Hundreds of activists marched to the White House and the office of Mayor Adrian Fenty Monday afternoon to mark World AIDS Day, saying the fight against the pandemic is far from over.
The protestors were dissatisfied, saying they were not seeing results from President Barack Obama’s campaign promise of funding $50 billion over the next five years for antibiotics and other drugs to fight AIDS. The issue is especially relevant in D.C. itself, with at least 3 percent of the city’s residents affected by HIV/AIDS.
The activists called for Congress and Obama to lift the ban on needle-exchange programs, which they say could lower the amount of people getting infected.
“World AIDS Day is a day to start fighting for an end,” said George Kerr, co-chair for D.C. Fights Back, of the disease.
Kerr’s group, which helped organize the rally, calls itself a volunteer network of “people living with HIV/AIDS and their allies” that advocates for District residents and other HIV patients.
At the end of the rally, members of D.C. Fights Back delivered demands to be sent to Fenty, including a petition for affordable housing for those people living with HIV/AIDS, a syringe-exchange program to get dirty needles off the streets and science-based HIV education programs for all children in the D.C. area. Two activists from the organization were arrested after they refused to leave part of Fenty’s office, according to news reports.
“We’re hoping our demands are met,” Kerr said. “There are currently 440 people on the housing waiting list and a restriction on a needle exchange program by the U.S. Congress. This has to stop.”
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., spoke and also took part in the rally. He stated that “there is a lot of work to do” and that “President Obama is sliding off the track” when it comes to actions taken against AIDS.
A mock funeral with six empty caskets was held in front of the White House to pay respects to the millions of people who have died from the disease around the world and who will continue to keep dying, protestors said, unless further actions are taken.
Marchers then moved from the White House to the Wilson Building, where Fenty’s offices are.
Activists spoke in front of the building, emphasizing the statistics that many of the signs they carried noted – more than 5,500 people are believed to die every day from the AIDS virus.
One speaker, Reverend Keith Holder, explained that he had lost two brothers to AIDS and he has also been HIV-positive since 1985.
“I am HIV-positive but I am still a human being,” he told the crowd.
At the end of the rally, Kerr said he was pleased with the event’s turnout.
“I hope we can continue to educate the public and open up lines of communication so that we can make progress on this important issue,” he said.