busCourtesy Atlanta Journal ConstitutionThe rallies that get all the attention these days are about stopping new initiatives, like health-care reform. But here we’ve got rallies about defending part of the shared social fabric.

Off-duty public transit workers in Atlanta plastered large red X’s on buses and trains (with permission) to highlight the severe budget shortfall that threatens as much as 30 percent of the city’s transit network. Riders joined them in calling on state legislators to protect the transit network, asking for both short- and long-term relief for the system, which has a $120 million operating deficit.

It’s the first in a series of eight “Save Transit!” rallies around the country organized by the Transportation Equity Network (TEN), an alliance of local advocacy groups. They’re aimed at state lawmakers who can help bail out the transit systems. Events are scheduled for Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Minneapolis, St. Paul, San Francisco, Kansas City, and St. Louis.

There are hundreds more cities with networks under threat: Fifty-nine percent (!) of public transit systems have cut service or raised fares since January 2009 and many others are considering similar steps, according to a recent report by the American Public Transportation Association. The Transportation for America campaign has a chilling map of regional transit systems under threat.

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“America’s transit systems are in crisis just when we need them the most — for access to jobs, education, health care and opportunity,” Laura Barrett, executive director of TEN, said in a prepared statement. “Service cuts and fare hikes are hitting low-income people, people of color, students, retirees and the disabled especially hard, and they’re robbing all of us of a proven engine of economic growth. TEN is calling on Congress to keep America moving by letting our transit agencies use federal funds for operating expenses.”

Elana Schor at Streetsblog DC reports on the corresponding inaction in Washington:

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Despite the Obama administration’s infusion of $8.4 billion in stimulus money and public goodwill, transit budgets remain stretched to the breaking point amid no sign of Senate movement on the second round of infrastructure spending that the House approved in December.

Meanwhile, a financial regulatory overhaul and an upcoming climate change bill continue to dominate the upper chamber’s schedule, leaving some of the capital’s leading transportation policy players to abandon hope of a new jobs bill before November’s midterm elections.

Maybe the better approach would be to mark our lawmakers with red X’s — fire a senator, keep a bus line running. Or put the senators to work driving buses? It might be good for them to do something useful.