Nurses Group Among Protestors At NATO Summit

What's being called the first official protest of NATO kicked off Friday in downtown Chicago, where an estimated 1,000 nurses are expected to gather. They're calling for a "Robin Hood Tax" whereby Wall Street earnings are taxed to help relieve inadequacies in healthcare.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Dozens of world leaders are gathering in Chicago this weekend for a NATO summit. So, too, are thousands of protestors. In fact, small antiwar and anti-NATO rallies have been taking place all week. The biggest demonstration so far happened this afternoon. It was organized by nurses. NPR's David Schaper explains why they're protesting.

JEAN ROSS: Hello, everyone.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Jean Ross, a co-president of the National Nurses United, walked onto the stage in Daley Plaza downtown Chicago just after noontime and immediately cut to the chase with the question many who are not part of the nurses organization probably had on their mind.

ROSS: Now, why - does anyone know why we chose Chicago for our third annual staff nurse assembly?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: G-8.

ROSS: The G-8, right. Where is the G-8?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Right here.

ROSS: Ooh, did they get frightened away?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yes.

ROSS: As what our guests...

SCHAPER: Originally, President Obama had wanted to host overlapping summit meetings in his home town of the eight biggest economic powers, the countries known as the G-8, along with the leaders of the 28 nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the G-8 meetings were moved to Camp David where they will wrap up tomorrow. The nurses and other groups wanting to protest economic inequality kept their plans to come to Chicago.

For the nurses, that meant becoming a sea of red and green as they wore red hospital scrubs and green felt Robin Hood hats to promote what they call the Robin Hood Tax. RoseAnn DeMoro is executive director of National Nurses United.

ROSEANN DEMORO: The financial transaction tax, some call it the financial speculation tax, but it's basically on trading - hyper trading for the most part at Wall Street.

SCHAPER: DeMoro says the proposed tax would be half a cent for every $100 transaction.

DEMORO: What the nurses see every day at their bedside is the total human devastation, the cost of this economy on their patients' health and on their patients' lives.

SCHAPER: The rally drew thousands of other protesters, some whose causes mirror the economic and health concerns of the nurses, other opposing war, NATO air and drone strikes in the Middle East and other issues. Among them are Gwen Sarry and Mary Kay Flanagan of Chicago.

GWEN SARRY: I'm 77.

SCHAPER: And you are?

MARY KAY FLANAGAN: I just turned 80.

SCHAPER: Sarry and Flanagan are both nuns with the Catholic 8th Day Center for Justice. And to them, it makes sense that nurses are protesting NATO.

SARRY: If the money that's going to support war is money that could be used for health care and education - you know, NATO's involved in so much injury of so many people with the wars and the drones, and nurses are about healing, so it's no leap there.

SCHAPER: As this first major protest of the NATO weekend in Chicago wrapped up, hundreds from other groups took to the streets and marched around downtown Chicago. They tied up traffic, but no major incidents are reported. There is a heavy police presence all throughout downtown and along the city's lakefront. Barricades and hundreds of officers on foot, on horses and on bicycles surrounded the nurses rally and the protest march as they likely will for every protest throughout the NATO Summit. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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