21 AIDS Activists Arrested At Bush-Cheney 2004 HQ Protesting Administration Policies

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Two weeks after Vice President Dick Cheney admitted he was not aware how severe the AIDS epidemic was among African-American women, activists from Housing Works and ACT UP take their message to the Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Virginia. We speak with one of the arrested protesters, Oliva Dawson, an HIV+ staff member of Housing Works. [includes rush transcript]

Police arrested 21 protesters at the Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Virginia on Monday in a demonstration against the administration’s policies. The protest was organized by the AIDS advocacy groups ACT UP and Housing Works.

The protesters were charged with trespassing, and police used bolt cutters to remove seven people who had chained themselves to the front door. Several of the protesters carried signs with a picture of Vice President Cheney and a statement he made during the vice presidential debate on Oct. 5th.

Moderator Gwen Ifill asked both candidates about the AIDS crisis in the U.S., where black women ages 25 to 44 are 13 times more likely to die of AIDS than their counterparts. Cheney responded by saying he had “not heard those numbers.” This is an excerpt of the Vice Presidential debate.

  • Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards, discussing AIDS at the Oct. 6 debate
  • Olivia Dawson, HIV+ staff member with the AIDS advocacy group Housing Works. She was one of 21 members arrested on Monday at the Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Virginia in a protest organized by Housing Works and ACT UP. Housing Works is the nation”s largest community-based AIDS service organization. It is a minority-controlled organization dedicated to providing healthcare, job training and vital supportive services to homeless people with AIDS and HIV.
  • Esther Kaplan, author of the new book “With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W Bush’s White House.”

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the vice presidential debate:

GWEN IFILL: I’d like to talk you to about health care, Mr. Vice President, you have two minutes, but in particular I want to talk about AIDS. Not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS here in this country where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts. What should the government’s role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?

DICK CHENEY: Well this is a great tragedy, Gwen, when you think about the enormous costs here in the United States and around the world of the AIDS epidemic, pandemic, really. Millions of lives lost, millions more infected and facing a very bleak future. In some parts of the world, we have got the entire sort of productive generation has been eliminated as a result of AIDS. All that’s left is old folks and kids. Nobody to do the work that runs an economy. The President has been deeply concerned about it, he has moved and proposed and gotten through the Congress authorization for $15 billion to help in the international effort that he targeted in those places where we need to do everything we can through a combination of education as well as providing the kinds of medicines that will help people control the infection. Here in the United States, we made significant progress. I had not heard those numbers with respect to African-American women, I was not aware that it was — that it’s that severe an epidemic there. We have made progress in terms of the rate of AIDS infection. I think primarily through a combination of education and public awareness as well as the developments as a result of research, of drugs, that as a result may help those people live longer lives even if they are infected. We need to do more of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Dick Cheney discussing AIDS policies at the vice presidential debate. Joining us in our studio to talk about AIDS is Olivia Dawson, an HIV+ positive staff member with the AIDS Advocacy Group, Housing Works, one of the people arrested at the Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters Monday. Housing Works is the nation’s largest community-based AIDS service group. It’s a minority controlled organization dedicate to providing health care, job training, and vital supportive services to homeless people with AIDS, and HIV. We are also joined by Esther Kaplan, who is author of the new book, With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Okay, Olivia, can you talk about what happened Monday?

OLIVIA DAWSON: The reason why we got arrested was because Black and Latino communities of color cannot afford another four years of the Bush Administration to be in office.

AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly did you do Monday?

OLIVIA DAWSON: Well, basically, we chained ourselves to the entrance of the administrative office, and demanded that they hear us, and that we can’t afford another four years of them ignoring Housing Works and people living with AIDS, ignore the reason why the funding and the health care, you know? It’s ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: Housing Works has just announced plans to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn, a borough that is called the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.

OLIVIA DAWSON: Yes. Housing Works just opened up headquarters, a Brooklyn headquarters, 57 Willoughby St. There’s a large population of people living with the virus, in Brooklyn.

AMY GOODMAN: Esther Kaplan, did it surprise you when Vice President Cheney, when asked by Gwen Ifill about the number of African-American women with AIDS, said he wasn’t aware of this?

ESTHER KAPLAN: It’s appalling. I mean this is the guy that’s actually supposed to know something about the reality-based world in this administration. It’s shameful, but I actually am not surprised, because what this administration has done is completely thrown out AIDS experts, and substituted ideologues. Excuse me. I went back almost two years ago to Bush’s first meeting of his AIDS advisory council. Now this administration had threatened to eliminate it entirely in their first weeks of office. People may or may not remember that. They were going to eliminate the job of AIDS Czar and eliminate the AIDS Council which existed since Reagan, but what they did, is they decided to retain it, but instead of having people from social service agencies like Olivia, researchers with the kind of sound grounded advice that they had always gotten, they — they purged all of those folks from the council and put on professional virgins, abstinence educators, evangelizers, people from the heart and soul of the Christian-Right movement. These people who know, admittedly — in interviews to me, know nothing about HIV.

AMY GOODMAN: Give us an example.

ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, one example is someone named Joseph Jennings, he’s a reformed drug user, and he’s an evangelical barnstormer in Florida with Summit Ministries. He goes around scaring kids into finding Jesus and turning their lives around. At the meeting that he was at, his first meeting, someone actually brought up the issue of gay HIV prevention, which of course, even though African-American women are the growing population with HIV, gay men are still a very significant part of the epidemic. And he melted down. Even hearing the word gay mentioned in front of him, he said “Is this a gay agenda? Is this a gay AIDS agenda? What am I doing here?” He completely had an explosion, just to even hear the word gay. He had never clearly been in a setting before where people openly used that word. This is one of the people that Vice President Cheney is getting his AIDS advice from. There’s also a guy, Joe McIlhaney, who has made a career called the Medical Institute for Sexual Health. The group is based in Austin. He’s an old friend of Bush. Their project is providing fake, bogus data showing that condoms don’t stop sexually transmitted diseases, don’t stop HIV. It’s dangerous, fake science, and this guy is a top AIDS adviser for people like Cheney.

AMY GOODMAN: In your book, With God on Their Side…, you have a chapter called AIDS Born Again, and you begin with President Reagan, the beginning of the AIDS crisis in this country.

ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, I mean, what my feeling is about this administration is that they have broken a trend that was started with Reagan, which is that AIDS is not a Republican issue. Reagan, people may remember, it was seven years into the AIDS epidemic before this man even said the word AIDS out loud. Tens of thousands of Americans dead, it had already become a global epidemic before he even acknowledged it. When you think about the hubbub we have over a few cases of SARS it’s almost unimaginable that’s how it played out, but it did. Bush senior was similar. He fought funding for the Ryan White Care Act, which is, one of the main sources for AIDS treatment and care in this country, which has been slashed under this administration. It has been flat-lined in the face of a growing epidemic, but what Bush did is, after planning to follow in the same path, like I said, he was going to eliminate the key AIDS position, he suddenly had an awakening, it was due to lobbying from the Christian Right movement, that he could make this issue his. As we saw in his January, 2003, address, he made this the centerpiece of the new compassionate, conservative global AIDS plan. He has taken everything that Republicans don’t like about AIDS, whether it’s fighting drug addiction, harm reduction for drug users, needle exchanges, explicit HIV prevention targeting, gay men, targeting sex workers, all of these things which are the heart and soul of HIV prevention, and instead he’s promoting abstinence, a completely unproven method. The more the data comes out, the more we know abstinence education actually puts the people who go through it at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, because they’re so unprepared for that moment when they do have sex, and he’s exporting abstinence education around the world through his Global AIDS Bill. He’s channeling chunks of this funding. He got this written into the law the Bill, the Global AIDS Bill that faith-based organizations need to be top priority in receiving this funding. So again, they’re taking it away from the people who have experienced on the ground dealing with AIDS, giving it to religious ideologues.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break. Esther Kaplan, I want to thank you, With God on Their Side is her book. We’re going to continue with Esther Kaplan and be joined by Ron Suskind, who has a cover story in The New York Times Magazine this weekend. Olivia, thank you for being with us. Olivia Dawson is a staff member with the AIDS Advocacy Group Housing Works, arrested Monday at the Dick Cheney campaign headquarters in Virginia while protesting the administration’s policies around AIDS. This is Democracy Now!

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