How will you honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this April 4, the anniversary of his assassination? How about by demanding that Congress get out of Wall Street’s pocket? How about by letting your representative know that you support economic equality and a just distribution of wealth in America? As Dr. King himself said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”
Still, forty-six years after Dr. King’s murder, the gulf between haves and have-nots is wider than ever. During the 2009–10 recovery, for example, incomes for one-percenters rose by 11.6 percent, while everyone else saw theirs grow by 0.2 percent. Worse still, too many in Congress are colluding with the haves to make sure things stay that way. Our nation’s capital, both political and monetary is moving in the wrong direction.
On April 4, 2014, you can make your voice be heard by participating in a nationwide series of demonstrations in favor of HR 1579, Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) Inclusive Prosperity Act, a financial transaction—or Robin Hood—tax. Organized in part by National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional organization for registered nurses, the April 4th action will target twenty-five members of Congress in eleven states by staging vigils at the legislators’ home offices in their districts. The message of the vigils is simple: Pass the Robin Hood Tax. After all, Ellison asks, “Didn’t America step up to the plate when Wall Street needed help?” And as I wrote two years ago, “Wall Street owes us.”
“We need to have real revenue, not just have one austerity measure after another,” says Charles Idelson, Communications Director for National Nurses United. “The last thing the American people need is more austerity. Much of the country is still in a recession.” That revenue might be found in a Robin Hood Tax.
Idelson points out that while you and I pay a sales tax on our daily transactions (AK, DE, MT, NH, and OR excepted), Wall Street pays nothing on speculative transactions (some of which can take as little as 3 milliseconds to complete). Robin Hood taxes those trades, to the tune of as much as $350 billion per year. Why Wall Street? Idelson invokes bank robber Willie Sutton: “A truly equitable society is the burning issue of our time. If we’re ever going to tackle this, we’ve got to have additional revenue. We should go where the money is. Wall Street was rewarded for trashing our economy with bailouts and bonuses. The Robin Hood Tax puts a requirement on them to put a little bit back into society.”
Your voice matters, and your participation can be powerful. It’s high time to question the inevitability of Wall Street and Congress’s friends-with-benefits relationship.
And there is cause for cautious optimism. Recently, Robin Hood Tax proponents found some ammunition in an unlikely place: Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman of House Ways and Means Committee. Within his larger tax-reform plan, Camp has proposed a 0.035 percent quarterly tax on bank assets for institutions with assets in excess of $500 billion (i.e., the too-big-to-fail fraternity).
The takeaway here is not so much the tax itself (which is part of a generally undesirable slate of proposals), but the fact that it derives from a GOP congressman. “For FTT supporters,” says Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies, “this creates an opportunity to say that there is bipartisan support for taxing the financial sector.” Unlike the Robin Hood Tax, Camp’s proposal taxes assets, not transactions, but still, Anderson points out, “[I]t’s the first time we’ve had Republican support for increasing financial sector taxation.” That Wall Street hates it is a good sign: Goldman Sachs even canceled a GOP fundraiser in protest.
So this April 4, join the nation’s nurses and demand that America commit to Dr. King’s ideals. Petition your representative to support HR 1579. We can achieve economic justice in this country, but only if we put forth the same broad, sustained effort that Wall Street uses to get its way. It doesn’t have to be just the banks that are too big to fail.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Fearless Idealism of Jonathan Schell.