Thousands of nurses and other protesters began gathering at a downtown Chicago plaza Friday to demand a "Robin Hood" tax on banks' financial transactions, the largest protest yet ahead of a two-day NATO summit that is expected to draw even larger demonstrations.
National Nurses United officials expect about 2,000 nurses to attend Friday's rally to call for the tax to offset cuts in social services, education and health care. They were joined by members of the Occupy movement, unions and veterans.
Meanwhile, lawyers for NATO summit protesters said police on Friday morning released four of nine activists arrested Wednesday on accusations that they had or planned to make Molotov cocktails.
Chicago was originally going to host the G-8 economic summit, too, and the nurses' rally was initially intended to coincide with that. But the G-8 summit was moved to Camp David, Md.
Midwest Director Jan Rodolfo said the nurses decided to go forward with the rally in the hope that their message would reach a worldwide audience.
Shawmaf Khubba, a student at Montclair State University in New Jersey, took a 14-hour bus ride on Thursday with 40 others to join the Chicago protests. He said he wanted to raise awareness and tough questions about what he called NATO's unwarranted military aggression around the world.
"NATO is a strong arm of the U.S. that gives an excuse to go everywhere around the world," he said before Friday's rally. "I'm here because I care about what happens to people around the world."
Scattered protests over the past week have been relatively small, including a march through the "Magnificent Mile" shopping district that drew about 100 people Thursday.
But the much larger nurses' rally will mark a ramp-up to Sunday's anti-NATO march by underscoring that money spent fighting wars means less money for health care, education and other social programs, said Andy Thayer, an organizer of the anti-NATO march. His group - Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda - has been working to draw those connections ever since President Barack Obama moved the G-8 summit, potentially dampening enthusiasm for a Chicago demonstration.
"I think it's really going to be big ... with the nurses," Thayer said. "That is going to be the 99 percent staking itself against the 1 percent, drawing the connections between the war abroad and the war on working people here at home.
"They are the front-line caregivers ... and the nurses, to their credit, understand the connections between NATO, G-8 and the deplorable state of health care in our country and are speaking out about it." Chicago Tribune