Activists Plan AIDS Conference Protests
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ As thousands of scientists gather at an international conference on AIDS, a matching army will fill the streets with demonstrations to protest how the U.S. government is dealing with the lethal illness.
Protesters from around the country have arrived along with the estimated 10,000 researchers attending the Sixth International Conference on AIDS, which runs from Wednesday through Sunday.
The protesters are led by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a militant group founded three years ago in New York. The demonstrations are designed to call attention to what ACT UP member Arawn Eibhlyn calls the ″complete lack of government response″ to the epidemic.
The protests began Tuesday afternoon when more than 1,000 people marched 10 blocks through downtown to demonstrate at the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, protesting the 1987 law barring people with the human immunodeficiency virus from entering the country.
The march was orderly. Eight people were arrested after going through a police barrier in front of the building.
One marcher was arrested by city police and seven by federal police, all on misdemeanor charges, said San Francisco police spokesman David Ambrose.
As the arrests were made, the crowd chanted, ″The eyes of the world are watching.″
About halfway along the marchers’ route, a huge cloth banner reading ″Stop AIDS. Stop INS Terror,″ was unfurled from scaffolding on a building.
Later, about 100 people demonstrated inside the Marriott Hotel, where part of the conference is being held, chanting, ″It’s our conference too.″
Conference co-chairman Paul Volberding warned earlier Tuesday that the 1992 conference is scheduled for Boston but may have to be held outside the United States if the immigration restrictions are not lifted.
″The policy has people riled up and angry,″ ACT UP member Jorge Cortinas said. ″The pressure is really on.″
″These policies have nothing to do with stopping AIDS,″ San Francisco AIDS Foundation member Rene Durazzo said of the immigration law. ″They are to punish and abuse, it’s that simple.″
The INS in April agreed to grant 10-day visas to people with the virus so that they could attend this and other professional conferences.
The grassroots ACT UP, known for its noisy demonstrations, has a high-tech plan to coordinate the week of protests. Computers, cellular phones, beepers and fax machines fill a sophisticated media center, and the group plans to spend at least $40,000 during the week, according to New York ACT UP member Cindy Acosta.
Funds have been raised by a variety of means, from T-shirt sales to auctions. A New York art auction raised $250,000, she said.
ACT UP is among more than 100 international groups officially boycotting the conference because of the immigration laws. However, 40 members of the New York ACT UP chapter will be attending anyway.
ACT UP member Peter Staley, a former Wall Street bond trader, is one of the conference speakers.
″I think it’s really important for the scientific community to realize that we are not against them,″ Acosta said. ″We’re here protesting the fact that the conference is being held in this country.″
On Wednesday, ACT UP members plan to protest the exclusion of people with AIDS from research and treatment plans and the limited seating available at the conference for those with the disease.
Fewer than 400 seats have been reserved for patients, Costa said, compared with over 2,000 seats for the media. Protesters are expected to try to enter the conference.
Outside the Moscone Center, protesters will hold a mock trial focusing on what they see as the exclusion of patients from the research process.
On Thursday, activists plan to protest the so-called ″San Francisco model″ of care for AIDS patients, which is heavily dependent on volunteers. Protesters will march from City Hall to the nearby federal and state buildings, then symbolically crumple in exhaustion to symbolize the fatigued San Francisco AIDS network.
Although the network has been recognized as one of the finest examples of AIDS care in the world, increased caseloads and funding conflicts have caused the organization to deteriorate.
On Friday, activists will protest the exclusion of women, children and minorities from research, treatment and services.
On Saturday, the protests will focus on all people affected by HIV and AIDS.
″We expect it to be one of the largest AIDS marches ever,″ ACT UP member Josh Gameson said. More than 10,000 people, including many conference participants, are expected to march, he said.
On Sunday, the final day of the conference, demonstrators will protest a speech by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan. The annual Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day parade, which draws thousands of marchers and spectators, is also scheduled that day.