Protesters rally for Obama to improve AIDS policies

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President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign message of hope resonated with advocates of reformed AIDS policies who made their voices heard in front of the White House Thursday afternoon.

Event organizers estimated that about 35 organizations from New York, Philadelphia, Miami and the District gathered at McPherson Square and traveled to Pennsylvania Avenue to urge Obama to stand by the HIV/AIDS policies he promised. For those who rallied, including GW students, Obama’s willingness to increase funding for domestic HIV/AIDS programs came as good news in the face of the Bush administration’s history of concentrating on overseas programs.

“Barack Obama, fight AIDS!” the crowd chanted. “In your first 100 days.”

Local AIDS activists leveraged their demands with the fact that one of the highest AIDS infection rates in the world is right in the president’s backyard.

“People are concerned when I go overseas, but they don’t realize that D.C.’s 5 percent AIDS prevalence rate places it somewhere between Rwanda and Kenya,” said Mary Beth Levin, faculty adviser for the Georgetown American Medical Student Association.

Students from the GW chapter of Student Global AIDS Campaign added their voices to the rally’s crowd.

Junior Elizabeth Orland said the organization does a variety of activities on campus like condom distribution and participating in lobbying efforts. He said rallies like Thursday’s show support for other demographics more affected by AIDS than GW students.

“Many people focus on global AIDS, but many do not know how affected D.C. is, especially GW students,” said junior Josh Phillips, who attended the rally.

Florencio Cuevas, director of operations for Praxis Housing, a New York-based organization that works to provide housing for HIV/AIDS patients, said he came down to D.C. to support policy that would free up federal money for housing. He also supports a lift of the ban on clean syringe access, another important issue among drug users who contract HIV/AIDS.

George Kerr, co-chair of the local AIDS advocacy organization D.C. Fights Back, said there are 25,000 high-risk patients with AIDS in the District alone on a waitlist to be placed in housing.

Ian Michael Turner, a HIV positive New Yorker who lives in patient housing, expressed his frustration with the current administration and the affordable housing crisis for people living with HIV/AIDS. He said there are few housing opportunities for the increasing number of patients.

As the rally disbanded in front of the White House, leaders of the rally folded a banner that read, “Solve the puzzle to end AIDS” and hundreds of signs shaped in puzzle pieces shuffled off into downtown D.C.

As Turner turned to leave, he said. “I just wish somebody would hear, you know?”

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