Friday, October 31, 2014

Fight Ebola, Not Nurses: ACT UP Demo at Bellview

ACT UP posters and a warning from London. 

Thursday, I rode up to Bellview, where members of ACT UP were speaking out against panic, calling for the city to support all health care workers and end stigmatizing the sick. 

WHAT: Demonstration Against Mandatory Quarantines and in Support of All Affected by Ebola
WHEN: Thursday, Oct 30, 5 PM 
WHERE: Rally in Front of Bellevue Hospital Center, 462 First Avenue (b/w 27th & 28th Streets)
March to Office of the Governor of the State of New York
633 Third Avenue (at 41st Street), New York, NY 10017

Join ACT UP/NY and allies as we demand the immediate end to mandatory quarantines and travel bans in the US, a guarantee that all US hospitals are sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants to receive care, support for all health workers, increased US funding to fight Ebola in West Africa and an end to stigmatizing the sick. The global response to the Ebola epidemic is woefully inadequate and we must act NOW to treat the epidemic at its source in coordination with local communities on the ground, respecting the human rights and dignity of all those affected by this disease.

ACT UP! Fight Back! Fight Ebola!
John Riley posted a message about the event.

This demonstration is urgently needed. While several African countries are being decimated by this preventable disease, the US does little. Tiny Cuba sends hundreds of medical workers, while the US government doesn't do anything proportional to this act of solidarity. Time is running out. If we don't push for sane public health policies and full funding of the fight against Ebola, the force of the epidemic may turn this from an epidemic to a pandemic just like AIDS was. HIV immigration bans were in effect in 140 countries and the virus spread to every country in the world. Had public health measures been implemented early on, 39 million wouldn't have died and 31 million living with the disease. Join us in front of Bellevue Hospital Center, 462 First Avenue (b/w 27th & 28th Streets) in Manhattan.

Throughout the day, members of ACT UP posted messages about aid worker Kaci Hickox.

“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” noted Hickox on Wednesday night in a post by Jane C. Timm. She was questioning what she sees as a politically motivated quarantine. Many were. 

ACT UP would meet at Bellview Hospital, where Dr. Craig Spencer, was in isolation.    

Elizabeth M was there passing out flyers.

In the week since the first Ebola case in New York, panic has only grown and grown.  Originally, the mayor  and governor sounded reasonable.  But the next day, the governor followed the lead of New Jersey Chris Christie, establishing quarantines on people coming from West Africa.  Kaci Hickox was one of those caught on Friday, put into an isolation tent at the airport.  She suggested her mandatory quarantine was "inhumane." By Sunday, the governor of New York was backpedaling again, offering home quarantines for those traveling from West Africa. AiDS activists immediately spoke out, noting this kind of reaction to disease speaks of panic not sound health polices based on science.   Many saw history repeating itself.
ACT UP members started posting photos of the ACT UP 'quarantine camp' street theater during Gay Prde 1987, recalling the original threats of quarantine for people with AIDS.   Peter Staley descrbed the event during the press conference at Belleview.

ACT UP  Quarantine Camp 1987, Pride Parade 1987.
Photo by Donna Binder. Source: "AIDS Demographics" by Douglas Crimp with Adam Rolston.
Aids activists across the city made their way to the demonstration.  

Ken Kidd wore an ACT UP t shirt from an ACT UP zap in Albany in 1990 when the Governor’s father was dragging his feet about the AIDS epidemic quickly turning into a pandemic. Hopefully this will not be the case with Ebola.

Hey Cuomo, Hey Christie, we need treatment, not quarantine activists chanted.

Fight Ebola, Not Nurses

Speaking out, activists noted health care workers are professionals, not vector of disease. They condemned the dumb and dumber routine Christie and Cuomo seemed to be following.  Does Christie have an MD? Listen to doctors not politicians a speaker from Medicine Sans Frontiers.

Jeremiah Johnson, of Treatment Action group suggested there was far too much fear and stigma dominating this debate.  When policies are based on ignorance, you have bad health care policies.  When fear trumps evidence, you get violations of human rights.  Sadly, today he worried we were watching history repeat itself. 

Mark Milano talked about his experience at the hospital when he first tested positive for HIV in 1985.  Hospital workers wore masks and put up hazardous materials signs on the door to his room, which he tore down. Milano suggested we should be throwing parades for people such as Spencer and Hickox, supporting their efforts, as they literally put their lives on the line to fight this thing before it grows.  Yet, mandatory quarantines discourage such efforts. Fear and ignorance do not stop epidemics they further them.

Jim Fouratt spoke about the dangers of panic.  

Marcelo Maia photo

Thank you Nurses, Thank you Doctors everyone chanted.  Get well, Dr. Spencer. We love you. 

The group signed a get well card for the good doctor and left. 

And, we made our way up to the Cuomo’s office.  Along the way Jim Fouratt and I talked about the ways this always translates into scapegoating. Stigma has long been part of the reaction to disease.  Recall the “Hs” – including Homosexuals and Haitians – originally blamed for the spread of HIV. Walking, we recalled some of the heroes of the long struggle, reveling in the street procession, connecting this with Gramsci, Sylvia Rivera, and Jim’s tales of Gay Liberation Front, Mattachine and countless battles in between.  

As the sun was gong down, i thought about something Eric Rofes said to me years ago.  Sometmes we are most alive in such moments, in the middle of battle, our  life really starting after work when we go to the demonstration moving through the streets, feeling the electric energy of the city around us.  

And ACT UP made their message known through the streets as the sun went down, watching a new chapter unfold in the story of a global disease, which began in 1976, we’ve been fighting ever since.  Hopefully, we won’t have another pandemic. 


What: Protest and March Calling on Cuomo and Christie to End the Mandatory Ebola Quarantine and Support West African Nations
When: Thursday, 5pm (EST), October 30, 2014
Where: Meet Across The Street From Bellevue Hospital Center, 462 First Avenue at 27th St., New York City
Historic NYC AIDS Activist Group Marches On Cuomo's Office To Demand He Show Support For West African Nations
Thursday, October 30, at 5PM (EST), The AIDS activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) will rally and march from Bellevue Hospital to the governor’s office to demand that Governors Cuomo and Christie stop promoting panic-based health policies and start supporting West African nations fighting Ebola.
Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to announce a new policy at JFK and Newark International Airports to order immediate mandatory 21-day quarantine of any person who acknowledges having been in proximity to people with Ebola.  Such policies will do nothing to protect the American public and serve as a major deterrent to the recruitment of desperately needed healthcare workers to help stop the deadly outbreak that has killed over 4500 individuals in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Already, Kaci Hickox, a volunteer nurse from Doctors Without Borders, was inhumanely confined for days in New Jersey, even after testing negative for the disease.
Cuomo and Christie’s mandatory quarantine policies go against evidence-based public health practices which are grounded in science. They contribute to the ongoing misperception of how Ebola is transmitted.  Activists say that the policy is contributing to growing stigma of the disease and unwarranted public hysteria.
For local AIDS activists, the calls for quarantine hark back to an ugly time in NYC history.  Longtime AIDS activist Mark Milano said, “In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, government officials mistakenly called for the quarantine of people with HIV, a measure that contradicted the science of how HIV is transmitted and spread misinformation to the public.  Now, with Ebola, we’re seeing Governors Cuomo and Christie do the same thing.”
ACT UP activists demand that Cuomo and Christie avoid enacting fear-based policies that will only hinder our ability to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  ACT UP member Annette Gaudino said, “Governor Cuomo should be supporting NY-state health workers who go to West Africa to fight the disease, rather than spreading misinformation about transmission risks by mandating quarantines.”
ACT UP Against Ebola
ACT UP Against Ebola Protest

ACT UP activists plan to rally across the street from Bellevue Hospital at 5pm and then march to Gov Cuomo’s office at 633 Third Avenue (at 41st Street) in Manhattan. They will be joined by local group Health GAP.  At Bellevue Hospital, activists will drop off Get Well cards showing support and appreciation for Dr. Spencer’s courage.
Contact: Brandon Cuicchi; 646.284.2948; media@actupny
Founded in 1987, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. ACT UP meets every Monday night in New York City at the LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street off 7th Ave.
Later in the day, Mark Milano posted on Facebook.  Looks like our protest worked!

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