ACT UP: Fight Back, Tax Wall Street
More than a thousand activists and representatives of HIV/AIDS service organizations gathered at New York City Hall in lower Manhattan on Wednesday for a protest that marked ACT UP’s 25th anniversary.
They teamed up with some members of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Unlike their protests, however, they marched on Wall Street with a clear demand: levy a so-called "Robin Hood" tax of .05 percent or less on speculative trades to end the global AIDS epidemic and provide universal health care in the United States.
"Twenty-five years ago we were in front of Trinity Church. People were sick and dying, and they couldn’t even get the one medication that was available, AZT, which wasn’t even a good one," said ACT UP’s Andrew Vélez. "Here we are 25 years later, still fighting the same battles."
Vélez said that while studies now show that early treatment for HIV can reduce the rate of transmission by about 96 percent, most programs mandate a high viral load before treatment is funded. The waiting lists for those who seek medication through the federal AIDS Drug Assistance Program top 4,000 people in some states.
"We have a real chance for the first time in decades to end this epidemic," said Vélez. "We can’t do it unless people are able to get the medications, unless there is testing that doesn’t scare people because of stigma. We can end this: the Robin Hood tax is a miniscule amount on speculative transactions, something like $50 on every $100,000 of transactions, but the difference it would make is enormous. It would fill the gap that Wall Street looting has caused in our economy."
Jose Davila, executive director of Bronx AIDS Services, attended the protest with 20 members of his organization.
"This is a group of people that aren’t being taxed at all. And the small percentage that we are asking on speculative trading will go a long way in helping prevent the disease in the future," he said. "The money is getting less and less every day, but the needs are continuing to increase, so this is a good way to address what we need."
In addition to ACT UP members and Occupiers; Bailey House, Housing Works, Treatment Action Group, Times-up.org and Vocal-NY were among the groups that sent representatives to lower Manhattan.
Members of National Nurses United also joined the protest.
"It’s a good combination; I hope we stick together," added Larry Kramer. "ACT UP could teach Occupy a lot of things. They seem to be lacking some kind of goal, some ’give me that or else’. It’s only half a cup, which is too bad. Anyway, it’s good to feel the energy again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many people get together in anger. It’s the healthiest tool we have."
Wayne Starks, a board member for Vocal-NY (formerly the New York Housing Network,) brought attention to recent cuts in housing funding. He said that millionaires are not paying their fair share of the taxes.
"This is ACT UP’s 25th anniversary; all the things that they put in place for people living with AIDS, the city and the state have been taking away," said Starks. "We’re out here to let them know they cannot do that. People think that the epidemic is over, but it’s not. We need more funding, prevention, and education. We’re out here to let people know AIDS is not dead, it’s alive and kicking."
"If Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and the [New York City’s Human Resources Administration] Commissioner [Robert] Doar continue to cut service for people with AIDS, you’re going to see more homeless people on the streets of New York," added Housing Works organizer Derrick Chandler. "We need to make sure the city reverses the recent changes to HOSTA funding that makes it harder for people with AIDS to get access to affordable housing."
ACT UP formed 25 years ago to demand that New York City and the nation put resources into helping people with AIDS access basic care and services.