Police in Washington, D. C., last week arrested more than two-dozen protesters, including several local activists, who were calling for federal action on numerous HIV/AIDS issues.
Twenty-six activists were arrested at the Capitol Rotunda July 9, at least five of whom are members of ACT UP Philadelphia. All of the participants were charged with unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and loud and boisterous behavior.
The local demonstrators were part of a coalition that included members from DC Fights Back, Health Global Access Project, New York City AIDS Network and Housing Works, who sought to bring attention to several key issues affecting the national HIV/AIDS communities.
“The protest had three main goals, and they were all under the umbrella that President Obama has failed to meet the promises he made on the campaign trail to fight AIDS,” said ACT UP member Kaytee Riek, who was among those arrested.
Riek said demonstrators called on Congress, which is currently considering Obama’s fiscal-year 2010 budget proposal, to lift the federal ban on funding for needle-exchange programs and provide more funding for AIDS housing programs and global AIDS causes — actions Riek said Obama previously pledged to take but failed to include in his budget proposal.
Protesters entered the Rotunda, which was crowded with tourists, around 10 a.m., carrying a large banner and linking themselves together with a chain, chanting such slogans as “Fight global AIDS now” and “Clean needles save lives.”
“The plan was to really show Congress that we’re not going to go away quietly,” Riek said. “These are critical life-or-death issues.”
ACT UP member Jose DeMarco, who was also arrested, said the demonstrators went into the protest anticipating police action.
“We were prepared to be arrested,” he said. “I guess for the police this was spontaneous, but it was very well-planned on our part.”
DeMarco said the arrests went smoothly and that those involved were released from police custody after about five hours.
The day after the demonstration, the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies approved a health and education budget that omits the ban on needle-exchange funding.
DeMarco said he suspects the protest “helped that to happen and pushed it over the line.”
The bill will next go to the full Appropriations Committee, which will decide whether to send it to the House floor for a vote.
Riek said the timing of the Congressional action made the protest even more worthwhile.
“A lot of people worked for a long time on this protest and hopefully it was an important part of Congress taking this first step,” Riek said. “This was something we’ve been waiting for for many years, so it’s a pretty amazing thing for it to happen now.”