By Tony Fitzpatrick
Last Friday, thousands and thousands of nurses marched on Daley Plaza as the NATO summit weekend got under way. They walked from the Sheraton on Upper Wacker to Dearborn and Randolph. It was all very peaceful.
The nurses threw in with the Occupy movement pretty seamlessly and made for a powerful conversation. The police were very present, as were other security types dressed as Streets and San guys with earpieces. They weren’t fooling anyone, and I don’t I think they meant to.
The nurses are not marching for more money for themselves—they are asking Wall Street to pay an equitable share toward the ailing healthcare system.
In short, they’re doing it for us. What they ask is that about a penny per trade be set aside for healthcare. What they are asking for is nominal: Over the course of a year, these guys will spend more money on Tic-Tacs.
The impressive thing about this march was the sheer numbers involved. I talked to nurses from Detroit, Massachusetts, Los Angeles, Georgia, Mississippi and many, many others. They all came here on their own dime, to ask us to better help ourselves.
Their first target was the G-8 summit, but what the hell; NATO promised every world leader you could imagine. What better audience?
What surprised me was the myriad of other causes that showed up to make their presence felt—everyone from letter-carriers to firefighters spoke about their disappearing pensions and the pressure being brought to bear upon their union leadership. A great many working people feel like their jobs are descending into serfdom, particularly here in Chicago. The few cops who would talk to me, off-the-record, said they see the embattled unions around them, and they’re not stupid. They know eventually the little man with the shiny shoes is coming for them.
My guess is the teacher’s union breaks first: Between the sucker-bet of vouchers and being a very easy union to denigrate. They’re toast.
It will come, of course after a long destructive strike which will benefit nobody except Emanuel. He will have succeeded in bamboozling the public into thinking the problems with education—and the city’s ills in general—are those “greedy” teachers. Then it will be the “greedy” firemen, next the “greedy” cops. Get the picture?
One of the cornerstones of democracy is for people to be able to bargain collectively to better their lot in the workplace.
The conversation in Daley Plaza last week is one well worth having. We must ask ourselves, “Who do we want to be in the world? What is equitable compensation for what we do? And how do we protect it?”
Why now is “pension reform” on the table for working people, but not for politicians?
King Richard made sure a sweetheart deal was cut twenty years ago that guarantees our aldermen an embarrassing amount of money, in perpetuity, for spending their career fucking up the city of Chicago. Let’s see if I have this right: Teachers have no right to job security or a living wage, but retiring aldermen do?
As I walked around yesterday, I saw the people I’ve known my whole life, people who wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and go to work. People like both of my parents.
I also have two sisters I am endlessly proud of who are nurses. In my own life I’ve been close enough to death a couple of times that only the vigilance of medical professionals saved my ass.
I watched hospice nurses, men and women who eased my father’s suffering and provided the humane and kind palliative care everyone should have at the finish line. Whatever they pay nurses, it isn’t enough.
I also saw some of the Occupy kids with bandanas over their faces, goading cops who were too smart to take the bait. It was a useless bit of agitprop theater that hurt the otherwise necessary Occupy movement. Really, take the scarves off your faces. You look like assholes, and you’re hurting a viable movement. And to Occupy, you need to throw out the assholes who denigrate your vital and resonant cause.
By the end of the weekend, the cops had caught four “anarchists” or “domestic terrorists” with beer bottles full of gasoline and Kung-Fu stars. If these bozos are terrorists, then they are the Moe, Larry and Curly of terrorists. Team Anarchy better learn to recruit from the deeper end of the gene pool.
There were mugshots of three of the luckless schmoes in the Tribune, complete with the obligatory white guy with dreadlocks and a scared-looking nitwit in a Misfits t-shirt. These guys looked like extras from a Kevin Smith movie. They were, according to the cops, going to firebomb Obama’s campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house.
This weekend. With beer bottles full of gas. Really.
My guess is they would fend off the heavily armed various police agencies with Kung-Fu stars. Ninja-style. Really.
The most morally resonant moment of the weekend came when returned soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan tossed their medals back in the direction of the NATO conference. In a weekend of pretend anarchy, this was a salient and solemn reminder of our folly as a nation for the last ten years.
I think about all of the stuff we waste money on in this country and this city, all of the horse-shit P.R. and empty boosterism. And we don’t want to pay educators, or help medical professionals, like first responders, to do their jobs?
The conversation around Daley Plaza was one that would have interested Old Man Daley: He was elected six times by unions. I imagine he’d have had something to say about the current administration throwing labor under the bus.
It certainly got me thinking about who really matters in a city. Teachers and nurses? Absolutely—try having a civilization without educators and healers.
And the next time Mr. Mayor starts running his head, telling you how expensive education is? Tell him if he thinks education is costly? …try ignorance.