September 12, 2008
PATERSON SUCKS BLOOD?
demand meeting with Gov
Activists Lolisa Gibson and Finness Smith-Purnell imitate Paterson
HIV up! Budget down! Body bags rising! The Gov's not around!" screamed more than 50 activists outside Governor David Paterson's Manhattan office Wednesday, as they threw down black bodies bags reading "Killed by Inaction," and "Budget Cuts Kill." The rally was intended to keep Paterson on the hook for irresponsible cuts to HIV and hepatitis C in the state budget in August, and demand a meeting with Paterson. Aides to the Governor, Carl Andrews and Marco Carrion, said they would get back to activists within 20 days about the possibility for an open forum with the governor.
"It's the first small step of the giant steps needed," said David Golden, a New York City AIDS Network (NYCAHN) board member. Members of CitiWide Harm Reduction and Voices of Community Advocates and Leaders (VOCAL) were also in attendance, some dressed as vampires, in a symbolic gesture of Paterson as a "bloodsucker." Monday, Paterson took heat for calling New York legislators the same thing.
Body bags of the dead
Activists are angry because instead of instituting a millionaire's tax or making strategic budget cuts, the governor opted for across-the-board slashes that affect the state's most vulnerable. Among the sacrificial budget lambs were a 50 percent cut to the state's first and only hepatitis C initiative and a $1 million budget cut to HIV testing, prevention and counseling programs. These hits come on the heels of New York City's $6 million budget cuts to HIV/AIDS programs in June. For a full list of cuts to AIDS and hep C, click here.
Cut back! Fight back!
The rally began with a peaceful march of a dozen protesters into the lobby of the Governor's offices (on 43rd Street and 3rd Avenue). The activists asked to meet with the governor and chanted "Cut back! Fight back!" until a security guard threatened to arrest anyone who remained. I'm going to count to five," he said. The group then started a walking picket outside before heading across the street for a dramatic body bag-inspired protest. Activists lay down the body bags screaming, "Who do budget cuts kill?" The crowd responded with "drug users" and "people with AIDS" as well as "you," and "me."
"Where are people with hepatitis C supposed to go?" Louie Jones of VOCAL asked the crowd. Jones has had HIV for 20 years and was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1999. "We're dying and no one seems to care."
James Dean has been HIV-positive since 1996, but said he is more worried about how the budget cuts will affect those who aren't already infected. "Without money for prevention, education and care there will be more people infected beside me," he said.