"America Has the Wealth to End the Despair"

Nurses come face-to-face with the fallout of the financial crisis every day. Now they've joined the worldwide movement for a tax that would curb financial speculation—and help fill public needs.

Sandy Falwell, who has worked in a neonatal intensive care unit for some 20 years, could tell plenty of stories about the impact of the Great Recession on the lives of her patients. One of the most painful: After a woman gave birth to a 2-pound baby, she told Falwell that she blamed herself for her baby's premature birth. During her pregnancy she had been unable to afford insulin treatments for her diabetes--in part because she was taking care of her elderly parents.

Falwell is a member of National Nurses United, a union whose members come face-to-face with the fallout of the financial crisis every day. On Tuesday, they rallied on Wall Street with the message that "America has the wealth to end the despair and deprivation."

Rose Ann DeMoro, the union's executive director, explained: "There's a financial transaction fee that we're going to have Wall Street pay--they've paid it here in the past--it's very American. These yo-yos who buy and sell and buy and sell our country should have to pay a tax on that."

Such taxes place a small fee on each trade of stocks, derivatives, foreign exchange, and other financial instruments, with the goal of raising massive revenues for public needs while also discouraging reckless speculation.

The United States had a transactions tax from 1914 to 1966, which levied a 0.20 percent tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled the tax to help financial recovery and job creation during the Great Depression.

The nurses' rally was part of a global day of action during which people in more than 35 countries demanded a tax on financial transactions. The actions were timed for the eve of a meeting of leaders of European Union nations, where the debate over such taxes is much further along than in the United States. There are high hopes that Europe will implement them in the near future, which would give a big boost to U.S. advocates.

Here are a few highlights from other countries, where many of the campaigns have taken on a "Robin Hood" theme:

  • In Berlin, Robin Hoods rolled giant Euro coins down the street to Chancellor Angela Merkel's residence, where someone who looked an awful lot like her (except with a head four times as large as a normal human) received the money as she prepared to depart for the European Council meeting.
  • In Lebanon, the League of Independent Activists opened opening a banner reading "Big Day for a Tiny Tax" in English and Arabic on the Central Bank before delivering a statement to government officials.
  • In Brussels, activists met with the Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who assured them that his government will support a Europe-wide transaction tax.
  • In Nepal, activists met with their Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister and delivered a lobby letter before taking their message to various historical sites in Kathmandu.
  • In Norway, a casino/stock exchange installation was set up alongside a "Robin Hood forest" in the center of Oslo.
  • In New Zealand, activists with 350.org and Oxfam did an action at a shopping mall, resulting in this not-to-be-missed short video of a break-dancing Robin Hood.

For more on these actions and continued coverage of the global day of action, click here.

Back on Wall Street, Karen Higgins, a Co-President of National Nurses United told the crowd, "Around the world, we're calling for a more fair and just economy. The finance tax we're talking about comes from the trillions of trade of stocks and bonds sold here every day. The revenue is badly needed in our communities."

The nurses' union was joined on the street by a long list of other unions and organizations, including the Amalgamated Transit Union, Vocal NY, AFSCME, UNITE HERE Local 100, Community Voices Heard, Transport Workers Union Local 100, United Steam Workers, and PSC-CUNY.

A big theme of the day was that the New York rally was just the beginning of what they're hoping to be a growing movement. Minnesota nurse Jean Ross, clearly angered by the role of the financial industry in creating the current crisis, said, "Wall Street should be happy that we're just talking about a financial transaction tax. We could be talking about restitution."

This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.