Nurses' Imaginative Tactics Breathe Life into Progressives: Make Wall Street Pay for the Crisis It Created
Few professions bring workers face-to-face with struggling citizens like nursing. Every day they see stressed and malnourished children, unemployed Americans whose COBRA has run out, and cancer survivors who can no longer afford their medications. Accordingly, nurses know what's up. Literally and figuratively, they have their thumb on the pulse of unemployed, uninsured, and financially unstable Americans.
On September 1, members of National Nurses United held a national day of action to take a stand against the corporate greed that they see hurting Americans every day. Thousands of nurses and other supporters gathered in 61 Congressional offices in 21 states for a wide variety of colorful actions, from rallies to food drives to blues concerts. In Boston a "town crier" in period costume made an appearance, while Minnesotans got to hear from a larger-than-life Michele Bachmann puppet.
The actions were bound by a common goal: to let Congress members know that American families are hurting and that they need jobs, healthcare, housing, quality education, nutrition, and a secure retirement. What's more, the nurses believe suffering Americans shouldn't be the ones to have to pay for those necessary services. They want to hold Wall Street -- the corporations responsible for so many Americans' financial hardships -- accountable for their mistakes.
And they have a plan to do it. The September 1 activists urged their Congress people to sign a pledge 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." Specifically, the financial transaction tax would add a 0.5% tax on stocks, securities, purchase of debt, options, credit swaps, foreign currency, “bets”, and derivatives for large Wall Street traders. Named one of the top ideas of 2008 by the New York Times Magazine, the tax could raise a substantial $350 billion a year -- in NNU's words, "enough to close the funding gaps in every US state now facing austerity budgets, with billions left to invest in job creation each year." NNU says that more than 40 countries around the world already utilize such a tax, to good effect.
NNU executive director Rose Ann DeMoro discussed the tax in this exclusive video report for AlterNet, produced in partnership with the Nurses' Station on GritTV:
We're not saying that companies won't be able to make money. They will be. We're saying that they need to give something back. Working and middle-class people have paid enough taxes, have suffered enough. All corporations have to do is give a minimal amount back, and we can essentially reconstruct our society. And I'm not just talking about building bridges, I'm talking about the spirit of America. What it means to be an American. What it means to have hope. What it means to have buy-in. What it means to have community.
In the end, several Congress members agreed to sign the pledge, including Joe Baca and Bob Filner in California, Keith Ellison in Minnesota, and Al Green, Lloyd Doggett, and Sheila Jackson Lee in Texas.
I caught up with several NNU activists around the country to see what happened at the September 1 day of action in support of the financial transaction tax. Here are some of those dispatches.
Nurses and supporters handed out over a thousand bagged lunches to homeless citizens in the Windy City. They also held a Blues concert called, cheekily, Wall Street Is Giving U.S. the Blues.
More than 500 supporters turned up for the action in Chicago. NNU co-president Deborah Burger, who was there, told me that several nurses from Illinois' Cook County Hospital shared stories with the audience, one of them recounting that she had seen children discharged from the burn unit only to return to the hospital when their skin grafts didn't take due to poor nutrition.
When I spoke to Burger, an NNU coalition was trying to make its way into the office of Sen. Dick Durbin (D) to deliver signed petitions in support of a Wall Street transaction tax that the group had collected earlier in the day. At the time, Burger said the group was facing some amount of resistance from two Homeland Security representatives. "We're telling them that we pose no threat to [Sen. Durbin]," Burger said. "Our interest is getting the message to him that Main Street is suffering."
The highlight of the Boston action was a "town crier" dressed in period costume, who discussed all the things Wall Street has done to create a crisis for American citizens. "We are plagued by income disparities, high unemployment, and the breakdown of critical social programs. Healthcare, education, and Social Security are under attack. The good nurses of the Commonwealth gathered here today bare witness to this suffering every day," he told the crowd. "While these frightful trends haunt our good citizens, the rich on Wall Street get richer, whereas the poor on Main Street go without!"
David Schildmeier of the Massachusetts Nurses Association told me that "well over 150" people turned out for the Boston event, including not just nurses but community groups and a large number of veterans. Schildmeier said that Massachusetts nurses were motivated to participate in the action because of the recent attacks on the state's public workers. The origins of the financial crisis "have nothing to do with them," Schildmeier said. "The nurses are out because they care for these people. They realize we can't just take care of these people in the hospitals. [The action] is about finding a solution to re-allocate the resources that built this country."
Woodbury wins the prize for Most Creative Prop Used in an NNU Action. Behold the eight-foot-tall, talking Michele Bachmann puppet:
NNU co-president Jean Ross addressed a cheering crowd outside Bachmann's office. "We're here to demand that our lawmakers tax Wall Street to heal America," she said. "Main Street is hurting. Millions have lost their jobs, their homes, they face bankruptcy, and they're jammed into overcrowded classrooms and emergency rooms. Soup kitchens and food pantries and food stamps now provide services for millions more. Meanwhile, Wall Street-funded politicians are intent on stealing even more from our families. We're here to stop these atrocities!"
Then the group held a dramatized press conference with "Michele Bachmann" (the puppet) that is well worth watching in the video above.
San Fransisco and San Diego
NNU spokesperson Chuck Idelson said the San Francisco action was a "great event," with more than 500 supporters helping set up a temporary soup kitchen to feed food-insecure individuals in the city. A delegation also went to Rep. Nancy Pelosi's office to urge her to support the Wall Street transaction tax.
Meanwhile, more than 300 people gathered in San Diego to target Rep. Darrell Issa with memorable signs saying things like "Darrell Issa is a Issa Hole."