Chicago's Cracking Down on Protests but Nurses Union Still Planning Huge Rally with Tom Morello

G-8 leaders may seclude themselves in the woods of Maryland at Camp David, but National Nurses United and other unions, community and activist groups will continue with their plans for a massive rally and protest on May 18 in Chicago.

Activists claimed victory when the White House moved the G-8 to Camp David. Thousands of people had vowed to protest the meetings and the city of Chicago was struggling to prepare for security concerns with both G-8 and the NATO summit happening so close together. Success has only fueled their efforts for continued Chicago demonstrations.

The May 18 rally was originally planned to begin after a march from the hotel the nurses will be staying at and holding a conference. Last week, Chicago officials decided to pull the permit and force the rally to Grant Park, a location that would have pushed the protest out of view of the more business-friendly downtown.  Ultimately both sides reached an agreement that would allow the rally to remain at Daley Plaza but cancel any plans to march in the downtown area.

National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said the ordeal started after the organization placed in an ad in the Chicago Reader. DeMoro said the Chicago officials claim they were worried about former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Daley Plaza. Yet the nurses have advertised the rally with flyers and emails for a couple of months now, boasting of Morello’s attendance. Morello responded to the city’s claim by saying he should run against Rahm Emanuel if the mayor is afraid of his popularity.

"I've always been welcome in Chicago. You know who is not welcome?" asked Morello. "The G-8."

DeMoro said she is disappointed that they had to cancel the march but believes the fun will be at the rally. It is now longer than originally scheduled, going from 12:30 to 2:30. The union says they are happy about the extra time, believing it will allow them to share their message to more.

"We are banned from marching in Chicago," said DeMoro. "I guess nurses are a national security threat. We can walk in small groups but we do not know the actual numbers allowed, yet."

The nurses' union plans to have more than 1,000 members from around the country visit Chicago. Nurses from another dozen countries that are part of the G-8 and NATO will also descend upon the city to protest the global 1 percent.

"We scrambled to be where the world will be watching," Jan Rodolfo, NNU's midwest director, told AlterNet. "We wanted to be where nurses could have the most impact and that's Chicago."

NNU has maintained a presence on the national activist front, after Wisconsin, by joining and supporting Occupy movements around the country. Locals set up medical tents in New York, Oakland and other protest sites. Rodolfo and two other NNU members joined Occupy Chicago in their second attempt to camp in Grant Park last October. She was arrested along with her two colleagues, Martese Chism and Corey Lanham, and more than 100 other protesters. They were held for nearly 24 hours.

"It's a fight between the faith in the power of protest and the ability to push that a step farther versus the fear and leaning of a pragmatic approach," said Rodolfo. "You undermine one with the other."

The May 18 rally will consist of the worldwide group of nurses alongside activists from other organizations with a call to stop austerity cuts and for national and international implementation of the “Robin Hood” financial transaction tax. They'll start the day with a forum on the destructive global austerity programs and how people are fighting back. From there, they will move to Daley Plaza, with people portraying Robin Hood along with his merry men and women. They plan to set up a structure resembling Camp David and search for the missing G-8 leaders.

The nurses' union believes more than 2,500 people will be present, and wants to drum up support for its Main Street Contract with the American People. The nurses started the contract last summer, aiming to create a national movement through demonstrations and legislative advocacy, to address the concerns of the working class.

NNU wants to push elected leaders and the national conversation towards an awareness of working people's issues. They collected stories, asking people "where it hurts" in an effort to highlight their economic struggles. Stories like this one that show what the nurses deal with regularly: 

During a recent shift as a charge nurse I was happy to learn that one of the patients wanted to compliment her RN for the care she received. The patient, who was in her 50s, was eloquent and carried herself elegantly, shaking my hand when I entered the room. A former executive secretary for more than 30 years, she penned her comment card in a beautiful handwritten script. Later that shift, I realized that the patient was the same person I had seen on the boards two weeks ago but never met: a homeless woman. I would have never suspected that this former executive secretary with impeccable penmanship was the same homeless woman if it weren’t written right there in the charts.

The discovery brought me to tears. I went back to visit the patient and learn her story. It’s an all-too-common one: After losing her job, she lost her healthcare, then lost her home and her family. The face of homelessness in America has changed. We have prototypes in our heads of what homeless people should look like, but they look like you and me. Her story also struck a nerve for me because some years ago, after a back injury at work, my husband and I also struggled to pay $1,400 a month in COBRA premiums to maintain our health insurance while I was on medical leave. I was just crushed by this woman, thinking that could be me.

San Bernardino, California

Actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith will perform some of the "where it hurts" stories during the rally. Former guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, will also appear.

The union believes too many political leaders abandoned Chicago and the working class in favor of the top 1 percent, and are calling for a tax on financial speculation, amounting to half a percentage point on each trade. Rodolfo links the financial transaction tax to the everyday sales taxes consumers face in grocery and department stores.

"We believe [the NNU version] could raise $350 billion a year," said Rodolfo. "Which would eliminate every budget deficit in every state and municipality in the U.S."

Two Democrats proposed such a tax last fall but only called for a 0.03 percent tax on trades. Rodolfo believes the bill, sponsored by Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, and Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, starts out conceding too much ground to the banking industry. "They shifted it the last minute," she said. "We were poised to be primary supporters of it but it was so egregious. It turned what was serious policy into a bandaid."

The push for a financial transaction tax would impact both the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, which recently lobbied for tax breaks at the state level by threatening to leave. Chicago activists believe a speculation tax on the two exchanges could fund 40,000 jobs and help the city’s economic recovery. They estimate it would raise $1.4 billion and cost traders a quarter on each transaction. A coalition of groups called Stand Up! Chicago protested the companies' attempt at economic blackmail, while demanding a similar tax to fund jobs programs in the city.

“I worked for 22 years at the exchange down here,” William Barclay, a former trader at CME, said at a protest last fall. “This high-speed trading doesn’t contribute to economic growth. It just supports resources and in the case of the Great Recession it actually destroyed economic resources.”

ARISE Chicago and Chicago Jobs with Justice have taken a role in those protests as members of Stand Up! Chicago and will join the nurses' rally in May.

A few other organizations to endorse the event thus far include the AFL-CIO, Health Gap (Global Action Project), National Union of Public and General Workers Unions of Canada, Friends of the Earth, the Amalgamated Transit Union, European Federation of Public Services Unions, Public Services International, the National Federation of Canadian Nurses Unions and many more.

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