Nine People Near Bush Visit Arrested On Disorderly Conduct Charges

wnbc.com — POSTED: 4:26 pm EST Friday, March 4, 2005

WESTFIELD, N.J. — At 71-years old, John Weaver worries about who will take care of his brain-injured adult son once he is gone. And with President Bush's proposal to partially privatize Social Security, he fears for his son's financial future, too.

"It's nonsense. People like my son need a safety net; they're not going to be able to work," said Weaver, of Clark, whose 28-year-old, Greg, receives about $400 a month in Social Security benefits.

On Friday, Weaver took his worries to the streets in Westfield, outside a town hall-style meeting where Bush outlined his proposal.

Hundreds of protesters gathered for the rally before Bush's appearance and then marched down neighborhood streets to stand as close as they could to the building where the president was meeting with members of a preselected audience.

The demonstrations featured a lot of shouting and the arrests of nine people, including five juveniles, on disorderly conduct charges, police said Friday afternoon.

Jonathan Spitz, 41, of Westfield; Thomas Silva, 40, of Paterson; Gabrielle Hanlon, 21, of New Brunswick; and Emily Colvin, 18, of Westfield, all were released pending court appearances. The five juveniles -- two girls and three boys -- were released to parents or guardians, police said.

Part of Bush's plan involves allowing younger workers to set up personal retirement accounts with a portion of Social Security taxes.

But possible reductions in benefits were on the minds of protesters who turned out in 20-degree weather to make their dissent known. They carried signs with messages such as, "If you want to gamble Mr. President, go to Atlantic City" and shouting slogans such as, "We want a New Deal, not Bush's raw deal."

According to the most recent figures available from the Social Security Administration, 1.3 million New Jersey residents received Social Security benefits in December 2002. That included nearly 936,000 retired workers and 131,000 widows and widowers. Social Security beneficiaries represented 15.8 percent of the state's total population.

Many of the protesters Friday included younger Americans with concerns about the proposed changes, including 23-year-old Cassie Whelan of Hawthorne, who addressed the rally before Bush's arrival.

"Someone like my grandfather who lost his business in the 80s is now dependent on Social Security," Whelan said. "What will happen if let's say my business goes under or if the stock market crashes? I'm not going to end up with anything. I'm going to be out on the street, you know, and I don't want that to happen for the people of my generation."

Not everyone in the crowd was upset about the Bush proposal.

"I'm really excited that he's here to convey to the people of Westfield what his plan to privatize Social Security is all about," said Marcus Swillingsley, 18, of Westfield.

Other Bush supporters came with signs and American flags. But at one point, the chants devolved into a shouting match between Bush opponents and supporters, with one side yelling "Save Social Security" and others yelling "That's what he's trying to do."

Robin DiFiore, 32, of Fanwood, was among those who came to show support for the president, and said she was disheartened by the scores of protesters yelling "Hail to the thief."

"They should be ashamed of themselves," she said.

Bush's travels Friday were the start of a two-month blitz in which he and other top administration officials are visiting 29 states. Bush already has attended Social Security events in eight states since his Feb. 2 State of the Union address.

Americans United to Protect Social Security, a coalition of more than 200 organizations formed to defeat Bush's proposal, organized Friday's rally in Westfield along with New Jersey Citizen Action.

"We want to continue to educate people and we want to make sure to keep the pressure on," said Staci Berger, political director for New Jersey Citizen Action.

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