Just before we left for Fire Island, my friend Emily sent me an invitation to a big action around vaccine access, an issue a lot of us have been working on all year.
As of right now, the gap between those with access to vaccines and those without is daunting.
Its up to all of us to create the pressure to bridge the healthGAP.
For global AIDS activists, who fought to get access to medications across borders decades before COVID, this scene is strikingly familiar.
The invitation stated:
“Covid-19 continues to rage across the world. We have less than 10% of the vaccines we need globally to end the pandemic.
President Biden and other world leaders have only taken modest steps to address this global crisis, and it's going to take our collective power to make Biden and global leaders act urgently to stop prolonging the pandemic.
You can be part of the movement to end the global pandemic by joining us on July 14 at 10 am EDT at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.
World leaders are dragging their feet and shielding pharmaceutical corporation profits, while Covid death tolls continue to climb around the world. People in the United States face the uncertainty of returning to in-person routines while the people we care about around the world continue to navigate the devastation of the pandemic.
In order to end the pandemic anywhere, we must end the pandemic everywhere.
COSPONSORED BY: PNHP-Metro NY, SEIU CIR, Rise and Resist, ACT UP NY, Uptown Progressive Action, African Services Committee, Right to Health Action, Religions for Peace, Health GAP, Justice is Global, People's Action, Health GAP, Center for Popular Democracy, DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving).”
I thought about the action all week at the beach, finally deciding to join on Tuesday night, jumping on the 740 AM ferry the next morning from Fire Island, catching the 825 AM train, transferring at Babylon to Penn Station, through Queens to Penn Station, and out to the UN on 47th and 1st.
Global health activists who’d been there zapping Al Gore in 1999 were there.
ACT UP was there.
Charles King and Housing Works,
The HealthGAP Crew,
Amanda Lugg out there testifying.
A man told a story of a friend in Ghana who said no one is getting the vaccine there, that the people of Ghana are used to being last in line.
With a booming voice, Asia Russell was out there leading everyone with the bullhorn.
Greed is too nice a word to describe what’s happening here.
When your friends around the world can’t get access to a medication that will keep them alive and companies are willfully keeping the treatment from them, the word I use is genocide, said Russell.
We are not ok till everyone is. Everyone in. Everyone out.
If the world remains unvaccinated, then variants are going to keep on spreading around the planet.
"I believe that we will win!!!" we chanted, making our way to the Pfizer Headquarters at 235 E 42nd Street.
First we blocked the doors.
Then we blocked the streets in front of Pfizer headquarters calling for them to free the vaccine. Break the patents. Everyone in. Nobody out.
"The whole world is watching, 14 billion doses now!" we screamed, across from Pfizer Headquarters. Only 1% of those in Africa have been vaccinated.
My friend James joined us.
“Pfizer’s profits are obscene, give the world more vaccines,” chanted Karyn Kaplan and the others. “Free the vaccine, break the patents, TRIPs waiver now, stop medical apartheid. Global solidarity movement. Act up, fight back, fight COVID.”
Sitting in the streets, I held hands with my friend Reginald Thomas Brown, of VOCAL thinking about the reasons we were sitting in the middle of 42nd street disrupting traffic in front of a drug company.
“My name is Reginald Thomas Brown. My pronouns are they and them.
I am 69 years old, a long-term AIDS survivor and thriver who grew up in Kansas City Ks. a very white and very conservative part of the US.
I was walking to school one bright sunny morning and one of my biggest fears growing up became a reality. Unsupervised children terrified me. It was 1960 I was 8 and in the 3rd grade.
Z, Y. and N, were 10 and 11 years old and several other 5th and 6th graders surrounded me and started calling me sissy, punk fag and smarty pants. I can still remember the look of hatred and disdain in their eyes. We lived in the same neighborhood but thankfully on different streets.The fear of being bullied was my reality until I got to high school 7 years later.
Fast forward to June 1969.
I learned about Stonewall while studying in Chilé as a foreign exchange student in high school during, the Summer semester between my junior and senior year from June to August. I was 17. I was invigorated and could not wait to get back home.
The next year, on May 25, 1970, I joined my first mass student demonstration on the campus of the University of Kansas, to honor the Kent State 4.
These 4 students in Ohio were gunned by the National Guard for demonstrating against the US occupation of Vietnam.
I was angry because I was also against the Vietnam war. So, I dove right into the action. There was a cacophony of chaos
Students were screaming, crying and running all over the place. The police shouted and released pepper spray into the crowd.
Terrified I ran for my life as fast as I have ever run before. The thick gray miasma of pepper spray burned my eyes, I had no idea what direction I was going. When, (PAUSE) I heard and felt a bullet whizz past my right ear. My heart was pounding so hard and fast that I thought it was going to outrun my body. BANG. Nick Rice, a colleague from Leawood, KS was running behind me. I looked back and saw him lying dead on the ground in a pool of scarlet red blood. The world seemed to stop even though I was still running.
At that moment, I realized that I have the moral obligation to lay down my life when necessary. I was 18 years old.
The next year I was 19, a Freshman and President of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) at the University of Kansas in the Fall of 1971.
We were denied funding and space in the student funded Student Union. So, we sued the University. Even though we lost our case we did not give up.
I told my mother that I was attracted to males because I knew that my name would be associated with the lawsuit. I wanted her to hear this from me and NOT nosy church members or neighbors.
She smiled and said, "I taught you to love not WHO to love. And no matter what you do or what you are, you will always be my son and I will always love you."
When my mother told me this I knew that I could take on the world. And that is exactly what I am still doing today!!
I joined the Speaker's Bureau and did teach-ins on campuses around the state to build public support for our campaign against the University to get funding and space in the Student Union.
Guess who I saw in the back of the room on our very first teach-in?! Z, Y and N. When I spotted them I walked directly to them, looked them in the eye and stated, YES, this is who I am and I am here to teach YOU!! They were most definitely not ready for me. The look of shock and surprise in their eyes was much different than the hatred that I saw when I was 8. I stood proudly in my newly found Queer authenticity before these bullies. Reggie was not afraid of them for the first time in their life and that felt so fucking good.
One of the many ridiculous questions I was asked during the Q & A about being Queer was what do you like about males? My response, their bodies.
I wrote an Op-ed for Newsweek where I listed all of the student groups that were funded. My closing line was,"the only reason we were denied is because we are Queer." My being shot at and my mother's words of encouragement gave me the strength go stand for what I believe in, no matter the cost.
We got space the next year. This took place 2 years after the Stonewall Rebellion June 1969.
At the time all this was happening, it did not occur to me that what I participated in would have a world-wide effect on so many people's lives including yours. 2 years ago was the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.
For far too long, Stonewall has been whitewashed and our Black trans siblings who fought back have been erased. Not anymore!!
Even though I was not in NYC during the Stonewall Rebellion in in the Summer of 1969, I helped the Movement grow from the geographic middle of the United States.
Currently I am a member of the Reclaim Pride Coalition and organizing our 3rd Queer Liberation March this Sunday, June 27th at Bryant Park in New York City. We gather at 2:30 to step off at 3. Stonewall was a rebellion that sparked a March NOT a parade with corporations using Queers as props to sell their merchandise. My Pride is political and NOT for sale. The March is free and all are welcome. "Off of the sidewalks! Into the streets!!
It is an honor to live long enough to see the results of what I did and to share my story with you for International Pride. It is a blessing to be seen, heard and appreciated. I am a mentor and storyteller. YOU are my legacy. Take my experiences so that you can soar and be as fierzzze as you want to be so that those who come after you can continue the legacy and Pride of Stonewall.
I believe in you. YOU are enough.
Sitting there, the police communicated with our legal team that they were not going to arrest anyone.
Asia started talking with the dozen of us in the street suggesting we move to the cross street, blocking traffic moving each and west, south and north.
Over we walked to 2nd Ave, where we stretched our bodies horizontally across 42nd and 2nd Ave, the other activists blocking the adjacent corners.
More cars honked.
Escalating tactics, noted Ken, snapping more shots.
The police issued a warning, we’d be arrested.
And walked up with their plastic handcuffs.
I thought it was going to happen.
“If you leave now you will not be arrested,” they told us.
We shook our heads.
We stayed on the corner.
And they put out word they were not going to arrest us.
And we left, having made our point.
This is the second time this summer that police have waited us out during a CD.
Its up to all of us to reinvent repertoires of civil disobedience.
It was an honor acting up with Reginald and Emily and Jennifer and Ken and James and Mark and Rachel and Dana and Brandon and everyone else fighting for what’s right.
Hopefully vaccine apartheid ends. And we free the vaccine. AIDS activists help made it happen a generation ago, as Emily Bass points out in her important new book.
I believe we can do it again.
Ken Schles, who was out snapping these photos, writes:
Haiti, with a population of 11.5MM people, got an inadequate first shipment of 500k vaccine doses only this week.
As long as variants are allowed to proliferate we are all at risk. New variants will arise that are more contagious and deadly. Misinformation must be stopped to stem this disease. So-called ‘breakthrough’ cases are increasing as safety protocols on distancing and mask wearing are dropped.
Los Angeles County has reinstated mask requirements indoors as the takes hold. Caseloads are up + 100% nation-wide on a 14 day rolling average. Lagging indicators of hospitalizations and deaths are rising too.
Variant driven cases and increasing caseloads bode poorly for our future, especially come next winter, not to mention the massive amount of deaths and suffering that continues across the world where vaccines are not being distributed.
Governments, especially the US and Germany, need to free patent regulations against Covid vaccines and pharmaceuticals developed by research funded by tax-payer monies.
Protesters in midtown Manhattan last week carried signs reading,
End Covid everywhere
Delay could kill us all
Greed could kill us all
Racism could kill us all
Patents could kill us all
Pfizer’s greed kills
Merkel’s delay could kill us all
Pharma’s greed could kill us all
They wore shirts that read,
“Stop medical apartheid
Free the people’s vaccine.”
Thank you Ken. Thank you activists.
"How many more have to die?" we ask.
BREAK THE PATENTS NOW!"