CHICAGO (CBS) -- About 300 spirited demonstrators lined up at a makeshift soup kitchen and shanty town set up in Federal Plaza on Thursday, to protest the possibility of cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as Congress looks to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff."
WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports a dozen demonstrators climbed into cardboard boxes, which they labeled "Durbinville," as they sought to embarrass U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) into refusing to bargain away strands of the safety provided by federal entitlement programs net to balance the federal budget.
Rev. Marilyn Pagan Banks, president of the Illinois-Indiana Regional Organizing Network, said the shanty town was named after the senator for a reason.
"He reminds us -- and his staff reminds us -- of how great he is, and what a friend he is to the community. We're saying, look, this is an opportunity for you to be a champion. Take a risk, be courageous," she said. "We'll stand behind you, but you have to use your role – your position as the majority whip – to make these things happen, and he's not willing to sort of take that stand."
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Cody Reports
Protest organizer Toby Chow, with South Siders Organized for Unity, argued it was the federal safety net created by such entitlement programs that helped the U.S. climb out of the Great Depression, and warned that hacking it apart could bring on another depression.
"The Hoovervilles and the soup lines of the Great Depression, they were brought to an end when we created Social Security and these other social programs that lifted people out of poverty, and helped build up the middle class," Chow said. "Now that safety net is under attack."
Other protestors ladled out lentil soup, and distributed bread in a makeshift kitchen to warn that bad times could return if lawmakers reduce benefits from entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.
"We're not against efficiency, but we are against trying to save money, or decrease the debt on the backs of seniors, and the disabled, and the mentally ill, and children," Banks said.
She said protesters want Durbin "to push for Congress to tax Wall Street, to tax the rich, and to leave Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone; not to cut those programs."
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