'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there... -- Chicago (the musical)
In every city and town across America today there is a "Mr. Cellophane," as the musical Chicago put it, and other men, women, and children who seem to have become invisible to those who set policy in Washington and to the financiers on Wall Street who put them in the shadows.
Invisible to those who think budget cuts and corporate tax cuts are the most pressing issue facing this country, and not the mounting toll of joblessness, families losing their homes, the tens of millions unable to pay medical bills, and the millions forced to rely on soup kitchens and food pantries.
But America's nurses do hear their voices, see their faces, and feel their pain, and as 1,000 registered nurses rallying in Washington this week declared, "We are going to make their suffering visible" and demand a change.
National Nurses United hosted the gathering in Washington in large part to unveil a new national campaign for a Main Street Contract for the American People, and punctuated that message with rallies adjacent to the White House and Congress and a protest at the Chamber of Commerce, lobbying arm of Wall Street and big business who created the crisis that has put so many Americans in harms way.
As nurses walked the halls of Congress, one legislative aide warned that "Wall Street runs this place." Another told the nurses to "lower your expectations," to which one nurse replied, "how would you like us to say that when we're prepping you for surgery?"
Nurses are used to standing up to hospital managers, insurance bureaucrats, and even doctors to demand their patients get the care they need, not just what someone decides the hospital is willing to pay for. They know how to fight. So does the NNU, which is used to taking on multi-billion dollar hospital and healthcare corporations, and billionaire politicians.
Our message, which parallels the voices ringing out this year in the streets of Madison, Lansing, Columbus, and other embattled cities, is America's workers built this country, and we're going to take it back.
Through our Main Street program for jobs at living wages, equal access to quality education, guaranteed healthcare for all, a secure retirement for everyone, good housing, protection from hunger, a safe and clean environment, and a just taxation system where the corporate elite and the super wealthy pay their fair share.
Can we afford it? Too many politicians, and the Wall Street power brokers who sponsor them, and many in the media echo chamber, want to hide the inconvenient truth. The money is there, stashed away in record corporate profits, and the years of plunder by those at the top who have created the greatest income disparity in this nation since the Great Depression.
To put it another way, there is a global economic crisis. Yet the U.S. ranks an appalling 23rd in material well being, 19th in economic disparity, and 22nd in health well being for our children among developed nations, and just 25th in federal spending on public programs, a major reason for those inequities.
Like Jesse James, the solution begins by going to where the money is, on Wall Street. A simple sales tax on Wall Street speculation and greed, through a financial transaction tax on the buying and selling of bonds, credit default swaps, derivatives, and similar high roller activity, could raise hundreds of billions of dollars a year to help rebuild America.
European trade unions are pushing the European Union countries to adopt a similar tax, and NNU, joined by the AFL-CIO, and other labor and community allies, will rally on Wall Street in New York and throughout Europe on June 22 to demand enactment of such a common sense measure.
Why nurses in the forefront of such a campaign? Because they see and feel the broad declines in health and living standards for their patients, and their own families that are directly tied to the collapse in jobs, housing, healthcare, and other basics of what used to be called the American dream. Because they are located in every community and because they touch everyone's lives. Because they have had enough, and want to stop the bleeding now.
Join us. Learn more at http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/mainstreet.
Follow Deborah Burger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NationalNurses