Looming fiscal cliff rallies Illinois activists

As the federal government inches closer to the “fiscal cliff” – the potential end of many tax breaks and cuts for businesses Dec. 31 – many Illinois organizations are trying to make their voices heard amidst the negotiations.

As part of the Make Wall Street Pay Illinois initiative, the Illinois/Indiana Regional Organizing Network (IIRON) spoke out against Durbin’s role in the federal government’s attempts to negotiate a deal before it reaches the fiscal cliff next month.

According to Elizabeth Scrafford, a DePaul student and IIRON participant, the Democratic whip has stated that he is willing to cut funding for programs like Medicare and Social Security to achieve a balanced budget. Scrafford believes this method is a threat to the country’s wellbeing.

“The sort of budget he’s pushing toward is not for the people,” said Scrafford. “If the cuts go through, then the cuts will cost lives.”

To respond to this policy, Make Wall Street Pay Illinois and its sister organizations built a makeshift shantytown in Federal Plaza, where Durbin’s Chicago office is located. Demonstrators spread tents around the plaza, and a group entered the federal building to build one in its lobby. That group was immediately arrested, according to Scrafford.

Scrafford said they succeeded in spreading the word that day. Several people witnessed what they were doing, and they received some media attention.

“There are a lot of people in Chicago and across the U.S. that will suffer greatly if the social safety net is cut, so the senator has a lot of support to get behind a people’s budget,” she said.

Previous to Thursday’s action, they hosted a soup and bread line at Federal Plaza “to dramatize the reality of the budget cuts.” Scrafford and others believe that if programs like Social Security are cut, then the country could fall into a recession.

“It’s good for a few people, but not for everyone,” she said.

Ultimately, Scrafford wants to see Durbin produce a fair deal and reign in support from the rest of the party. She said the fiscal deadline pushes people to demand a solution as soon as possible, but this mindset fails to consider the “human element” of the government’s actions.

After Thursday, however, one of their primary goals has been achieved. The last few months have been a “long, ongoing conversation,” Scrafford said, but now they have Durbin’s attention. 

“Now we just need him to do his job and use his power to push forward a people’s budget.”