1000 AIDS Activists Demonstrate Against G.W. Bush at Republican National HQ

NOON FUNERAL PROCESSION TO REPUBLICAN NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS, WASHINGTON, DC

(Washington DC) Hundreds of activists from ACT UP Philadelphia plan to confront George W. Bush today, "shutting down" the Republican Party's national headquarters. "We are reminding voters that a Bush presidency will be harmful to everyone's health," said ACT UP's Kate Sorensen. "Bush will hurt people with HIV, people trying to get off drugs, young people seeking to avoid HIV infection, and taxpayers and uninsured people bankrupted by the high cost of medicines," said ACT UP's Kate Sorensen.

o DEMONSTRATION DETAILS: The activists will march a fiery funeral procession of coffins filled with thousands of empty pill bottles to the Republican Headquarters. ACT UP members will dump the contents at the entrance. The ACT UP gospel choir will sing a new version of the Yellow Rose of Texas, the Bush theme song. Njoki Njehu, a Kenyan activist from 50 Years is Enough will speak on the damage Bush will cause in impoverished nations worldwide. John Bell, an HIV+ decorated Vietnam veteran and member of ACT UP Philadelphia will talk about the Bush impact on domestic drug treatment and pharmaceutical policies. Susan Rodriguez, an HIV+ mother and NYC AIDS educator will speak on the Bush education policies that leave children and teens with no access to life-saving information.

Arrests are expected.

o TEXAS HEALTH DISASTER THREATENS UNITED STATES: Activists will detail how a Bush presidency will be disastrous for people with AIDS in the United States. Texas under Bush has one of the most negative health records in the United States. Texas ranks near the top in the nation in rates of AIDS, diabetes, and tuberculosis, and at or near the bottom in immunizations, mammograms, and access to physicians. Very high rates of infant mortality in Texas correlate to the high numbers of residents without health insurance. 39.1% of Texas children lack health care. On August 14, 2000 a federal judge ordered Texas to come into compliance with a consent decree to improve quality of care for children.

"Bush has failed to utilize available federal funding to provide health insurance coverage to children. He also refused to sign an order that would have used federal funding to salvage a bankrupt AIDS drug assistance program that provides medicine to middle class individuals to keep them healthy and working," stated ACT UP's Allison Dinsmore.

o DRUG COMPANIES ARE BUSH'S CLOSEST ADVISORS: Bush has faced little scrutiny about conflicts of interest within his campaign's inner circle. Deborah Steelman, Bush's top health care advisor, heads the top drug company and HMO lobbying firm Steelman Enterprises, Inc. Recent articles report that Steelman would be tapped as Secretary of Health and Human Services for a Bush Administration, "Bush plans to turn over the nation's health to drug companies and HMOs," stated Dinsmore.

o BUSH PRESIDENCY MEANS REPEAL OF CLINTON/GORE EXECUTIVE ORDER ON AIDS DRUGS FOR AFRICA: The demonstration in DC comes 13 months after Vice President Al Gore and US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky's September 17 announcement of a new trade policy wherein some poor countries (beginning with South Africa) would be permitted to manufacture affordable generic versions of expensive patented medications. Globally, 90% of people with HIV have no access to medicines that improve and greatly extend life. Infections rates in most sub-Saharan countries runs at 15-25% of the population. Almost all of Africa's 24 million people with HIV will die within 12 years without medicine.

"AIDS is decimating countries around the globe, due to drug company greed," said Bob Kahn of ACT UP. "The lives of millions of destitute people with AIDS are inconsequential to Bush and his industry cronies. We don't need this so-called compassion."

"Governor Bush will reverse a hard-won new US trade policy on patented drugs. The reversal will leave millions of Africans for dead, while soaking US taxpayers," said ACT UP's Paul Davis. "Under a Bush Administration, Americans will be forced to continue subsidizing the exorbitant profits of the price gouging pharmaceutical industry, while denying medicine to millions. Drug companies lose very little profits if poor nations have full access to generic drugs, since Africa only accounts for 1.5% of the global pharmaceutical market. The next President must help poor nations manufacture generic versions of expensive life-preserving medicine." Davis noted that Brazil made international headlines in July when it's government pledged to provide technical assistance to African nations seeking to set up local factories to provide free AIDS drugs.

ACT UP is widely credited with forcing significant change in US trade policy on access to cheap, generic AIDS drugs after the group targeted the Clinton/Gore Administration with a series of "zaps" and major demonstrations. These actions included disruptions of the first several months of Vice President Al Gore's campaign appearances. Following confrontations with the AIDS activists, the Administration recanted, announcing a shift in domestic policy to one of flexibility on the issue of access to medication versus drug company intellectual property protection.

On May 10, 2000, President Clinton issued an Executive Order halting the US Government's routine practice of bullying sub-Saharan countries pursuing WTO-legal options to manufacture generic versions of expensive patented medicines. "We fear that a drug-industry backed Bush Administration would reverse the executive order. With 24 million African lives at stake, AIDS drugs for Africa must become a campaign issue for Bush as it already has for Gore." stated Davis.

ACT UP members report that requests for a meeting with the campaign was not responded to, nor was a written request for information. Bush has failed to respond to requests from physician's groups and from the media for his position on patented pharmaceuticals in poor countries.

o MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION PLAN IS CORPORATE WELFARE: Citing Bush's Medicare prescription coverage plan, AIDS activists charge Bush with supporting drug companies and insurance firms instead of people with AIDS. "Bush's Medicare plan is corporate welfare, pure and simple," said Laura McTighe of ACT UP. "Rather than the common-sense, free market approach of Gore, which allows the Medicare program to utilize its bulk purchasing power to limit price increases, the Bush's plan would reward HMOs for creating a complicated scheme of reimbursement and coverage that will limit the benefits and permit drug companies to keep prices high. Taxpayers will continue subsidizing the enormous profits of the pharmaceutical industry."

o BUSH HEALTH EDUCATION POLICY COSTS YOUNG LIVES, BUT WINS THE ULTRA-RIGHT: Governor Bush relentlessly mandated 'abstinence-only' curricula for public schools, in spite of the fact that withholding safer sex information results in higher infection rates among teenagers. On several occasions, Bush refused or canceled federal funding for education programs because he feared they might require safer sex education (he was wrong). This added up to over $1.8 million in school funding refused by Bush. Texas has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the nation.

"We are bringing these coffins to Bush because that is what he is offering our kids," said ACT UP's Dawn Acero. "This is a dangerous way to win the votes of the extremist conservatives. We demand condoms, not coffins," she said.

o BUSH DRUG TREATMENT POLICY MEANS MORE PRISONS, LESS RECOVERY: After his election as Governor, Bush proceeded to slash spending on drug treatment programs by more than half. At the same time, he oversaw massive increases in prison building. When asked for justifications, Bush stated that "incarceration is rehabilitation."

In Texas, beds available for drug treatment decreased from 12,500 to 5,800 after the spending cuts. The number of inmates in prison on drug charges nearly doubled from 17,087 to 28,636.

ACT UP DEMANDS FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES:

o Expansion of the Clinton Executive Order on generic AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa to include all least-developed and developing nations. The US Government must not use its economic power to punish poor countries that are pursuing sustainable, self-sufficient solutions to the AIDS crisis.

o The US Government must facilitate access to generic AIDS drugs for poor countries by creating bulk manufacture and distribution of generic medicines to least developed and developing nations. We demand that the US exercise its rights under existing legislation to authorize distribution by an international body such as UNICEF or the World Health Organization of the numerous medications the US currently retains rights to.

o The US Government must immediately and unilaterally cancel the debt of the world's poorest and most AIDS-affected nations, without imposing onerous conditions. Debt relief currently on hold in congress must be accelerated, expanded, and stripped of structural adjustment requirements.

o The US Government must implement and fund programs so that residents can access effective drug treatment on demand.

o Public schools must provide straightforward sex education curricula that includes safer sex information.

o US Government drug purchasing should be consolidated under one body to negotiate fair prices from the drug industry.

o Citizens and governments of all nations must be allowed to purchase and import drugs at the best world price.

For more information on ACT UP's campaigns to help developing nations gain access to AIDS drugs see http://aids.org/healthgap
For more documents on intellectual property and access to medicines see the access to medication website of the Consumer Project on Technology:
http://www.cptech.org/ip/health/


WASHINGTON (AP) - Protesters staged a mock funeral in front of the Republican National Committee (news - web sites) headquarters Friday, claiming that a George W. Bush (news - web sites) administration would rescind an order that allows poor countries to manufacture affordable AIDS (news - web sites) drugs.

The funeral march, which featured cardboard coffins filled with empty pill bottles, was launched by the Philadelphia chapter of the AIDS activism organization ACT UP. The group managed to shut down RNC headquarters for an hour by blocking the entrance.

"The lives of millions of destitute people with AIDS are inconsequential to Bush," said Julie David, of ACT UP. "We are seeing a campaign in which the most important issues, that may affect millions of people who are at risk, are untouched."

The group said that, if elected, Bush will repeal the Clinton administration's executive order that allows poor countries to manufacture affordable generic versions of expensive patented medications, such as those treating AIDS.

RNC spokesman Cliff May rejected the charges. "I think they are misinformed and I'm sorry that they are making this partisan," May said. "Governor Bush is going to do everything possible to end the AIDS epidemic."

Seven were arrested and charged with obstruction of justice on Capitol grounds after handcuffing themselves to the coffins in the middle of the street.


ACT-UP protests Bush's record on AIDS
By Steve Mitchell

WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters Health) - Seven members of the AIDS activist organization ACT-UP were arrested as the group assembled in front of Republican National Headquarters in Washington, DC, on Friday to protest George W. Bush's record on AIDS issues.

Bush's record on AIDS has been horrible, ACT-UP charged. Bush, who is governor of Texas, "cut money to HIV programs in Texas...and Texas is one of two states in which AIDS deaths did not go down last year," ACT-UP member Jen Cohn told Reuters Health.

"He has not yet mentioned AIDS in his run for president," Cohn said.

For approximately 2 hours, about 150 members of ACT-UP chanted anti-Bush slogans and carried posters with statements such as, "Bush: Drug company puppet. Generic AIDS drugs now." The demonstrators dumped several coffins filled with pill bottles on the steps of the Republican building, and the police arrested seven people after they handcuffed themselves together and lay down in the middle of the street.

ACT-UP criticized Bush for failing to acknowledge the HIV/AIDS issue while governor of Texas. "He has had a closed door policy to the AIDS activist groups in Texas," ACT-UP member Julie Davis told Reuters Health. Bush has also refused to meet with ACT-UP since beginning his presidential campaign, she said.

ACT-UP also objects to International Monetary Fund and World Bank's position on mandating "user fees" for primary healthcare and education in Africa, Asia and Latin America. "We want IMF and the World Bank to drop these mandatory user fees," Davis told Reuters Health.

She noted that an effort to do away with these fees is being blocked by President Clinton and the US Treasury Department.

ACT-UP also wants the US government to write off the debt of the third world countries most affected by AIDS, Davis said.

Bush has refused to disclose his position on allowing third world countries to manufacture generic versions of patented pharmaceuticals, ACT-UP asserted. Because of Bush's silence on the issue, ACT-UP believes that, if elected, he will repeal a new trade policy enacted last year that allows third world countries that cannot afford anti-HIV drugs to manufacture generic versions of the drugs, Cohn told Reuters Health.

After a meeting with ACT-UP, presidential candidate Al Gore reversed his position on allowing countries to manufacture their own AIDS drugs, Cohn said, pointing out that the vice president pushed for the trade policy to be passed into legislation.

ACT-UP also disapproves of Bush's position on sex education. Bush wants abstinence-only sex education, which has never been shown to be effective in halting the spread of HIV, Paul Davis of ACT-UP told Reuters Health. Bush has also refused to support measures that would make condoms widely available, Davis said.

The International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC) has been critical of both Gore and Bush. Both candidates answered an IAPAC questionnaire about their AIDS policies recently, but IAPAC concluded, "AIDS is an 'invisible issue' in the 2000 presidential campaign, with neither candidate articulating a vision or strategy for combating an epidemic labeled by the US government and the United Nations as threats to human security."

The Bush campaign did not return phone calls from Reuters Health on Friday. ___ Reuters


ACT UP: Rallies Against Bush AT RNC Headquarters

At a rally held Friday in Washington, D.C., more than 500 AIDS activists criticized Republican presidential nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush's record on treating the disease in his home state and said that a Bush presidency would have a negative effect on people with HIV/AIDS. The protest, sponsored by ACT UP/Philadelphia, was held in front of Republican National Committee headquarters and culminated in seven ACT UP members being willfully arrested by U.S. Capitol Police.

ACT UP speakers criticized Bush on several fronts, most notably his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which they said would affect the ability of poor countries to develop generic drugs to combat the effects of HIV. "We're not going to let our country stand in the way of other countries trying to save their people's lives," Julie Davids, an ACT UP/Philadelphia member who led the rally, said. ACT UP is concerned that Bush would repeal an executive order signed by President Clinton in May that excludes sub-Saharan African countries from U.S. trade and patent laws when HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals and medical technologies are concerned.

ACT UP/Philadelphia member Paul Davis said there was "circumstantial evidence" that Bush would repeal the order, which is criticized by the pharmaceutical industry. Protesters carried signs with Bush's photo and the caption, "Drug Company Puppet," in what Davis said was a reference to pharmaceutical companies having "a major hand in writing" the governor's prescription drug benefit plan. ACT UP members also said that Bush favors incarceration of drug users over rehabilitation.

Abdul Hakaim, one of the protesters later arrested, said, "If Bush had his way, he would lock up everybody." Hakaim also echoed a contention expressed throughout the rally that Bush has yet to publicly say the word "AIDS" as governor of Texas. Cliff May, communications director for the RNC, said, "We think everybody has a First Amendment right to protest and we're gratified it was a peaceful process." The Bush and Gore campaigns did not return calls seeking comment on the protest.

Empty Containers And Caskets

In the most dramatic sequence of the rally, protesters heaved several black wooden caskets filled with empty prescription drug containers onto the steps of the RNC headquarters. Seven ACT UP members then formed a human chain as they handcuffed themselves to the gates outside of the RNC front door in an attempt to get arrested, according to ACT UP/Philadelphia member Laura McTighe, who provided legal support for the seven protesters.

As other protesters chanted "More Bush is more AIDS, silence equals death," the seven individuals -- five men and two women -- then moved to the street in front of the building and handcuffed themselves to the caskets. They were then arrested by Capitol Police, who wore rubber gloves as they transported the protesters to a large police vehicle. According to Lt. Dan Nichols of the Capitol Police, the protesters were to be charged with "obstruction of passage on federal grounds," a violation of D.C. law. They were not arrested on the steps of the RNC because that area falls under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, who chose not to take action, Nichols added. Capitol Police confirmed that the protestors were released later Friday evening.

Non-Partisan, But ACT-UP's Choice Is Clear

While the rally focused solely on attacking Bush, Davis said that ACT UP is a non-partisan organization and its support for Vice President Al Gore came only after the group pressed for Gore expressly to support compulsory licensing. ACT UP demonstrated at several Gore campaign events until U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky announced in September 1999 that the United States would support compulsory licensing and parallel importing for South Africa.

"Gore's response to the issue was dramatic and swift," Mark Milano of ACT UP/New York said. He added that "Gore's response [to AIDS] has been more appropriate than Bush's" and was "quite sure" that the "shameful" current policy regarding compulsory licensing would continue in a Gore administration. Few ACT UP members, however, expressed unequivocal support for Gore. Milano criticized Gore for supporting the current policy of banning HIV-infected individuals from immigrating to the United States, and also spoke out against the Clinton administration's "lack of federal funding for needle exchange programs." Still, in the end, Milano -- who said he was thrown out of a Bush campaign event in Pennsylvania when he attempted to ask the governor a question on AIDS -- said the choice between the candidates comes down to one question: "What's more important, protecting the interests of corporations or protecting people with AIDS?"

Davis said that ACT UP would continue to hold demonstrations criticizing Bush until the governor addressed its concerns.

Republicans Respond

While no opposing viewpoints were heard at Friday's rally, Bush's AIDS policies and proposals have been supported by the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that works within the Republican Party to advance equal rights for gays and lesbians. Kevin Ivers, the group's director of public affairs, said ACT UP's statement that Bush has not mentioned AIDS was a "gross exaggeration," adding that it "ignores the facts about the governor's record in Texas."

According to the LCR's Web site, Bush has increased funding for HIV medications and education, has signed "patient protection legislation" for HIV/AIDS patients and has overseen a decline in the number of AIDS-related deaths in Texas. ACT UP "is a group whose tactics are extremely radical," Ivers said. Disputing ACT UP's contention that compulsory licensing will help mitigate the global AIDS pandemic, Ivers said it will "increase the amount of death and will not reduce the incidence of AIDS." The only solution, he said, is the development of a "health care delivery infrastructure" so that poor countries can distribute drugs to their citizens.

According to Ivers, only the private sector has the capacity to deal with the global AIDS problem. "If ACT UP thinks that drugs grow on trees or will be produced by government, I don't know what they've been smoking." Ivers also argued that a Republican administration under Bush would benefit the HIV/AIDS community more than a Gore administration. "Clinton [and] Gore are committed to political solutions," he said, adding, "We continue to get budget requests woefully inadequate to deal with the domestic crisis, and nothing but demagoguery in dealing with the global problem."

While stating he was not a spokesperson for the Bush campaign, Ivers said Bush would support "sound Republican policies," including AIDS Drug Assistance Programs and continued AIDS research (Jon Kastellec, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/16).

 



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