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Activists occupy shantytown at Federal Plaza

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Demonstrators built a shantytown in Chicago's Federal Plaza. (Shannon Heffernan/WBEZ)
UPDATED 11:30 PM 12/06/2012

Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is responding to criticism that he is neglecting the social safety net for people in need. A protest yesterday in Daley Plaza ended with several demonstrators being arrested.

The demonstration included people on unemployment, food stamps, and social security, who stand to lose a lot if those programs are cut.

Connie Gates-Brown and her husband both lost their jobs this year. Like two million other Illinois residents, she depends on food stamps.

“I don’t know where me and my husband when end up, more than likely we’d be on the streets,” Gates-Brown said.
She said the shanty town is an apt representation for the situation. “With all these cuts that are being made, just like in the 30’s and 40’s we are going to end up back in soup and bread lines,” she said.

Demonstrators have hosted a soup line for the last four days (Shannon Heffernan/WBEZ)

Adam Ballard was there with disability rights group Access living.

“We are here to send a message to Durbin that he needs to stop playing these games and respond to his constituency which is us," he said.

But that’s exactly what Durbin says he doing.

He said that food stamps, unemployment and medicaid protect America's most vulnerable populations and contribute to economic recovery. He also said Social Security does not contribute to the debt.

The only program that activists spoke directly about -- that Durbin said needs changes -- was Medicare.

“If we know that Medicare is running out of money in 12 years and ignore it, well that’s not responsible,"he said. "We are going to be in the same situation where we are with many of our state pensions."

While Durbin supports changes to Medicare, he wants to preserve the integrity of the program and said that may be too complicated to solve before the end of this year.


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