Thousands of nurses from around the world descended upon Daley Plaza, in the heart of Chicago on May 18, to demand that the richest nations in the world put an end to austerity politics and start asking the people who collapsed the global economy to do more to "heal the world."
Wearing red National Nurses United (NNU) scrubs calling for "an economy for the 99%" and zippy green Robin Hood hats, made for them in Europe, the nurses were joined by Occupy Chicago and thousands of community activists in what may be one of the most colorful demonstrations in days of protests marking the G8 meeting at Camp David and the NATO Summit in Chicago.
The man who took from the rich to give to the poor is the international symbol of a grassroots campaign for a financial speculation tax, a tiny tax on stocks, futures and options with the potential to raise billions a year in revenue for critical public services. Nurses around the globe are campaigning on the idea as a public policy alternative to the cut, cut, cut mentality of pro-austerity politicians. The tax is supported by the leaders of Germany and France and the European Union is working on its implementation, but England and the U.S. have been major roadblocks to a global transaction tax.
Robin Hood Tax "An Idea Whose Time Has Come"
While the world leaders meeting at Camp David continued bickering over the tax, RoseAnn Demoro, the Executive Director of NNU, one of the largest nurses unions in the United States, told the crowd it was time to take the issue into their own hands. "We're fed up. We're going to do participatory democracy, we're not counting on our legislators to do the right thing, we're going to do the right thing..." DeMoro spoke to the power of her profession, the immense popularity of nurses: "the patients know who they can trust, and they trust the nurses more than they trust the politicians."
David Hillman addressed the crowd in his Robin Hood gear, and spoke to CMD. He is the director of the organization "Stamp Out Poverty" from the United Kingdom and an international leader in the Robin Hood Tax campaign. According to Hillman "a fraction of one percent could raise $350 billion dollars a year which would save jobs, fight against austerity, it would provide money as well to developing countries who did nothing to cause this crisis. It is an idea whose time has come."
A financial speculation tax is not a new idea. Hillman pointed out that "it is a very mainstream idea, in the U.S. they had a tax like this from 1916 to 1966, just on shares... In fact in the U.S., they still have a small tax that pays for the Securities Exchange Commission and that raises a billion dollars a year. What we are saying is roll that tax, roll it back to shares, then on to bonds, on to derivatives, on to foreign exchange and you will raise a huge amount of money from a sector that makes too much profit, pays itself too much in remunerations. That money could go to save jobs in the U.S."
Emmanuel and G8 Leaders Afraid of Nurses?
In the lead up to the eventful weekend in Chicago, NNU had a hard time securing permits for their rally and march from the mayor of Chicago, and former chief of staff to President Obama, Rahm Emanuel. At the last minute, Emanuel tried to move the rally and kick Morello off the bill, but the nurses would not yield. After much negotiation, they were allowed to rally, but not to march, so the nurses decided to take a stroll, walking on the sidewalks, stopping at red lights and courteously maintaining a path for passers-by. Despite their decidedly well-behaved march, they were followed by watchful police officers from countless agencies, in the streets and on the rooftops.
Michael Lighty, the director of public policy at NNU introduced the crowd to a surprise performance by actors dressed as G8 leaders who acted out a scene in "the world's largest casino" where they gambled with countries and their futures. The skit ended with Robin Hood and a band of merry nurses announcing "game over" and escorting the G8 leaders off the stage. Robin Hood announced to the crowd "we need to continue to hold the G8 accountable, we need to continue to empower the people to fight for an economy to tax Wall Street for the damage they have done to Main Street, an economy to pay for healthcare for all, jobs with dignity and a good environment... and now we know how to pay for it."
Nurses Joined by Allies & Rock & Rollers
It wasn't just nurses who filled Daley Plaza, they were joined by Occupy Chicago, by veterans, by United Mine Workers, by musicians, by local Chicago activists, by representatives of international economic justice organizations, and approximately 500 police officers. NNU invited local community leaders up on stage to tell the crowd what they would do with the $4 billion dollars that Chicago might garner from a speculation tax. Because Chicago is home to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Illinois is one of the few states in the United States with the ability to apply a tax to financial transactions independent of the federal government.
Chris May, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, volunteered as security for the speaker's stage. He came up to Chicago for the weekend to return his military medals to the leaders at the NATO Summit, and was at the rally in solidarity with the nurses and their message.
Famed "Chicago 8" protester Tom Hayden, headlined the protest: "it's been 44 years since I've had a permit to speak in Chicago." Wisconsin native and Nation writer John Nichols addressed the crowd, drawing parallels between the austerity politics being practiced in states like Wisconsin and countries like Greece. All over the globe, "The people are on the march against austerity" says Nichols."People are waking up to the fact that we aren't broke, we don't need to do cuts. What we need are the new revenues that will come from taxing the speculators."
Tom Morello, a labor activist and world-famous guitarist from the band Rage Against the Machine told the crowd he was angry. Angry at the "corporate malfeasance on Wall Street which has torpedoed the global economy and caused hardship for millions of families around the globe, while they line their own pockets with millions in bonuses for themselves."
He closed out the rally with his famous "Worldwide Rebel Song," which had the sea of red and green activists jumping and laughing in the hot afternoon sun under the watchful eye of Daley Plaza's enormous sculpture by Picasso. The Camp David G8 meeting was scheduled to wrap on Saturday and the leaders and President Obama were scheduled to travel to Chicago for the NATO Summit beginning Sunday.