More than 6,000 nurses and activists gathered at Daley Plaza in Chicago Friday to rock out with musician Tom Morello and call for a tax on financial speculation — a Robin Hood tax. This small sales tax on Wall Street trades could raise up to $350 billion a year in the U.S., money that American communities desperately need.
“It’s time for Wall Street to start paying what all the rest of us pay,” Karen Higgins, RN, told a cheering crowd, many wearing red nurse scrubs and green Robin Hood caps.
Higgins, who works as a registered nurse in Boston, is co-president of National Nurses United, the country’s largest registered nurses’ union, which organized the rally.
As nurses, they see how the economy is hurting families and communities across the country. They understand the suffering Americans face every day – in healthcare, foreclosure, jobs, and education.
“I’ve been a nurse for 38 years and I have never seen our communities in such disarray and in such suffering as I have in the last couple of years,” said Deborah Burger, RN, and NNU co-president. “They got us into this mess and they have the money to bail us out.”
Indeed they do-- almost a quarter of the nation’s GDP – close to $4 trillion – sits in corporate coffers, the largest cash hoard in U.S. history.
“We are here to protest all the people that are taking all the money out of our economy,” said Jean Ross, RN, and co-president of NNU. “We the 99 percent know what it’s about. We set an alarm. We work for a living. We don’t sit by a swimming pool and wait for our dividends to come in.”
More than 100 organizations of community, environmental, labor, and health groups from around the world endorsed the event.
RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU’s executive director, thanked everyone for being there and gave a special shout-out to Occupy protesters.
“To all the community groups, the political groups, the non-profit groups that came out to support us -- bless you,” DeMoro said. “It’s your voices that are going to make a difference in this country.”
Also speaking at the rally was Tom Hayden, student activist during Chicago's 1968 protests.
The rally ended with a performance by music legend Morello, who played with bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, and is also known for his acoustic music as The Nightwatchman.
“It’s an honor to be here today in my hometown of Chicago with the nurses union. I want to thank them for standing up for free speech, for standing up for economic justice, and standing up for me,” he said.
Morello’s reference was to a standoff between the nurses and the City of Chicago over a permit to assemble in Daley Plaza. The city changed the permit last week that would move the rally away from downtown Chicago. After nurses and the community protested, the city caved and allowed the rally to go on at the plaza as planned.
Before the rally, nurses attended an international panel discussion on global austerity and ways to fight back, including the Robin Hood tax.
“It’s so important we have a strong Robin Hood tax campaign,” said Jörn Kalinski, Oxfam Germany director of lobbying and campaigns. “We need America to come around on this issue.”
In addition to Kalinski, other speakers included:
Mi Jung Han, RN, Vice President, Korean Health and Medical Workers Union (South Korea), David Hillman, Coordinator, Stamp Out Poverty (UK), Rosa Pavanelli, President, Funzione Pubblica CGIL (Italy) and Vice President, European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), Linda Silas, RN, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (Canada), and Brenda Cristina Morales, RN, Regional Coordinator, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Salud de Guatemala (SNTSG) (Guatemala) made presentations.