Giannina L. Garces Ambrossi
Monday, December 4
WASHINGTON–In Lafayette Park on Friday, hundreds of people, most of them students, commemorated the 19th annual World AIDS Day with the message “WE ALL HAVE AIDS!” scrawled on T-shirts and posters. The concept that everyone in our society is infected with AIDS highlighted the official theme of this year’s memorial: personal and collective accountability in the effort to stop this global health crisis.
The Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) sponsored the AIDS awareness rally to demand the federal government implement the group’s four-pronged strategy of AIDS prevention and treatment: increasing the number of skilled healthcare workers in Africa by investing $8 billion in training over 5 years; decreasing the number of new HIV infections in Washington, D.C., by allowing the funding of needle exchange programs (which is regulated by Congress); increasing international access to HIV/AIDS treatment by modifying international trade laws for drugs; and increasing overall funding for international HIV/AIDS efforts by fully funding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and forgiving the debt burden of all impoverished countries.
Approximately 400 undergraduates, medical students, and community activists gathered from across the country to chant, cheer, and demonstrate despite windy, dreary weather. They attracted a sizeable crowd of passers-by, which Laura Hawks, a student at Fordham University in New York, attributed to the “energy, passion, and enthusiasm unique to student activists.”
Matthew Kavanaugh, the Executive Director of SGAC’s parent organization, Global Justice, led a processional towards the White House, with a set of call/response chants of “When people with AIDS are under attack, what do we do? Act up, fight back!”
Lavi Ramchandani, a 19-year-old student at the University of Maryland College Park, was part of a group 22 students who “sat-in” on the sidewalk in front of the White House gates. She dressed as a needle, with an antenna spiking from a headband of aluminum foil, to demand funding for needle exchange programs. As she walked onto the sidewalk, Ramchandani explained that she felt “nervous [about the demonstration], but also more empowered than I’ve ever felt.” All 22 students on the sidewalk were arrested. As each was arrested, their fellow activists called out their names while cheering and clapping. The arrested students in turn responded to the chants from the crowd as they were carried off: “Act up, fight back!”