Nurses unite at first major NATO protest

By Contributing Writer

By Steve Schorn

More than 3,000 protesters gathered for a rally Friday organized by the National Nurses United group in Daley Plaza, 118 N. Clark St. It was the first major protest in advance of the NATO Summit this weekend.

Karen Higgins, one of the co-presidents of National Nurses United, said she the nurses want to fund healthcare instead of warfare.

“We will not go away,” Higgins said. “This is the beginning.  We are not turning our backs on this country.  We do not accept this in this country.”

The rally is held every year by nurses from across the country to address certain issues that they feel are important to our society.  The group is not limited to solely nurses, but anyone who believes in their causes.

The group supports the Robin Hood tax which they say will help generate revenue to help jumpstart our economy.  It is a tax of around 0.5 percent on all Wall Street transactions.  The money would then be used to fund American schooling, housing and hospitals.  An emphasis on using the money to help fund a cure for AIDS was also proposed in the rally.

Casey Hobbs, the head of the San Francisco branch of National Nurses, has been an active registered nurse for over 37 years.  She is also a host of her own radio show, in which she discusses issues related to the group.  People are flooding the emergency room, sicker than ever, because they don’t have Medicare to give them access to doctor visits, she said.  She said this is actually costing the hospitals more because problems were addressed too late.

“It is heartbreaking to see children come in with life-threatening diseases that could have been cured months ago,” Hobbs said.

The National Nurses United organization is just one of the many activist groups that has plans for the weekend of the NATO summit.

Pastor Phil Blackwell is the head of the United Methodist Church just across the street from the Daley Plaza.  He said that he has many parishioners who are a part of these movements, and has been preparing them to assert their rights in a peaceful manner.

Blackwell added that it is the responsibility of protesters to help keep each other safe, and to help deter those who are “prone to violence”.

“We have held study groups and teach-ins to help educate members of our parish on what the facts are without a bias from either side of the spectrum,” he said. “This helps people to make their own decisions on what is right.”

Speakers from local, national and international groups that have allied themselves with the National Nurses United spoke at the rally. Among them was David Hillman, leader of Stamp Out Poverty from the United Kingdom. He travelled from his home across the Atlantic to participate in what he calls “an entire country of people’s way of fighting back.”

“This rally is truly a sight for sore eyes,” Hillman said. “It is beautiful to see so many people out here fighting for what they believe in.”

Shen Tong, an exiled Chinese student activist who narrowly escaped from China after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when armed guards began using live ammunition on protesters.  Shen, having been one of the protest leaders, would have faced severe punishment if he had been caught.

Fleeing to the United States, Shen has lived here ever since but had not participated in any activist campaigns. However, he said that the Occupy movement convinced him to restart his activist life.  He is now the leader of a 99 percent solidarity group.

“The Occupy group brought out a part of me that I thought was long gone,” he said.

The rally had several other speakers, such as Katie Jordan from the Illinois Alliance of Retired Americans, Elce Redman from the Jobs for Justice and Tim Carpenter from the Progressive Democrats.  Tom Morello, former Rage Against the Machine guitarist known for his activism, performed several songs for the attendees of the event.

“These nurses showed us that they are fighters, and won’t be turned away by the one percent,” Morello said.

More more photos and video footage of the National Nurses United protest, visit