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Nine Arrested On the National Mall Shouting End AIDS Now

Posted by Lucile Scott , July 18, 2012

Nine Arrested On the National Mall Shouting End AIDS Now

Photo by Lucile Scott

Today, eight Housing Work activists— and one Washington Post photographer— were arrested after the Housing Workers chained themselves to a banner erected on 30 foot high metal poles at the foot of the Capitol on the Reflective Pool lawn, on a sweltering D.C. summer day, demanding Congress and the administration take the actions needed to end AIDS now. “The point of this action in advance of the International AIDS Conference is to call attention to the reality of the fact that we can end AIDS but won’t unless we take the politics out of AIDS and generate the will to do what needs to be done,” says Housing Works CEO Charles King.

The day ended as a swarm of 50 police officers decended and the brigade of hand cuffed activists, and the sympathetic Post photographer, Daniel Britt, were marched into a paddy wagon as they lead chants of “We can end AIDS now” and “Tax the rich, save the poor.” However, it all started inconspicuously. As segway scooter tours circled the Mall and police cadets snapped a class photo on the Capitol steps, the band of activists emerged from one of the few shady trees, confidently striding toward the pool carrying the metal tripod poles and the banner stating “Clean Needles Will End AIDS” and “Housing People With AIDS Is Sound Policy” on one side and “Tax Billionaires to Save HIV & AIDS Programs” and “Protect The Rights & Lives of Women Girls and Transwomen” on the other. Six of the activists hoisted two of their ranks 30 feet into the air—where they remained dangling from the peak of each tripod in rock climbing harnesses— before chaining themselves to the base.

“We chose this place because it is both in front of the Capitol and facing down the Mall toward the White House,” said King, looking at the Mall, which, due to extensive construction, is littered with gravel mounds causing it to look more a coal mine than the symbol of democracy it is meant to be. “Obama has not shown the leadership that he needs to if he intends to put an end to AIDS. Congress has the power on its own to pass legislation to impact the epidemic, but this Congress has been reactionary and is making decisions that will further the epidemic not end it.”

Six police officers on motorcycles arrived within 15 minutes of the first chant, speeding onto the lawn, and after the activists stated they wouldn’t come down, an increasing crowd of men and women in blue trickled in until they filled the lawn, as two fire trucks and an ambulance blockaded the bordering street. Tourists stopped to stare. A woman from Texas snapped photos which she informed the activists she would post of Facebook. Most onlookers stated they were unaware of the upcoming conference or that Congress was taking actions prohibiting the end of AIDS in America and around the globe, like banning federal funding of needle exchanges in the U.S. and other countries.

“Asking rich people to help save lives makes sense to me,” said Dan, a tourist from China who now lives in Chicago. “If all this can actually call attention to the issues, I think this is all fine.” Melanie Preston, who was vacationing with her sons, said, “This is very interesting to see. I had no idea AIDS was still a big issue in America and thought only gay people got it.” Indeed, too few American are aware that despite having 30 treatments that both allow people with HIV to live healthy lives and prevent its spread, hundreds of thousands of positive people in America still do not have access to them— even though the CDC now recommends people be put in treatment as soon as they are diagnosed. Or that the disease is increasingly one affecting low income men and women of color of all sexual orientations, many of whom do not have access to quality health care or stable housing, and that African Americans, who constitute 13% of the population, now claim 50% of new infections.

“The number of people getting arrested isn’t what should be in the headlines. They should be that needle exchanges and housing for people with AIDS saves lives,” said Housing Works’ Larry Bryant, who is HIV positive. “And I’ll do whatever it takes to get that in the headlines,” he added of his impending arrest, as several news crews looked on. And this is just the start of what they have planned. Next Tuesday, July 24th, after national media and 30,000 global AIDS activists and scientists have arrived in D.C. for the International AIDS Conference, Bryant, Housing Works and thousands of others will march from 5 points across D.C. to the White House lawn with one simple demand, “End AIDS Now.” Join us.

Follow the Update blog on Twitter @housingworks #WeCanEndAIDS.
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