NATO Summit: After Peaceful Nurses Rally, Protesters Occupy Michigan Avenue Bridge

Nurses Photo by Alex CyhaniukNational Nurses United members gather at Daley Plaza
to advocate for the Robin Hood sin tax. (Photo by Alex Cyhaniuk)

NATO logoBy Alex Cyhaniuk
The Red Line Project

Posted: Friday, May 18, 2012

A wave of green Robin Hood felt hats and red T-shirts – “An economy for the 99 percent” written on the back – swept into Daley Plaza on Friday.

Nurse Ida Erikson was among the merry band, although she considered herself more like Maid Marian -- a woman struggling for the people.

Wife, mother of two and an RN for more than 30 years, she was one of thousands from National Nurses United (NNU) to march from the Sheraton Hotel to participate in Friday’s noon rally advocating for the Robin Hood Tax.

“We are here to help you not only when you are sick, but to fight alongside you for social justice,” she said. “Like Robin Hood, we have to tell the 1 percent, 'No more.' We have to give back to the people so that we can improve healthcare, our schools and the nation.”

In its simplest form, the Robin Hood Tax would charge half of 1 percent for Wall Street transactions over $100, generating an estimated $350 billion per year.

“That money could fix so much of what’s wrong with our society,” Erikson said, recounting what made her join NNU.

Wiping tears away from underneath her sunglasses, she added: “Twelve years ago, a man lost his job and didn’t have insurance. His daughter had a common cold and she was getting sicker and sicker, but he couldn’t afford to bring her in. One day, her throat closed from pneumonia and she couldn’t breathe. She died in the emergency room."

“I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty played in the distance. The nurses, carrying signs that read “Heal America, Tax Wall Street,” intermingled with members from the Clown Bloq -- a group of protesters dressed as clowns -- pedestrians and police. In the backdrop of the stage in which a litany of protesters would speak, hung a banner declaring the rally “The People’s G8.”

At its peak, just more than 3,200 people attended the rally, according to estimates in the media.

In the midst of it all, stood Tom Southworth, an Iraq War veteran and former Army Intelligence Analyst.

“I’m here for solidarity with the nurses,” he said. “We spend so much as a country – time, energy and dollars – to fighting wars and perpetuating systemic violence. We would be such a stronger society if we put some of that into the people.”

A member of the Occupy movement, dressed in black and handing out Occupy Chicago fliers, overheard the conversation and began nodding before shouting “solidarity.”

”Do I think this [rally] will lead to an immediate policy change? No,” Southworth said. “But you never know what seeds you plant, what people are going to be thinking about and doing a year from now, five years from now. That change is so much more valuable than any of the bigger picture stuff.”

Those seeds of united opposition were sown as the rally began.

Ida Erikson Photo by Alex Cyhaniuk
Nurse Ida Erikson talks about the protest. (Photo by Alex Cyhaniuk)

Opening with a skit that satirized the G8 at Camp David, the summit was compared to a casino where all eight leaders willingly bet the welfare of their citizens to achieve elitist national goals.

Nurses and community activists would soon follow to discuss a variety of issues – home foreclosures, Chicago Public Schools and the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

A 30-minute performance by Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello wrapped up the rally, marking its official end when he asked protesters to take the stage with him for his final song.

The rally ended on a peaceful note, although afterward groups of protesters took to the streets, marched to Jackson Blvd. and through DePaul Center, eventually converging on Michigan Avenue shortly before 3 p.m.

"We’re marching for the nurses and for the 99 percent,” said California resident Kevin Tyler, 26. “Everyone here took their message to heart. We should all be a little more like Robin Hood.”

The crowd, shouting in unison, “These are our streets!” and “We are the 99 percent!” would be stopped from advancing past the Michigan Avenue bridge by bicycle-mounted police officers.

By 5 p.m., many of the protesters dispersed.

“This march was only the beginning,” Tyler said. “The best is yet to come.”

Video: Interview with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello during the rally. 
Warning: Graphic language. (Video by Forrest Davis/The Red Line Project)


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