ACT Up Members, Occupiers to Give Wall Street the Fi.S.T.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have shut down the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park last November, but he did not manage to squelch the movement. Like spring blossoms; protestors have begun emerging from their winter solitude, determined once again to take to the streets in opposition of corporate greed and widespread inequality.
But this time, ACT Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) has teamed up with this passionate group of protestors for an April 25 action that will commemorate the organization’s 25th anniversary. Hundreds of protestors will march from City Hall to Wall Street to call upon local, state and federal legislators to "give Wall Street the Fi.S.T," demanding a small financial speculation tax (comically labeled "Fi.S.T") or "Robin Hood tax" on speculative trading by Wall Street investment banks and hedge funds. Activists say a portion of the revenue that this tax would raise could end the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"ACT Up has a long history of this, although we’ve never used the term ’occupy’ before," said Jennifer Flynn, a longtime ACT Up member and managing director of the Health Global Access Project. "Our first action in 1987 was targeting Wall Street, and many other actions targeted the high price of pharmaceuticals. There is a deep understanding that the AIDS crisis became a pandemic because it was driven by corporate greed and the government inaction that this greed can buy."
Flynn said that Occupy protesters are beginning to see the natural affinity between their groups, and are joining efforts to a common cause. Activists across the world have embraced the idea of a "Robin Hood tax," a .003 to .5 percent charge on speculative tax transactions and derivatives that they say would raise an estimated $350 billion a year to fight HIV, homelessness, hunger and create jobs.
"The results of the HTPN [HIV Prevention Trials Network] 052 studies proved we could end the AIDS pandemic in 30 years if we drive up investment into treatment slightly," said Flynn. "AIDS would look like polio; there would be a couple of thousand cases around world instead of 33 million people living with AIDS. We ask for about $1 billion dollars. And if we got $2 billion, we’d be on track, with $348 billion left over. But right now, it’s going into the pockets of the big banks and speculators who caused the financial crisis."
Longtime AIDS activist John Riley agreed, saying that harnessing this new source of funding to address social problems is something people around the world support. He added that Wall Street is the perfect target for this protest.
"Wall Street’s greed is a central reason why the AIDS crisis is as bad as it is, with the outrageous prices of AIDS drugs," said Riley. "Somehow, we have to pay for this; we cannot let people die because of corporate greed. So that’s why we’re calling for the Robin Hood tax."
LGBT activists have long realized that the system is unjust and are willing to fight the system, said longtime ACT Up supporter Ben Shepard. And in this post-identity era of community organizing, identity doesn’t matter. The system is so large, people have to address it in myriad ways.
While ACT Up member Megan Mulholland recognized the value of coming together for a common cause, she was among those who felt that the Occupy movement largely excluded gays. This exclusion prompted her and others to found Queerocracy, a nascent LGBT social activist group.
"Our members are involved in ACT Up as well as OWS, so we were dipping our toes in all of it," said Mulholland. "But we recognized the need for a radical queer voice in the social activism movement, caused in part because we were not speaking out, and in part because we were being silenced."
Mulholland said marriage equality, the repeal of ’don’t ask, don’t tell’ and other mainstream LGBT rights issues were not priorities for "everyday queers, transgendered, low-income LGBTs, and those living with HIV/AIDS."
"We are bringing this perspective of the need to dismantle corporate greed," she said. "And we are seeking to make it a collaborative effort."
Longtime AIDS activist Michael Tikili agreed.
"ACT Up has been occupying Wall Street since their first action in the ’80s. This is nothing new under the sun, but it will give momentum to the movement," he said. "Any groups that share this sentiment need to come out and have solidarity with us."