Six GW activists arrested for AIDS protest outside White House

Twenty students, including six GW students, were arrested at about 4 p.m. Friday for protesting on White House property without a permit as a part of the World AIDS Day rally.

The students dressed themselves as needles, pill bottles and doctors with coats stating “Missing Doctors.” They were released quickly after their arrest, said Global AIDS Campaign Chapter Leader Lindsay Wheeler, who was one of the arrested students.

The GW sophomore said students intentionally chose not to file a protest permit so they would get arrested. The students showed they are dedicated enough to the issue to incur an arrest on their records, she said.

“It’s called civil disobedience,” Wheeler said. “The overall goal is to draw public attention and get our issue heard on a broader level.”

At about 3:45 the World AIDS Day rally moved from Lafayette Square directly in front of the White House and chanted “pills cost pennies, greed costs lives!” The 20 student protesters sat down in front of the White House gate toting signs.

Metropolitan Police officers surrounded the area and gave three warnings over a loudspeaker. When officers began to arrest the students for disobeying the law, the students linked arms and shouted, “act up, fight back!”

Officers had to drag several protesters from their positions on the ground to stand up and be handcuffed.

Gyawu Mahama, a sophomore and active member of Student Global AIDS Campaign, was one of the six GW students arrested. He said he decided to break the law to bring attention to his organization’s cause.

“(It) stressed how passionate we are about supporting the fight against the pandemic,” he said. “We just wanted to remind the world about how important it is to keep the promise about the G8’s Millennium Goal.”

According to Student Global AIDS campaign, only 1.3 percent of health care workers provide care to Africa, which carries over 25 percent of the world’s disease burden.

The group is demanding $8 billion over 5 years from the government to combat AIDS worldwide. It also asks the government to remove funding restrictions on D.C., which has the highest HIV infection rate in the U.S., for a needle exchange program.

“Domestically, our administration creates red tape that prevents needle exchanges that would significantly curb the transmission of HIV by intravenous drug users,” Mahama said.

Crowds gathered at about 3 p.m. across from the White House at Lafayette Park to listen to speakers from activists organizations. Several organizations sponsored the rally, including Africa Action, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, D.C. Fights Back! and the Universities Coalition for Global Health.

The host of the World AIDS Day rally was Global Justice, an umbrella organization for student advocacy groups like the Student Global AIDS Campaign. Matt Kavanagh, executive director of Global Justice, roused the crowds during the rally by starting a chant.

“How many more have to die before you join the fight?” Kavanagh said, looking in the direction of the White House. “Power does not concede anything unless it’s demanded and we need a lot, a heck of a lot more from that person sitting in that house.”

Freshman Bernadette Karandy said although she is not directly affected by HIV, the issue should concern everyone.

“Everyone knows someone who has been affected by either HIV or AIDS, whether it is a friend, a family member or friend of a friend,” Karandy said. “Anything that is killing millions and millions of people every year affects everyone. The disease is spreading it will affect everyone if we don’t control it now.”

The protest dispersed at about 4:30 p.m. and moved to Freedom Plaza where a candlelight vigil sponsored by the Whitman-Walker Clinic was held.

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