As the G8 Opens at Camp David, Thousands Rally in Chicago for Tax on Wall Street
As the G8 got underway today at Camp David, an estimated 2,500 held a "Peoples' G8" in Chicago's Daley Plaza to call for a Financial Transaction Tax.
Last fall, National Nurses United (NNU), the chief organizer of the rally, began demanding a so-called “Robin Hood Tax” in coordination with National Peoples’ Action and other labor and community groups. NNU has been a close ally of many local Occupy groups, and today hundreds of nurses dressed in Robin Hood costumes descended on the plaza along with newly-arrived members of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy L.A. and other out-of-town demonstrators.
The rally opened with a parody of the concurrent G8 summit, with an actor playing President Obama greeting the crowd, “Welcome to the G8 summit, world’s largest casino!” as world leaders were seated around a poker table where they proceeded to wager their country’s respective social programs before breaking into a round of “Viva Las Vegas.”
Though NNU was granted a permit for a march and rally months ago, the event was subject to an eleventh-hour legal battle when the city of Chicago briefly pulled the permit after musician Tom Morello was added to the bill. After the union refused to cancel Morello's performance and threatened legal action, it was granted permission to hold a shortened rally at the original location.
“I have to thank the nurses for standing up for free speech, for economic justice and for me,” said Morello at the start of his performance. “I would never do anything to hurt Chicago, but that doesn’t mean I’m not angry … It was the corporate malfeasance of Wall Street that torpedoed the global economy and caused such hardship for families around the world … That wasn’t the happenstance of spreadsheets; it was a crime.”
The rally was originally planned to coincide with the G8, which was relocated on short notice to Camp David so that leaders could meet in a more “intimate setting,” according to President Obama. Though the agenda of the G8 this year is focused heavily on the Eurozone crisis, the world economic body also tackles development issues.
Topping the development agenda this year is the issue of food security, with leaders from Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania invited (though, Obama has stressed, not for any of the actual decision-making sessions). At the 2009 L'Aquila summit, world leaders pledged $22 billion in agricultural investment as part of a U.S.-proposed food security initiative, and many aid and humanitarian groups have been calling for the G8 to renew this pledge and work towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving food insecurity by 2015.
What they got instead was an acknowledgement from Obama that he would be relying on the private sector to lead on ending world hunger and malnutrition. This afternoon, Obama announced that he had secured $3 billion in agricultural investments in Africa from 45 corporations through a "New Alliance to Increase Food and Nutrition Security." Though Obama advisor Mike Froman told AP that the initiative is about “combining aid with private capital” rather than replacing aid, a number of aid groups are decrying the approach as one that serves primarily to create new markets for corporations to sell seeds and agricultural chemicals. Oxfam International’s Lamine Ndiaye said in a statement:
… The plan's top down approach does not reflect what many people in poor countries say they want or need … Smallholder farmers need the freedom to pursue their own growing strategies, not take overly-prescriptive tips on farming from G8 leaders, or one size fits all technologies from far away CEOs."
Though the paltry pledge is being chalked up to the recession, the G8 had a problem delivering on its promises even before the onset of the financial crisis. After the 2005 Gleneagles summit, at which world leaders pledged to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion per year, as much as half of this funding never materialized.
Though some demonstrators at the rally were clearly not energized by the demand of an incremental tax, anti-NATO protesters and those who participated in an anti-capitalist/FTP march were out in strong numbers in support of NNU, praised by Brian Bean of Occupy Chicago as "a bunch of badass nurses showing us what a fighting union looks like." One group of young, black-clad protesters arrived with "Nurses Rule, Cops Drool" written on their cheeks.
As G8 leaders feign interest in development questions, demanding a financial transaction tax is important because it exposes the problems with both the paradigm of aid and that of private-public partnerships in order to secure funds for basic needs. Also called the “Tobin Tax,” after economist (James Tobin) or “the Robin Hood Tax,” advocates of the tax recommend alternately that the money collected could be used for international development, job creation or health care and other social services. A 2009 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the University of Massachusetts found that a broad financial transactions tax could generate more than $170 billion in revenue per year.
“I have been a nurse for 38 years,” said NNU co-president Deborah Burger during the rally, “And I have never seen our communities in such disarray. But we’re standing here today to tell you we know the solution. We pay sales tax, and it’s time for Wall Street to pay sales tax.”