NOTE: With the call for this demonstration action, Board of Education personnel are freaking out. The BOE Secretary called (he was moderately nice). He wanted to know if people were going to be "respectful". He informed us security was a bit tighter and they now had metal detectors. We know our shopping bags shouldn't trigger any alarms and that they are securely closed (from prying eyes). Anyway they are very upset down there! They were just told that we did a good job and it was their lack of implementation and accessibility that triggered this. Staten Island will send in names of people testifying tonight so we will have alot of speakers. The daily news will run their piece on Wednesday. The press release goes out tomorrow. I have parents coming for the press conference. I also have a positive parent testifying with her 8 year old son. We're cooking.
Floating Condoms Action Report
On November 19th 1997, YELL along with the AIDS and Adolescents Network and the Parent AIDS Initiative, organized a demonstration at the NYC Board of Ed. to demand that the board implement their own AIDS ed mandates and present the results of the survey we did last June. Here's a summary of what happened.
At 5pm, we picketed outside the board, at 5:30pm there was a press conference featuring Jonathan presenting our report and the youth advocates from AANNY speaking about the problems with in-school AIDS ed. Then everybody went in and testified at the public agenda mtg. We also smuggled in a number of helium filled condoms which we then released inside the board room.
This action was striking because of the number of high school students, particularly youth of color who attended. The energy was different than the usual ACT UP-only action, and the chanting was really energetic.
Security set up several portable metal detectors and screened everyone entering the building - they also used this as an excuse to search the bags of several ACT UP people, particularly the 'die-hard' YELL activists. By doing this they discovered several of our stashes of helium-filled condoms and confiscated them, but the ones we planted on non-ACT UP folks (or people they didn't know were with us) made it safely through. School safety tells me the metal detectors will be in place for all public meetings in the future, so we'll have to keep that in mind.
During the meeting, close to 100 of our people had signed up to speak, and about 70 actually did - quite a few got impatient and left early, so it was a little sparse towards the end. The youth speaking about their own experiences were particularly powerful - at one point, Boardmember Reyes called one of our speakers back to the podium to ask her specifically if she'd had any AIDS ed at school, to which she responded "No."
One peer educator tried to demonstrate correct condom use during her testimony but was stopped by security (though they have allowed this in the past) at the direction of the Board members. This was the point at which we released the condom balloons - about 3 went clear up to the ceiling, along w/ a bouquet of real balloons w/ condoms dangling from the bottom. Another several stuck high up on the walls. The remainder floated over the audience and were batted around by the peer educators until security rounded up most of the balloons. Throughout the mtg everyone - including security and board members was periodically looking at the ceiling.
The Board's response was actually better than it has been in the past - although they did their usual routine of not paying attention to speakers, leaving etc. and Chancellor Crew was conspicuously absent - Dr. Gresser requested a copy of the report. The student members asked to meet with us. Bill Thompson, interviewed afterwards by Andy Humm stated that he heard "concern" and acknowledged that there might be a problem, though he may have a sudden attack of forgetfulness when it's time to go on the record.
In terms of follow up, we will request a mtg w/ every board member individually to present the study and our recs. We'll also make an effort to keep the coalition work w/ AANNY, PAI, NYCCLU, STAR, and LifeForce going, since that made the action really work. I will also suggest at the next mtg that we plan a youth cd training since many of the youth at the demo. seemed to me to be ready for CD and it may be the next step, esp. if board members refuse to meet with us.
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