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The Washington Blade
100 arrested in AIDS protest at U.S. Capitol: Nearly 1,000 march past RNC, DNC headquarters
Lou Chibbaro Jr., lchibbaro@washblade.com.
May 28, 2004
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 Magazine.

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 are offered.

"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 nation.

"We had students getting arrested for the first time in this type of protest as well as veteran AIDS and gay rights activists," he said.

"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 arrested.

"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 disease." Added Anderson, "Our elected officials and presidential contenders need to get serious about battling AIDS."

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