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By Janell Ross and Lila Shapiro | Posted: 12/ 1/11 05:25 PM ET
The protest, held on World AIDS Day, marked what for many was the public unveiling of a connection between New York’s HIV/AIDS activist community and the Occupy Wall Street movement, event organizers said. Most of the protesters were members of organizations that advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS in New York City and people involved in Occupy Wall Street’s LGBT working group.
“It’s a lie when we’re told there isn’t enough money to fight AIDS,” said Felix Rivera-Pitre, a leader with the nonprofit VOCAL-NY, in a statement released by the organization Thursday. VOCAL-NY is an advocacy organization for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“The reality is that Wall Street crashed our economy, and now politicians are saying there’s less money for basic needs like health care and housing,” added Rivera-Pitre, who is living in a homeless shelter and has HIV/AIDS.
Rivera-Pitre was among those arrested Thursday and was also jailed in connection with an Occupy Wall Street protest earlier this month.
In July, the CDC issued a report indicating that there is a strong relationship between poverty and HIV infection among heterosexuals living in urban portions of the United States. Poor people have limited access to sexual health care services that may allow for safer sex, early detection and treatment of the disease, according to the report.
“It went beautifully,” said Wayne Starks, a board member of VOCAL-NY who is 51 and living with AIDS. The big issue for Starks, and many of the other activists on Broadway, is the extension of the so-called millionaire’s tax. “We tried to send a message to our government about how we need to stop cutting funding to fight AIDS and start sending cuts to billionaires,” he said.
Starks said he spent a lot of time in Zuccotti Park before police cleared it out more than two weeks ago, although he did not regularly spend the night there. He said he thinks Occupy Wall Street and VOCAL-NY have essentially the same goals. “It’s human rights. They want affordable housing, we want affordable housing. They want jobs, we need jobs too,” he said.
“The history of AIDS activism is one of the best modern day examples of the power of political protests to bring about social change,” Barry said. “People think it’s merely a health issue, but let’s face it — if HIV did not primarily affect gay men of all races and poor women of color, our government would be taking this issue more seriously. What we’re doing today is our effort to really make the connection again between the health and politics, the messages of Occupy Wall Street and how mass inequality imperils us all.”
The protesters behind Thursday’s march say they have two specific demands. The group would like to see a .02 percent tax implemented on financial transactions, and would like to ensure that the millionaire’s tax is not allowed to expire on Dec. 31.
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