"What do we do when we're under attack? ACT UP, FIGHT BACK!" On July 24th, 2012, I joined NYC-based grassroots organization Queerocracy in the Human Rights + Harm Reduction branch of the "We Can End AIDS" Mobilization march in Washington D.C. This march to Layfayette Park in front of the White House was part of the bigger XIX International AIDS Conference, which spans from July 22nd to July 27th. Queerocracy generously provided free buses to and from the march, as well as handed out lunch stipends and metrocards to get home. (Thank you, Queerocracy!)
Specifically, Queerocracy focused on the issue of HIV Criminalization, which occurs when people with HIV are unable to prove that they informed their partner of their HIV status prior to having sex, OR when people with HIV are charged with more severe punishments for other crimes (sex work, immigration, assault, etc). 36 states have laws with specifically target HIV+ people, but fail to address other potentially fatal infections like HPV, hepatitis, etc. This criminalization does not lessen the impact of the epidemic—it increases stigma, makes disclosure a harder process than it already is, and discourages people from getting tested, etc.
After arriving in D.C. around eleven in the morning (waking up at 4am proved to be a not-so-cute look for me), participants of the HR+HR branch and I lined up and marched from 9th St NW to the front of UPS on 13th St, then to Wells Fargo, then to Lafayette Park. The HR+HR branch was one of 5 marches which converged at Lafayette Park in front of the White House. Overall the march went smoothly and surprisingly there were hardly any police in sight (until the very end), which my friend pointed out, "would never happen in New York."
In Lafayette Park, the HR+HR branch converged with four other branches of the mobilization. The combined crowd filled the park and spilled onto the sidewalk in front of the White House. After some speeches and performances, people began collecting money, pill bottles, keys, etc to tie up with red ribbons. These items were then tied to the fence in front of the White House. To me this meant- "listen up, government. You say there's no money to help those affected by HIV, you won't help pay for HAART and other treatment options. Take this offering and let's do this. We know that the money for funding exists. Let's make this happen—we can and will end AIDS."
The 13 people who went up and tied these items to the fence were eventually arrested for their act of civil disobedience. As they were arrested by the U.S. Park Police, they were cheered on by the thousands of people in the park. The SWAT team also showed up, followed by a Ben and Jerry's truck in which employees began to throw out free tubs of ice cream to marchers. Bonus points to Ben and Jerry's for being awesome.
Overall the mood of the march was one of determination and community. The mobilization was an incredibly powerful experience orchestrated by people of various ages, backgrounds, identities. But what all the people did have in common was a connection to HIV in one way or another and the hope for an HIV/AIDS-free future.
Here's a video I shot while in Washington: