"I'd like to make a suggestion to President Obama, " Tom Morello bellowed to the capacity crowd gathered for the National Nurses United rally at Chicago's Daley Plaza on Friday afternoon. "If he doesn't have the courage to close Guantanamo Bay, how about he takes some of those Wall Street criminals? Throw them in there, lock the door, throw away the key and blast Rage Against the Machine 24 hours a day!"
As he has previously done at several Occupy Wall Street rallies, Morello played a short set of protest anthems under the guise of his alter ego, the Nightwatchman. The crowd consisted largely of Occupy Chicago supporters and nurses wearing red scrubs and green "Robin Hood" hats, in a nod to the Robin Hood tax that would essentially tax financial institutions a minimal percentage for transactions. The rally was originally supposed to coincide with the G8 summit in Chicago this week, but it was rescheduled around this weekend's NATO conference after the summit was moved to Camp David.
Morello opened with "One Man Revolution," the title track off the Nightwatchman's 2007 debut LP. Clutching his guitar emblazoned with the words "Whatever It Takes," he told the crowd how proud he was of the nurses' resilience when Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, had temporarily plugged the plug on the rally. "They looked the mayor dead in the eye and they said, in the words of the old 1990 spiritual, 'Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!'" Morello exclaimed.
Following a rendition of his appropriately-titled "Union Song" – during which he praised "the union men and women standing strong" and slipped in the line, "like the nurses in Chicago" – Morello invited fellow Chicagoan and Rise Against lead singer Tim McIlrath onstage for a searing rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad."
The rally was just the start to Morello's busy weekend in Chicago; in addition to the Nurses rally, he'll play the Woody Guthrie centennial celebration on Saturday and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War rally the following day. Backstage before Friday's performance, Morello deemed his first event a success, if only for that fact that it happened at all.
"Our victory is that we're standing here today," Morello told Rolling Stone, although he expressed disappointment over the relocation of the G8 summit. "They ran away like little lambs because they were afraid of the reception that Chicago was going to give them. Who else is not welcome in Chicago? NATO. They had to call in the National Guard and bus in police from three adjoining states to protect their conference from the people of Chicago."
Gregg Alexander, frontman of the New Radicals, was also on hand to show his support for the non-profit group Health Gap. He told Rolling Stone that he sees the Robin Hood tax as a solution to the country's current economic crisis. "The Robin Hood Tax can be the crucial and only pivotal change that will not only be a Band-Aid, but something that causes systemic change," Alexander said. "My message to the artistic community would be, 'Don't pay attention to Band-Aids. Let's not do things that look like Gap commercials for trendy PSAs. Let's make Wall Street and the corrupt monsters live up to their word.'"
After a crowd-participatory version of "This Land Is Your Land," Morello invited the masses to join him onstage for "World Wide Rebel Songs." But when security temporarily prevented the audience from joining him, Morello had one final biting set of instructions: "Everything has been going so smoothly up until now," he said. "So let those fucking people up here, or there's gonna be a problem!"