Last month, thousands converged from all corners of the globe at the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012 ) to confront big drug companies, wealthy nations, and demand an end of AIDS. From South Africa, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from the Washington D.C., they demanded cheaper drugs and desperately needed prevention and treatment programs.
From the opening ceremonies to the very end of the conference, activist voices - younger, more international, more diverse, and as smart as ever - rang out loudly in the halls and in the streets over global and domestic HIV issues. For six days, this generation of new-bloods joined veteran activists in marches, occupations, "die-ins", rallies and direct action. They were vehemently cheered on by researchers, scientists and advocates from among the 25,000 who attended AIDS 2012.
On the first day protesters confronted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her support of the Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement limiting the manufacture of generic HIV meds for countries in need (On the last day of AIDS 2012 they did the same to Bill Clinton).
On Tuesday, ten thousand marched in five separate but coordinated protests. They raised voices and fists first in the halls of the convention center, then proceeded through the streets of Washington D.C. Following behind the banners of the "We Can End AIDS" Coalition, they chanted "pills costs pennies, profits cost lives!" A major branch of Bank of America on the march route closed for the day rather than contend with the angry protesters.
Among the protesters were those calling for the Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street financial transactions to pay to fund treatment and end the epidemic. Dressed in green hats and tights, a large contingent from National Nurses United AFL-CIO spearheaded that group.
Another group, condemning murderous drug trade laws, proceeded to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and conducted an old fashioned "die-in" to protest the above mentioned Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement.
The largest of the five joint marches stopped at the national headquarters of PHARMA (Pharmaceutical Corporation of America) where they too held a massive "die-in."
All five marches united in front of the White House for a boisterous rally at Lafayette Park. There police arrested 15 activists for tying ribbon-wrapped condoms, clean needles, generic pill bottles onto the White House fence: all as symbolic solutions for ending the HIV pandemic. Mounted riot police were used to keep the protesting crowd back.
On the 4th day of AIDS 2012 an international contingent of 75 protesters raised banners and took the main stage demanding that the Global Fund for AIDS - upon which many poor countries depend upon to treat their own people - resume recently canceled funding. Rich donor countries have failed to keep up with their financial commitments to the Global Fund.
That same day activists from the Global Network of Sex Workers protested at a conference panel chaired by former conservative U.S. Senator and Healthcare Corporation of America multimillionaire, Bill Frist. AIDS 2012 organizer, the International AIDS Society, banned attendance by delegates who were sex workers or convicted drug users. Never the less, organized groups representing sex workers and the harm reduction movement were in attendance. At the end of the session, a Gambian HIV activist confronted Frist directly from the conference floor, telling him that "millions of lives would have been saved if you had listened to us before".