On the United States Capitol steps today, with a looming federal government default and several proposals on the table to balance the budget by gutting vital programs, an estimated crowd of 450-500 assembled to show their support for preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in any budget negotiations, now or in the future. They also demanded that if we're looking for funds to balance the budget, the best place to look is in the bank accounts of Wall Street banks who are making record profits after benefiting from massive bailouts, and from the wallets of hedge fund managers who pay a lower effective tax rate than their secretaries. MoveOn.org, Rebuild the Dream, AFSCME, AFGE, and Jobs with Justice, among many other organizations came together to organize the rally today. Among the speakers were Van Jones, co-founder and president of Rebuild the Dream; Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN); Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Donna Edwards (D-MD); unemployed Army reservist Tiffany Mellers; furloughed FAA worker Ralph Randall, Jobs with Justice president Sarita Gupta, and national president of AFGE John Gage. Van Jones was both a featured speaker and the rally's emcee. He started off the rally by pointing out that the mainstream position in America is that rather than looking first to raid programs like Medicaid, we should consider wealthy people part of this country and look to them to help shoulder the burden. To me, the most impressive speakers were those who are not practiced public speakers and who are not representing the unemployed and disadvantaged, but are themselves at the mercy of the current debates in Washington. Tiffany Mellers spoke about the difficulty she has had finding work as an Army reservist returning from deployment and of the inherent unfairness of thousands of Army reservists who have put their own bodies on the line, only to return to no job. And Ralph Randall talked about being caught as an FAA worker in the GOP's zeal to eliminate collective bargaining rights; he is out of work as the Republicans have partially shut down the Federal Aviation Agency. The Congressional representatives gave fiery speeches defending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. John Garamendi (D-CA) exclaimed that we know under the Boehner bill that "Medicare will be terminated, and we will not let that happen!" Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) implored the crowd that it was "time for you to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves!" Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) emphasized that "we're not going allow to America default on its obligations while we say to our Social Security recipients, women, seniors, children who have lost their parents, veterans, that we are going to reach into your pocket instead of reaching into the pocket of those who have gotten away with everything. That is not our America, that is not our dream!" Those who attended the rally were energized and hopeful that progressives in Congress would be able to hold the line and defend key programs while making sure the rich paid their share. The crowd stayed energetic throughout the rally, despite the heat, and joined in a massive chorus of "This Land is Your Land" to close the rally. We'll have more media from the rally over the next day or so, Until then, you can look through the large photo slideshow available on Flickr at the top of the page.
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