November 1, 2007
DEAD PEOPLE DON'T VOTE
Protesters in Philly:Lack of AIDS care is a scary sight
Trick or treat? More than 400 activists, many decked out as skeletons, goblins and ghosts, converged on the Democratic debate in Philadelphia Tuesday night to scare the candidates into putting forth serious domestic and global AIDS plans, addressing racial health disparities and supporting universal health care. Protesters targeted Sen. Hillary Clinton, in particular. Of the three campaign frontrunners, she is the only one who has yet to reveal her plan to combat AIDS in the U.S.
"It's clear that we have many people who are not going to sit back and vote for any candidate who doesn't show a firm commitment to universal health care and global and domestic AIDS funding," said Kaytee Riek, an organizer with Health GAP and a member of ACT UP Philadelphia, which planned the rally.
The Halloween-themed happening got started when speakers from the American Medical Students Association and ACT UP Philadelphia pumped up the crowd at a rally on the Drexel University campus. The hundreds of protestors—led by skeletons pushing wheel-barrows and carrying shovels and signs that read "Clinton Health Plan: Dig More Graves"—marched to the plaza outside Drexel's Main Building where the debate was held. Participants banged drums and chanted, "We want health care. Not corporate welfare." They shook signs singling out specific candidates, calling for $50 billion for Global AIDS, and reminding pols that "Dead People Don't Vote."
Protestors from numerous groups showed up for the Philly debates, including members of the American Medical Students Association, ACT UP Philly, ACT UP New York, Health GAP, Student Global AIDS Campaign and a bus load of Housing Works and New York City AIDS Housing Network clients and staff. However, ACT UP and friends weren't the only rabble-rousers on hand. Candidate Mike Gravel, who wasn't allowed to participate in the debate because he didn't reach NBC's fundraising and campaigning benchmarks, held his own protest at which he answered questions from the debate, shown on a big-screen TV in the nearby World Café Live. Supporters of various Democratic candidates stood on the sidelines of the plaza, and in some cases cheered on the energetic AIDS activists. Supporters of Sen. Joe Biden joined chants of "Health care is a human right," despite the fact that their candidate has yet to create an AIDS plan.
Calling out Clinton
The number one target, not just inside the hall where the debate was held, but among the protesters outside, was Clinton, who has yet to release a plan for fighting AIDS domestically.
"Only two candidates have put forward a comprehensive plan to fight AIDS in the U.S.," said ACT UP member Hannah Zellman. "We are calling on Senators Clinton, Biden, Dodd and Governor Richardson to use their time in Philadelphia, a city hard-hit by the AIDS epidemic, to detail their plans to fight AIDS at home."
"We are sick and tired of watching people in our communities die!" said NYCAHN co-director Shirlene Cooper, to cheers from the crowd.
"Ms. Clinton needs to release her plan yesterday!" ACT UP Philadelphia organizer Waheedah Shabazz-El shouted into a megaphone to more cheers.
After being confronted by a New York Times blogger about the impending Philly protest, Clinton did sign a pledge to commit $50 billion to fight global AIDS, which Gov. Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Joe Biden and Rep. Dennis Kucinich have also signed.
Despite the focus on Clinton, there were plenty of demands made of her fellow candidates, especially concerning comprehensive plans to reform health care.
"I came here to help persuade the Democratic candidates that we need good health care globally," said Frederick Taylor of Housing Works, who was dressed as a skeleton. "I contracted HIV in 1984 and no politicians have kept up their end of the bargain to fight AIDS."
The next major AIDS protest by ACT UP will likely be on World AIDS Day. To read all of the demands for the presidents go to 08stopaids.org.