Aspen: Seniors protest McCain |

Aspen: Seniors protest McCain

Betsy Shelton/Special to the Aspen TimesA crowd in Aspen holds signs Thursday in protest of John McCain's plan for privatizing Social Security.

ASPEN, Colorado ” The only organized opposition Sen. John McCain faced in Aspen on Thursday afternoon came from a small group of elderly people standing in the hot sun at the entrance to the Aspen Institute, where the presidential candidate spoke in front of hundreds of people.

A group of about 20 senior citizens protested against McCain’s policies on Social Security and his recent calling of the program a “disgrace.”

The protesters, who averaged about 75 in age, were part of the Colorado Alliance for Retired Americans’ effort to expose what they characterize as McCain’s effort to privatize Social Security by supplementing the current system by allowing younger workers to invest part of their tax dollars in personal accounts.

The protesters woke up before the crack of dawn to drive to Aspen from all over the state ” Colorado Springs, Denver, Canon City, Hotchkiss and the Western Slope.

The group also was celebrating the 73rd anniversary of the Social Security Act, which was signed into law on Aug. 14, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“He is speaking at the exact same time and exact same day that it became law by a real president,” said Bernadette Horchner, field representative for the state group. “Where ever he speaks, we are going to let him know how we feel.”

The Colorado group and the national alliance have been expressing alarm since McCain’s remarks at a July 7 town hall meeting in Denver.

Asked by an audience member about the future of Social Security, McCain responded: “Under the present set-up, because we’ve mortgaged our children’s futures, you will not have Social Security benefits that present-day retirees have unless we fix it, and Americans have got to understand that. We are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in American today, and that’s a disgrace; it’s an absolute disgrace, and it’s got to be fixed.”

Horchner said there were 16 rallies held by the alliance around the country on Thursday.

Aspen might have been one of the more low-key and unorganized rallies of the day. Protesters were 30 minutes late, and they missed McCain’s motorcade driving by because they were positioned a half of a block down the street and not near the Institute’s entrance.

Even so, they got plenty of horn honking support from motorists who passed the protesters donned with birthday garb signifying the program’s anniversary and signs that read “Don’t privatize Social Security.” The group even got a wave from Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland who rode his bicycle past the group, but didn’t stop.

Horchner’s father, Elmer Gerardo, 89, held up a sign that had a blown-up picture of his original Social Security card, which was issued in 1936 and that he still carries in his wallet today.

Horchner and her group’s main point is that McCain’s plan ” similar to that of President George W. Bush’s ” would be gambling with an average citizen’s reliance on financial stability.

Citizens like Gerardo have paid into the system for decades and should expect a stable source of income from it, activists said.

Like many of the his fellow protesters, Al Fores, who is not retired but a union worker, said making the statement against McCain publicly was worth the drive ” from Divide, Colo. in his case.

“It’s the right thing to do and hopefully we can get this Social Security issue turned around and if not, we tried,” he said.

Phil Burns, a retired worker from Canon City, said the problem with Social Security today is that the government is borrowing from the fund.

“We need to pay it back, not spend it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Matt Farrauto, communications director for the Colorado Democratic Party, was in Aspen on Thursday and trying to deliver a “happy birthday” Social Security card to McCain at the Institute.

The Colorado Alliance for Retired Americans is a non-profit, non-partisan organization representing 28,000 senior activists and retired workers in Colorado.

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