Volume 19 Issue 47 | April 6 - 12, 2007

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

ACT UP led a rally near Wall St. last week calling for health coverage for all, and housing help for people with H.I.V. Twenty-seven people were arrested for staging a “die-in” near the “Charging Bull” statue.

AIDS demonstrators demand health care for all

By Andy Humm

Twenty years after ACT UP’s inaugural action on Wall St. protesting profiteering by pharmaceutical companies, hundreds of members and their allies staged an emotional and angry demonstration that surged south from Manhattan’s Federal Building to the Charging Bull statue in Bowling Green at the bottom of the island, shouting, “No More Bull! Health Care for All.”

The anniversary action, held March 29, kicked off an intensive campaign for single-payer, universal healthcare that the group intends to take to the 2008 presidential candidates.

Speakers and participants demanded lower drug costs and called for the expansion of city housing and social services access now limited to people with full-blown AIDS to include all those who test H.I.V.-positive.

Before the day was over, 27 activists had been arrested for staging a die-in near the bull.

Larry Kramer, whose March 1987 call to arms on AIDS at the L.G.B.T. Community Center led to the founding of ACT UP, declared at the outset of Thursday’s action, “This is the first major demonstration of the new, revivified, full-of-life ACT UP.”

Kramer hailed the fact that the group “was responsible for every single treatment we have for H.I.V.; we forced it out of the government.” He also demanded “equality for gay people, people of color, and people with H.I.V.” and once again called for withholding votes from politicians who do not support equality.

Dr. Oliver Fein of New York Metro Physicians for a National Health Care Program called ACT UP one of “the principal organizations that got people with AIDS access to medications and medical care,” and praised the fact that it was now broadening its mission to “health care for all.”

Mark Milano, an ACT UP veteran and stalwart, voiced the demand for price control on drugs, noting that pharmaceutical companies pay “three times on marketing what they do on research.”

David Golden of the New York City AIDS Housing Network called for the extension of the housing and social benefits provided by the H.I.V./ AIDS Services Administration (HASA) to people living with H.I.V. The group is pushing for “HASA for all.”

He asked, “Why should you have to get gravely sick before receiving benefits?”

Charles King, president of Housing Works, led hundreds of the agency’s clients, homeless people with H.I.V./AIDS, in the midday march past City Hall, Trinity Church, and the New York Stock Exchange.

He also attacked City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a lesbian who represents Chelsea and Hells Kitchen, for her opposition to opening HASA to people with H.I.V.

“She says it might set a precedent so that if people with H.I.V. got housing, we might have to house people with diabetes and cancer,” King said, rebutting that perspective by noting that H.I.V. is a communicable virus that places a premium on keeping people healthy, a goal for which stable housing is essential to slow the spread and progression of the virus.

King spoke of the tragedy of poor people with H.I.V. “who are praying that their T-cells drop low enough for an AIDS diagnosis so that they can get housing and care.”

A week after the demonstration, Quinn released a statement to Downtown Express saying the HASA for all proposal was expensive and “could set a wide-ranging precedent that would require additional costly benefits.”

The anniversary demonstration proved more an occasion for outrage and mourning than nostalgia.

“I’m sad,” said Kendall Queer of ACT UP. “I stopped counting the number of people I lost at 100, ten years ago. I feel like we’re going nowhere.”

Jennifer Flynn of the New York City AIDS Housing Network said while she was happy about the big turnout, “20 years later there shouldn’t have to be an ACT UP. We shouldn’t still have AIDS around.”

Flynn was pleased that the city has increased H.I.V. prevention efforts in shelters, “but a condom is not a home.”

In front of Trinity, Brent Nicholson Earle remembered his first arrest there 20 years ago. He said when he finished his American Run for the End of AIDS across the country, he found ACT UP “and knew what I had to do next.”

He said as a person with AIDS, “I feel like a Holocaust survivor.”

Fifty body bags were scattered around the bull “to symbolize the 50 people a day who die from lack of insurance in this country,” said ACT UP’s Ann Northrop.

Of the 30 people arrested for laying on Broadway, all but one were released by the end of the day. Kendall Queer, who refused to walk when arrested, was taken to central booking and did not get out of the system until midday Friday. He said that when he insisted on medical attention, he was taken in leg irons to Bellevue Hospital and his “hands got numb and painful” from his handcuffs being tightened.

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