Across the country on September 1, nurses will converge on local congressional offices to demand a tax on Wall Street financial speculation, a move they say is a step towards healing the nation, trimming the deficit, and preserving social programs.
National Nurses United (NNU) is planning a day of action in over 60 congressional offices in 21 states. In Wisconsin, the group is sponsoring a soup kitchen outside of Rep. Paul Ryan's Janesville office "to provide residents with the sustenance they are not getting from Paul Ryan," says NNU spokesman Charles Idelson.
Jan Rodolfo, RN, national coordinator for NNU, says nurses are uniquely aware of the economic recession's impact on Americans. "We are at the bedside during people's moments of crisis, we see the decline in health and living standards, and we hear people's stories," she said. "We see how widespread the impact of this economic crisis really is."
"People feel like it is all their fault, that their decisions in life put them where they are," said Rodolfo, "but we have seen that this is really a systemic problem, that Wall Street gambling and corporate giveaways and tax breaks are what put the economy in its current state."
NNU spokesman Idelson says "revenue is available in this country," but "leaders of both political parties have demonstrated a real tone-deafness to the problems of Americans, cutting programs that help people rather than working to fix the economic crisis."
Tax the Speculators
At the September 1 events, nurses and community members will request that Rep. Ryan and other members of Congress sign a pledge asking them to "support a Wall Street transaction tax that will raise sufficient revenue to make Wall Street pay for the devastation it has caused on Main Street."
Taxing the speculative trading linked to the 2008 financial meltdown and resulting recession, say the nurses, is one way to reduce the federal deficit and fund social programs they believe are vital to America's health. NNU Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro says in a press release "it's time for Wall Street financiers, who created this crisis and continue to hold so much of the nation's wealth, to start contributing to rebuild this country, and for the American people to reclaim our future."
Nancy Folbre, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote a New York Times column last week calling for such a "transactions tax." She wrote that establishing a Wall Street tax of 0.5 percent (the same rate as Britain) could raise up to $175 billion in tax revenue. Folbre and the nurses say the current system creates warped incentives, with low transaction taxes encouraging investment in meaningless financial instruments, but falling tax revenues discouraging social investment in health, education, and human welfare.
Transactions taxes are being studied carefully by countries around the world as a way to raise revenue for jobs programs, health and education while limiting harmful financial gambling -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, have been leaders in the effort to convince the 27 nations of the European Union to introduce a speculation tax. In 2009, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a financial transaction tax bill applying a small tax to Wall Street speculation to pay for jobs programs. A similar bill is targeted for introduction in September 2011.
Main Street Contract
The September 1 effort is the latest in a series of actions by the nurses to make Wall Street accountable to Main Street. In early June, the NNU organized what Idleson said may have been the largest protest ever outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Later that month, NNU organized a protest on Wall Street, outside the New York Stock Exchange, attended by around a thousand nurses and community groups.
All the actions are part of NNU's new campaign called the "Main Street Contract" with the slogan "Heal America, Tax Wall Street." A video promoting the September 1 events can be found here. To learn more about an action near you visit the NNU website.