Category Archives: New York City
In 2008, as the stock market crashed and Congress prepared to give trillions of tax dollars to the banks, I desperately emailed all my AIDS activist friends: “We’ve got to stop this bailout! There will be no money for Obama to do anything for our communities.” I felt like a nay-saying bore for endlessly harping that getting politicians to expand their campaign promises is a losing strategy, because politicians lie, and only ending capitalism will shift power and priorities toward health. But when Occupy Wall Street protesters started camping out in lower Manhattan last September, chanting, “All day! All week!” and never leaving, the AIDS movement lost no time in recalling its birth in ACT UP New York, which brought the stock exchange to a screeching halt one day during a protest against price-gouging AZT (watch this thrilling interview with Peter Staley describing the 1987 action or read this recent interview with Douglas Crimp). AIDS activists got involved in OWS immediately, to the great benefit of both movements.
The HIV Prevention Justice Alliance intends to seize the bull by the horns this year, putting “generic drugs and drastic price reductions at the top of the agenda for the domestic HIV/AIDS movement in 2012, moving beyond the ADAP waiting lists to insist on treatment on demand for all.” Alright, PJA! (Read the PJA Action Agenda here). With this kind of vision, the campaign should attract tons of new activists and enliven the rest of us (Join a PJA working group here).
Targeting Big Pharma is not just the most direct route to the root of the problem — the exorbitant profits made at the expense of access to lifesaving treatment. It’s also a way out of the trap of merely resisting the budget cuts that have wracked our communities, or demanding more funding from a government that cares more about banks and corporations than human beings. Led by ACT UP Basel, Switzerland, the current AIDS activist campaign against Novartis is an inspiring example. Why focus all our attention on getting presidents to pledge more tax money for pricey patented meds in developing countries, when we can get generics for all if we keep fighting for them? Novartis sues India to stop making generics for the world: activists occupy Novartis offices in 3 cities during a global day of action. Bam. Let’s build on this! Last week, India issued a rare compulsory license to allow generic production of a Bayer anti-cancer drug, which will save many lives and also bring more Big Pharma pressure to bear on the country. Our voices are needed.
How AIDS Activists Have Occupied Since September
This year’s actions should be fierce, building on the strength of last fall. AIDS activists didn’t sit around wondering if the new 99% movement would invisibilize AIDS, they stepped up to build a true, strong unity that appreciates the strengths that difference offers. A complex unity, as envisioned by revered anti-prison activist Angela Davis, who spoke of the convergence of single-issue movements at Occupy Philly in October. AIDS activists passed out this excellent flier from Housing Works at #OWS to educate occupiers and link the issues.
Andrew Coamey, a Housing Works senior vice prez, penned “Why I Occupied Wall Street” to inspire others to take the plunge. After a gay, HIV positive AIDS activist was punched by a New York police official at an #OWS protest, even more outraged AIDS activists marched with the new movement (see video of police official punching AIDS activist Felix Rivera-Pitre here). After participating in the #OWS global day of action in November, AIDS activists staged a sit-in dressed as Robin Hoods on World AIDS Day, demanding a financial transaction tax to fund the fight against AIDS locally and globally (see video and photos here).
More than 20 cities participated in the Occupy our Homes day of action in December. AIDS activists at VOCAL helped lead the occupation of a home in Brooklyn, where predatory lending and foreclosures have thrown many families onto the street, and helped a homeless family move in (watch this incredibly inspiring video). As longtime AIDS activist Sean Barry said to The Raw Story in an article about the action, “We’re here because [there are] a lot of empty buildings owned by Wall Street banks and we’re going to liberate them.”
As the AIDS movement returns to its rabble-rousing roots, it’s up to us to tell the story of the early days of our movement, as Douglas Crimp’s recent Atlantic Monthly piece on the 1988 activist takeover of the Food and Drug Administration does.
As for myself, I spent a few months last fall shirking any form of paid work, spending my time making videos for Occupy Philly Media and working on Prison Health News. Now, I’m working full-time as a copy editor for a medical publisher to catch up on my rent. But this blog is still on! See you in cyberspace….
So the US Social Forum starts tomorrow in Detroit!
I had a life-altering, mind-blowing experience at the first-ever USSF, in Atlanta in 2007, and wrote this open letter to the AIDS movement and the Left: https://aidsandsocialjustice.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/open-letter-to-the-left-and-the-aids-movement-two-ships-passing-on-our-winding-way-to-a-new-dawn/
This will be the second-ever USSF. I’ll be blogging about sessions I go to that are inspiring. But I probably won’t post anything here til after I get home, exhausted as my aching bones get at conferences, and me without a laptop.
Here are some sessions I’d recommend for AIDS activists and all social justice activists who are blessed to be going to Detroit!
WED, 10am-noon, Cobo Hall: O2-42
Join in the Whirlwind: A Cooperative Panel on Research and Movement Building
Team Colors Collective
WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: D2-08
The Take Back the Land Movement: Realizing the Human Right to Housing in the US
Take Back the Land (Miami), Survivors Village (New Orleans), Chicago Anti-Eviction Coalition
WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: W2-67
US Social Forum Queer People’s Movement Assembly
co-hosted by The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, which works on prison issues, along with other groups including Queers for Economic Justice, SONG: Southerners on New Ground, and more groundbreaking LGBT groups Continue reading
Che Gossett on AIDS activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya’s legacy and the intersections between all movements for liberation
At Movements For Change, an event in honor of Kiyoshi Kuromiya on June 10th in Philadelphia, student activist Che Gossett incited a room of sleep-deprived AIDS activists to shouts and tears, reminding us why we are doing this work and inspiring us toward new ways of doing it. The event was hosted by longtime activist Chris Bartlett at the Church of St. Luke and The Epiphany, where ACT UP Philadelphia meets each Monday night at 6pm, and strategized for the future while remembering Kiyoshi, a beloved member of ACT UP who died 10 years ago.
“Kiyoshi believed in intersectionality long before that was a term people used,” Chris said in his opening remarks. “He brought what he learned from the Civil Rights, Gay Liberation and other movements to all of the work he did, and wherever people struggled for human rights and dignity, he was there.”
Che generously shared the text of their talk with us here. Enjoy!
“The white middle-class outlook of the earlier [homophile] groups, which thought that everything in America would be fine if people only treated homosexuals better, wasn’t what we were all about…We wanted to stand with the poor, with women, with people of color, with the antiwar people, to bring the whole corrupt thing down.” Kiyoshi Kuromiya
This quote, especially the call to stand with the poor, women, people of color, anti-war people and for a radical alternative is what, in my understanding, animated Kiyoshi’s life. To me, it represents the core of his legacy and stands as an imperative for discussions of the future.
My talk is supposed to be about the future of gay rights, but how do we talk about a future that, as defined by homo-normative groups and political formations like the HRC [Human Rights Campaign], neither centers nor sometimes even includes those categories Kiyoshi mentions — women (trans and non trans), the poor and people of color? How can we hold a mirror up to a future in which we are not reflected? How is it that we, as queer and transgender people of color are evacuated and disappeared from a future we helped to create?
The Lawrence v. Texas legal decision that struck down sodomy laws has been heralded by gay rights groups, yet it is haunted by the racial violence of its past — the legal basis for the police invasion of Lawrence’s apartment was not “consensual sodomy,” but a false report of a weapons disturbance — the Harris County police dispatcher was called and told, “There’s a nigger going crazy with a gun.” How is it that this racialized past now exists as a sign of a post-racial queer future? In which gay rights are the new civil rights, and the civil rights battles of the 60s have been won? How did we move from gay and trans liberation to queer neoliberalism? From gay anti-capitalism to the depoliticized neoliberal gay market niche? How did we get from the gay anti-imperialism of the Gay Liberation Front, the Philadelphia chapter of which Kiyoshi and Basil O’Brien created in May of 1970, to homonationalism — the marriage and military rhetoric — of today? Why, instead of fighting US imperialism, and standing in solidarity with anti-occupation struggles and against political repression, such as the recent Israeli military attack on the Gaza aid flotillas — are queers rushing to join wars rather than protest police and state violence? Continue reading
The Politics of Impatience:
An open letter from anarchists to the anarchist movement
As anarchists from a variety of different projects and political perspectives, mostly in the U.S., we are inspired by the courage of students fighting for access to public universities in New York, California, and everywhere. At a time when politicians take money out of schools and build prisons to fill with young people of color and poor people – while giving away trillions to the banks, health insurance companies, and war profiteers – any movement that takes back space and resources for public use wins our hearts. Many of us are not students, but we will continue to demonstrate our solidarity in whatever ways we can when students are beaten and arrested, and colleges themselves start to look like jails because administrations are afraid of the power of student organizing.
We are shocked that on March 4th at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), some anarchists harmfully disrupted a protest against tuition hikes, budget cuts, and childcare cuts. Some of the facts of what happened are in dispute. Some are not, including the following: A faculty member and longtime media activist was injured in the head, sectarian graffiti was spray-painted, and a parent from Defend Hunter Childcare was targeted with a sexist epithet that was heard by some as a rape threat. Some of the individuals involved have apologized for their actions. But we still need to ask why this happened, how anarchists could be responsible for these things. And how to make sure it never happens again.
At the root of the incident was an impatience by some anarchists with a rally and walkout that they decided should have been an occupation. This letter will talk about the politics of impatience and offer some ideas for action.
A movement that stands for childcare, healthcare, and education for everyone means more to most people than slogans shouted by those who are “pushed by the violence of our desires” to act as individuals. A statement with that phrase as its title, written by some folks involved in the altercation at Hunter, claims, “We do not need the ‘consent of the people.’” But militant direct action needs to take place within the context of a movement, not outside of it. To single-handedly declare that a protest is not radical enough without participating in the democratic processes of the movement is vanguardist. It’s ironic–and tragic–when it comes from anarchists. When we want to occupy, let’s reach out to those who might want to occupy too, so there’s a chance they might occupy with us.
Peace to the villages, war to the palaces
We are deeply frustrated with the lack of militant resistance across the U.S. while the powers that be are murdering millions of people with impunity, transferring our wealth to the richest, and destroying the planet. In many areas, the only options being offered are lobbying, actions pre-determined by media-savvy advocacy nonprofit staff, and grassroots campaigns that only demand what they believe to be immediately “winnable” from local, state, or federal governments.
We’ve all felt the transformation and possibility that resonates in the air at more spontaneous mass protests where, however briefly, the streets or the schools are truly ours. If that moment of freedom can also feed the bellies and minds of people’s children, people will do it again, and more will be inspired to try it on their own terms.
Learning our movements’ histories can give us a few ideas. CUNY, for example, has a tremendous militant history of student occupations, Continue reading
As many as 60% of all HIV positive people have experienced homelessness or unstable housing (such as staying on a friend’s couch, where a person could be kicked out at any time) in their lifetimes, according to research by Angela Aidala, Ph.D. of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. But often, even when organizations or governments provide housing as a part of HIV services, the issue is talked about in a way that blames individuals for “risky behavior” and assumes that if someone is dealing with both housing problems and HIV, these two challenges are a result of being a “risky person.”
For 20 years, AIDS housing activists have known that housing challenges are often beyond the control of an individual because lack of stable, adequate housing affects whole communities and is rooted in racism and poverty. The research of Mindy Fullilove, also at Mailman, has shown that destruction of urban neighborhoods uproots whole communities of people and makes them vulnerable to homelessness, drug use, and HIV.
Rodrick Wallace, an epidemiologist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, also points to the forced displacement of Black neighborhoods, whether through urban renewal programs, redlining (when banks refuse to lend money to African Americans to buy homes), eminent domain (a legal process by which houses are taken for city or commercial use of the land), gentrification (when residents are priced out of their neighborhoods by an influx of wealthier residents), or disasters like Hurricane Katrina (due to neglect of infrastructure), and the Bronx fires in the 1970s (due to the closing of firehouses). “Health disparities in the Black community can be traced to a 70-year course of serial forced displacement,” Wallace says, and he offers a dire warning for New York City. “Gentrification is driving African Americans from Harlem, the South Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant [Brooklyn], which will create a ring of refugee camps around an alabaster white city. Multi-drug resistant HIV will be allowed to grow in these communities over time before spreading to the rest of the world.”
Poor communities are experiencing forced displacement in cities around the world, with even worse implications in places like South Africa, where the HIV rate is already extremely high. But people living in shacks around the cities of South Africa are resisting forced evictions, and people living with HIV in New York City are demanding housing – not just for their own survival, but also as a prevention tool. Activists at Housing Works, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) are leading a campaign to force New York City to provide housing to all people living with HIV by expanding the city’s unique policy that guarantees housing only to people living with an AIDS diagnosis.
“One of the single biggest ways to prevent HIV by reducing risk behavior is to provide stability in housing,” says Charles King, president and CEO of Housing Works. “As long as you have chronic homelessness, people will be involved in drug activity that’s related to their homelessness and sex trade that’s related to their homelessness. Whether you’re HIV positive or negative, homelessness increases the risk of HIV transmission. The more people are forced to engage in survival activities, the greater the risk.”
Alan Perez, coordinator of the Legislative Action Group at GMHC, agrees and emphasizes how unstable housing puts people at risk. “We have clients who have to sell their bodies just to stay where they’re at,” he says.
With organizing help from Housing Works and the National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC), researchers have come together with new data showing that housing is integral to HIV treatment, care and prevention. And activists are using the research as tools in their advocacy. This collaboration between activists and researchers is further strengthened by collaboration between AIDS housing activists and housing justice activists, people who fight to end homelessness and gentrification in cities around the world. This issue of Solidarity Project explores some of this inspiring work.
|This mural, “House Every One,” is a collaboration between Groundswell Community Mural Project and NYCAHN (© Groundswell Community Mural Project; Lead artist: Belle Benfield; Assistant artist: Claude Cantave, with youth from TEMA (Teen Empowerment Mural Apprenticeship Program); 14 x 28 feet on canvas, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 2004).|
Twenty years ago, when 30,000 people with AIDS were at risk of dying homeless on the streets of New York City, AIDS housing activism was born. “In 1988, activists took over the Human Resources Administration Commissioner’s office [in New York City] to demand they honor an injunction to take a plaintiff living with AIDS out of a shelter and put them into single-room occupancy housing,” Charles King, cofounder and CEO of Housing Works, explains. In 1990, Housing Works grew out of ACT UP/New York to provide housing, job training and other services while organizing homeless people with AIDS to fight for their rights and survival.
Now, a coalition of activist groups led by the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN), Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and Housing Works – the HASA For ALL campaign – is fighting to expand the city’s unique guarantee of rental assistance, a nutritional allowance, and transportation for people living with AIDS to all low-income New Yorkers living with HIV.
The HASA For ALL battle began in 2006, when activists successfully pressured the city’s health department to release data on the health of homeless adults. AIDS was the primary cause of death for women in the shelters and the second leading cause of death for men, accounting for 11 percent of all shelter deaths. But people with AIDS weren’t supposed to be in the shelters. A 1998 lawsuit brought by activists guaranteed medically appropriate, same-day emergency housing assistance to homeless people with an AIDS diagnosis through the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).
|About 700 AIDS activists demonstrate in support of HASA For ALL at New York’s City Hall, September 25, 2007 (photo courtesy of Housing Works).|
According to Sean Barry, co-director of NYCAHN, the problem is that “people who didn’t have an AIDS diagnosis and didn’t qualify for HASA because of that are dying because the bad conditions in the shelters worsen their health so quickly – before they can go through the bureaucratic process to get HASA benefits once they do get sick.” Housing Works estimates that 7,000 low-income people living with HIV would benefit from HASA For ALL, including an estimated 800 individuals in the shelter system.
“It took me two years to get on HASA,” Alan Perez, coordinator of the Legislative Action Group at GMHC, says. “I had to stop taking my meds just to get on it. A lot of people are doing something to get sick, especially people who are in the shelter system. They should be in permanent housing.”
The irony that people with HIV who are doing relatively well are making themselves sick just to get needed help is not lost on activists. They developed a cost-benefit analysis revealing that, despite an estimated $68 million per year price tag, HASA For ALL would save the city money in shelter and hospital costs, keeping people with HIV healthy – and preventing as many as 66 new infections each month.
Assisting People With and Without HIV
The idea is a sort of “prevention for positives” approach, but activists appreciate that HIV negative community members need permanent housing as well to protect themselves from HIV and the many other hazards of being homeless. Young trans and gender non-conforming people, as well as men who have sex with men (MSMs), are especially vulnerable, explains Johnny Guaylupo, intake outreach coordinator at Housing Works. Continue reading