ACT UP is a discourse. Between street actions, press releases and policy advocacy, it has kept moving and moving through those years as we pushed to get drugs into bodies of people around the world. For ten years now, we’ve been talking about ending AIDS, once and for all.
But something feels different in 2015. For the first time, the state seems to be acknowledging the possibility. Many have started to feel like we could actually be making real progress toward that goal. Yet, the task at hand needs resources.
As ACT UP’s Jim Eigo wrote on facebook today:
Ending the Epidemic Comes to City Hall June 18, 2015, 11 AM! We are asking the city--ground zero of the HIV epidemic--to make a modest 10 million-dollar down payment for HIV testing, prevention, treatment, care, supportive services and the data collection that lets us know what is happening. Without this commitment from the city, Ending the Epidemic in New York State is not gonna happen. PLEASE BE WITH US!
On April 29th, Governor Cuomo delivered a blueprint for ending AIDS in New York state, based on the recommendations of a task force of AIDS activists, including Charles King, of Housing Works, and Jim Eigo of ACT UP. The governor backed the proposal with funding. Now it is time for the city to match these efforts.
On June 18th, New York AIDS activists converged at City Hall to ask our mayor to support the proposal, with funding.
“Its getting old being here,” I noted to my friends Tim from ACT UP and Bobby from VOCAL. “I hope the politicos can match their rhetoric with some action.”
Bobby Tolbert, a board member of VOCAL, explained why we were here. “I think it behoove the city to match the governor’s $10,000,000.00. Its still a drop in the bucket but we can get a start with that.
|Tim and Jim of ACT UP.|
I stood on the steps of city hall with Tim and Jim from ACT UP as the press conference started.
Jaron Benjamin introduced everyone. “Why are we here? To end AIDS now! It can’t happen without action,” he explained, leading the crowd in a call and response. “Why are we here? To end AIDS now!”“80% of the epidemic is in New York city,” he continued. “We know how to end aids, so we have to end AIDS now.”
“Ideas are great, but we need action,” noted Lynda Mallow, of Iris House.
“Its always a great day when people get together to fight AIDS,” Benjamin continued, with a smile.
Seemingly channeling Vito Russo, whose why we fight speech set the course for AIDS activism, Jim Eigo stood up to speak about where the movement has been and where it needs to go, so we end this epidemic once and for all.
The first time I stood on these steps was in December, 1987, when community groups were not permitted to rally on the grounds of City Hall. But a brave member of City Council, the late, legendary Miriam Friedlander, concerned that so many New Yorkers were dying of this baffling disease AIDS, concerned that too many of them were poor, or non-white, or “fags”, or “addicted” for official New York to give a damn, used her privelege as a councilwoman, and went down to the East Gate, and one-by-one smuggled about 80 members of the fledgling AIDS activist group ACT UP past the lone cop who once guarded these grounds. We were now Miriam’s special guests, and with her, in flagrant violation of the rules, we proceeded to stage a glorious, raucous late fall rally at sunset to tell official New York: the people dying of AIDS are New Yorkers too, and every bit as deserving of a good life as you are.
At that time New York City spent almost nothing on AIDS. That is not the case today, 27-&-a-half years later. But all that time later, AIDS is still with us. New York City is still ground zero of the HIV epidemic in the US. Fewer than half of New Yorkers living with HIV receive sustained adequate treatment. And most newly infected New Yorkers still come from a group that official New York thinks too little about: the poor, the unconnected, the homeless, the immigrant, the woman whose history puts her at risk, and the queer, especially young queers, especially young queers of color from across the full spectrum of gender expression.
Today one thing is different. More than 60 community groups have banded together to draft a detailed blueprint for Ending the AIDS Epidemic in New York State by 2020. So why are we on the steps of the seat of New York City government? 80% of the state epidemic is here in the city, and until the city pays its share, the End of AIDS is not gonna happen. For this first year the community is asking the city for a modest 10 million dollars for HIV testing, prevention, treatment, care, supportive services and collecting the data that tell us what is happening. In NYC this is not a lot of money. In the 7th straight year of a rising stock market there’s a lot of cash sloshing around. 10 million dollars is paltry when you consider that every fresh HIV infection will cost New Yorkers half a million dollars. 10 million dollars is nothing next to the personal, human cost to an individual New Yorker of every fresh or untreated infection.
So all these years later we are still in search of the brave city council member—in fact we are in search of many of you—to come forth and stand with us and say that every New Yorker really does matter and we are willing to pay the little it will take to at last in NYC make ground zero stand for zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS deaths, and once and for all end the deadliest epidemic of our time. ACT UP, FIGHT BACK, END AIDS!
The crowd roared in approval, following Eigo’s speech.
“Its always hard to speak after Jim,” noted Corey Johnson. He described the task force lead by Charles King, of Housing Works, that the Governor endorsed. “Now its time for the city to step up. $10,000,000.00 is a nice first step. But the city has to match it. We are at the tipping point here. We are at the precipice. There are billions of dollars flowing through the city. Our budget is a document of our priorities. We are not asking for a lot. We have a week to get that included. We have to keep on fighting. I am 33 years old and HIV positive, have been for eleven years. I am around because so many waged this war before me. We need to see the day when there are no new infections. The science is there. The data is there. Is the government there?”
Johnson gave a great speech, but the question is, can he get the funding to back it?
Kimberly Smith, of Harlem United, stood up to talk about the structural barriers to keep people from accessing housing, imploring the city to use the best of what we know to end this epidemic.
Bobby Tolbert, of VOCAL, followed. “We knew from the start that this was going to be a long fight. He talked about the five year fight to get the 30% rent cap passed. “But some people were still left out,” he continued. “That’s why we are here today. The time is now. We can end AIDS.”
Sadly, today people are still getting sick. And the city seems somewhat asleep at the wheel. Still most everyone seemed optimistic that the city can get this done.
As the press conference ended, I talked with Cameron and Lavern about how many times we have all been here before over the years.
|Cameron and Lavern, who are always there.|
Bobby Tolbert and I talked about his days a decade ago speaking as a part of the bill of rights defense committee after a police round up when the campaign to end aids was just beginning.
We’ve all been here before. But between housing, testing, and access to treatment, prevention, treatment, care, supportive services and the data collection we can End AIDS Now.
ACT UP, Fight Back, End AIDS! the crowd cheered as the press conference concluded.
END AIDS NY 2020 COALITION DEMANDS $10 MILLION FOR ENDING THE EPIDEMIC
City Hall, New York, NY—Representatives from the End AIDS NY 2020 Coalition, made up of 60 AIDS advocacy, service, and research organizations from around New York State will gather on the steps of City Hall on Thursday morning (6/18) to demand that Mayor de Blasio match New York State’s contribution of $10 million dollars towards the Ending the Epidemic Initiative, set forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo in April.
Cuomo released the New York Blueprint for Ending the AIDS Epidemic (ETE) on April 29th, after a Task Force of 63 experts and community leaders, including representatives of key City agencies created the plan and delivered it to him three months prior. The plan is comprised of 30 Blueprint recommendations that, if fully implemented, will decrease new HIV infections in New York State from approximately 3,000 per year to below 750 by the year 2020. In addition, the Blueprint contains seven Getting to Zero (GTZ) recommendations that, if implemented, will further reduce the number of new HIV infections to zero by the year 2020.
While the Governor’s leadership has been crucial to establishing the NY Plan to End AIDS, support from Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council is vital to the success of the plan, as 80% of all New Yorkers with HIV reside in New York City, and the majority of those are low-income people of color.
“The commitment of $10 million from New York City is essential for effective implementation of the Ending the Epidemic Blueprint,” said Sharen Duke, Executive Director of the AIDS Service Center NYC and member of the Governor’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force. “We are counting on Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council to make this crucial investment in our city, where communities of color are shouldering a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic.”
Advocates and providers are demanding that $10 million be made available for initiatives including enhancing and streamlining linkages to HIV prevention and care at NYC STD clinics, improving access pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP), extending affordable housing, and expanding vocational training opportunities for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“We are ready to deploy the best of what we know is effective and to scale up new interventions,” said Charles King, CEO for Housing Works and Community Co-Chair of the Task Force. “But that can’t happen without resources.”
“Women of color, including transgender women and young men of color, are continuing to see the highest rates of new infections in our communities. Commitment from Mayor de Blasio to #EndAIDSNY2020
match the State’s investment would ensure that these communities receive the required resources and interventions necessary to reverse this alarming trend,” said Ingrid Floyd, Executive Director of Iris House and Task Force member.
“New Yorkers living with HIV need support to remain on treatment and for us to reach the end of AIDS. We need to make sure that we continue to provide access to harm reduction services and housing, and we need to make sure that everyone, no matter what part of the City they are from or what drugs they use have full access to HIV treatment and prevention, including PrEP,” said Jennifer Flynn, Executive Director of VOCAL-NY and Task Force member.
New York City Council Members are in budget negotiations this week and next. The City charter mandates that budget agreement is reached by the end of June, which will mark the one-year anniversary of Governor Cuomo’s historic announcement.