habershaw didn’t respond to the petition, but was hopeful that Obama would receive the message. Bees, who relies on Social Security as her household’s primary source of income, says this issue is bigger than politics. For her and many of the others present, it’s personal.

Donna Conroy, 59, of Chicago said she was taken aback by Habershaw’s “cold” response. “She wasn’t even cordial,” Conroy said.

Despite these complaints, the majority of PCCC members present agreed they would still vote for Obama in 2012. But even if Obama does receive their votes, Sroka said it doesn’t mean they’ll invest their time or money in his campaign.

Though the position is a bit unclear, it reflects the confusion and growing disenchantment of many liberals like Tim Sullivan, who celebrated in Grant Park after Obama was elected in 2008 and is now turning his attention to Green Party candidates.

“It’s been four years of disappointment,” Sullivan, who is handicapped, said. Sullivan agreed to help deliver the petition and acted as the party’s only representative from the disabled community, which would likely be one of the demographics most affected by cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Sroka said cutting these programs are unacceptable and unnecessary.

“We're just as concerned about balancing the budget as everyone else,” he said. “But cuts to benefits are simply unacceptable. Instead, Sroka suggests Obama advise Congress to restructure the tax system to make sure that wealthy Americans and corporations are shouldering their fair share of the burden, which is too often unloaded on the working class.

If not, Obama takes the risk of letting down Democrats and putting his campaign at risk. Some, like Mary Ellen Croteau, who rang doorbells and made calls for Obama in 2008, are already fed up.

“I’m tired of being nice,” she said. “I’ll put my support behind someone with a backbone who’s going to stand up for progressive ideals.”

Taylor Long is a summer 2011 in These Times Web intern.

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