Washington Blade - May 28, 2004
One hundred AIDS protesters were arrested in front of the U.S.
Capitol on May 20 for blocking traffic as part of a demonstration
that called on Congress, President Bush and Democratic
presidential candidate John Kerry to do more to fight AIDS.
Those arrested were part of a contingent of nearly 1,000 people
who marched through the streets of Capitol Hill past the
headquarters of the Republican and Democratic National Committee
offices chanting "Fight AIDS Now" and other slogans before
arriving at the Capitol.
Organizers called the event the largest civil disobedience action
for AIDS in Washington, D.C. in the past 10 years.
"It was the right balance between anger and hope," said Suzy
Subway, a protest organizer from Act Up Philadelphia. "Hopefully,
our message was heard."
With Republican and Democratic officials watching from windows
and balconies, protesters spoke briefly in front of the two party
headquarters before participants marched to the west front of the
Capitol Building, which faces the National Mall. Those who chose
to get arrested then sat or lay prone in a traffic circle in
front of the Capitol grounds.
Terry McAullife, chair of the DNC, was among those watching the
protest from one of the balconies of the DNC building on Ivy
Street, SE. DNC employees handed out fliers outlining
AIDS-related proposals and positions of Kerry, the presumptive
Democratic presidential nominee.
Organizers said that blocking traffic at the Capitol was part of
a civil disobedience action worked out in advance with U.S.
Capitol Police, who charged the protesters with unlawful
assembly, an offense punishable by a $50 fine.
Among those arrested were Terje Anderson, executive director of
the National Association of People With AIDS; Charles King,
president and co-founder of Housing Works, one of New York City's
largest AIDS organizations; and Sean Strub, founder of POZ
Also arrested was Bill Arnold, chief executive officer of the
Title II Community Action National Network, a coalition of
organizations that advocates, among other things, for more
federal subsidies for AIDS drugs for low-income people.
1,500 on med wait lists
On May 19, one day before the protest, the Kaiser Family
Foundation released a report showing that more than 1,500 people
in 10 states were on a waiting list to receive drug subsidies
under the federal AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP.
The report, prepared jointly with the National Alliance of State
& Territorial AIDS Directors and the AIDS Treatment Data Network,
said the $749 million allocated by Congress to fund ADAP this
year would fall far short of the funds needed to help low income
people obtain life-saving AIDS drugs.
President Bush has proposed increasing funding for the ADAP
program next year to $784 million, but Arnold and officials with
other AIDS organizations say next year's funding would be
inadequate because 40,000 new cases of HIV are diagnosed each
year. Many of the newly diagnosed patients don't have the
financial resources to pay for their medications, activists have
said, a development that makes the ADAP program essential for
large numbers of low-income people with HIV.
The ADAP program works in partnership with states, giving them
the authority to add to the federal funding levels and to
administer the program for state residents. Under rules issued by
the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, each state
determines who is eligible for ADAP enrollment and which drugs
"Many states are struggling to continue to provide these
life-saving medications to people in need," said Julie Scofield,
executive director of the National Association of State &
Territorial AIDS Directors, or NASTAD.
Arnold, who also heads the ADAP Working Group, a coalition of
pharmaceutical companies and AIDS organizations that monitors
ADAP, said he and others who chose to get arrested at the May 20
protest have struggled to convince Congress and the
administration that ADAP is in need of still greater funding.
"I'm a 20-year AIDS activist," he said. "I believe strongly that
this type of action is needed."
Michael Kink, legislative counsel to Housing Works, one of New
York's largest AIDS organizations, called the protest a "coming
together of generations" of AIDS activists from throughout the
"We had students getting arrested for the first time in this type
of protest as well as veteran AIDS and gay rights activists," he
"In this election year President Bush, John Kerry and Congress
must do more to address HIV/AIDS, the greatest health and
humanitarian crisis in history," said Salih Booker, executive
director of Africa Action and one of the protesters who got
"HIV/AIDS will be an election issue this November and any
candidate who expects success at the polls must first show their
commitment to fighting AIDS at home and at its epicenter in
Africa," she said.
Anderson, of the National Association of People With AIDS, said
he and other participants in the protest hoped to convince the
public that the AIDS crisis was not over, despite widespread
reports of medications that have successfully checked the virus
in people with HIV.
"I am participating in civil disobedience today to call attention
to the enormous inadequacies of our national response to AIDS,"
he said. "Every 11 seconds, someone in the world dies of this
Added Anderson, "Our elected officials and presidential
contenders need to get serious about battling AIDS."