An Alternative to Austerity? Thousands Say “Tax Wall Street”

They came, they danced, they marched, 2,000 people spirited and strong, Robin Hood's merry band of men and women, through the streets of Washington April 20.

Ending up astride a prominent government building, christened with a new name and a naming ceremony. No more U.S. Treasury, now, the banner declared, “The U.S. Treasury. A Citigroup Subsidiary. Jack Lew, Inc., CEO.”

“We could end AIDS, reverse climate change, fund jobs and health care. Who do you work for Secretary Lew?” asked Jennifer Flynn, managing director of Health GAP (Global Action Project). “You work for the people, not Wall Street.”

It was indeed a day of discomfort for Wall Street, a call reverberating in the air, as marchers strolled past the White House, and Treasury, for a change in direction in Washington and the nation.

“We've opened a door that will not be closed,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United which organized the march along National People's Action, Health GAP joined by the Amalgamated Transit Union, Jobs with Justice, Vocal New York, and scores of other groups.

Noted Jean Ross, RN, co-president of NNU:

In the world beyond the Beltway, people are still hurting. What they care about is not the budget deficit. What they care about is the job deficit, the health care deficit, the housing deficit, the retirement deficit. What people don't need is more austerity, like more cuts, to Social Security, and other programs that help people. For two years have been campaigning across the country for more revenue for our cities, our communities, our patients with a tax on Wall Street speculation. Revenue from the people who created this crisis in the first place.

Ross was speaking near the steps of the U.S. Capitol, in a press conference convened to announce the re-introduction of a bill whose time has surely come – HR 1579, authored by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), and animated by the spirit of the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, a movement embraced by more than 150 national labor, environmental, healthcare, faith based, and other community organizations.

HR 1579, said Ellison, is

a simple idea, a small tax on the massive trading of stocks, bonds, derivatives and other financial speculation, with a grand payoff, hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue every year.

“This is a bold piece of legislation,” said HR 1579 co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who thanked the “remarkable activists” and “especially National Nurses United for continuing to beat the drum” for the Wall Street tax. The Wall Street traders, she admonished,

gambled the economic future of our entire economy and the American people bailed them out. Their out-of-control tactics spread across the world and nearly collapsed the global economy. A small tax on financial transactions will help bring some much needed fairness to a system that can easily absorb it. All we're asking is for some equity, justice, and fairness.

Health GAP's Flynn noted that with 11 European Union nations now adopting a similar tax,

U.S. financial institutions are going to be taxed in those 11 countries, and that money will go to provide jobs and health care in those countries. We could have that money here in the U.S.

Instead, many in the U.S. continue to be targeted for austerity and budget cuts, said Flynn, citing in particular the harsh impact on people living with HIV/AIDS. “We now know we can end AIDS. If we can put a little more money into getting people around the world onto AIDS treatment and continue to provide life saving HIV prevention and services we could actually see the end of the AIDS pandemic with less than a couple of billion dollars” from the hundreds of billions that HR 1579 would raise. “That's the power of this tax, and there will still be hundreds of billions left over for jobs, healthcare, and to fight climate change.”

Former Goldman Sachs investment banker Wallace Turbeville, now a senior fellow at Demos, said the tax would have a particularly “significant benefit” for the U.S. economy in damping down high frequency trading. Those mostly automated trades are not there for productive investment and enterprises but for speculation and profits, he suggested. The result, an adverse effect on jobs.

The financial sector has demonstrated that it cannot control itself. A financial transaction tax will bring some discipline to the markets, the rampant extraction of value by high frequency traders with no value added in return, will be curbed and the safety and soundness of the market will be increased.

National People's Action Executive Director George Goehl emphasized

We have a revenue crisis in America. We don't have enough money in public budgets to make investments to rebuild communities, rebuild families and protect our environment. We all know where the money is, and it's not in Grandma's Social Security checks, not in Grandpa's Medicare, not in our children's classrooms. It's on Wall Street. There's a huge gap between where the public is and where Congress is. Sixty-two percent of Americans support a financial transaction tax, 80 percent support increased taxes on corporations. But many in Washington seem more loyal to the idea of austerity and protecting corporate interests over their own constituents. Our job is to expose that gap and close it.

The 2,000 activists marching through Washington were engaged in that very effort to expose and close. ATU President Larry Hanley noted how austerity has harmed the nation's mass transit system.

There's something perverse in a nation that sees fit to slash transit services to people who need it at a time when people are losing their jobs and have fewer cars and politicians have refused to consider the needs of people who need mobility. When I was growing up we talked about citizenship. Somewhere along the line they turned us into consumers and taxpayers, as if the only role in life we have is as taxpayers and to be angry at everyone else who is struggling in this country, and along come the nurses with an idea about taxing the people who can afford to pay it. We have almost 200,000 members and every one of them is getting behind this tax. Every movement has to begin with somebody leading it and people understanding it and sharing it. We believe we can get it passed.

Hanley called the Robin Hood tax one of the only things “that talks about real fairness to the people in this country. We will get this done, we're going to make this happen.”