AIDS Protesters on the Convention Floor
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During a week of protests against President Bush and the Republican National Convention that he will address tonight, demonstrations have taken many different forms – from singing Johnny Cash songs to waving pink slips to a mass flashing of bikini underwear featuring anti-Bush slogans.
But only one demonstration has actually taken place so far on the floor of Madison Square Garden, where Republicans – including White House Chief of Staff Andy Card – were confronted Wednesday with the reality that they are not exactly welcome in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.
The Republicans did not take well to the challenge.
Roughly a dozen AIDS activists infiltrated a mid-day gathering of Young Republicans on the floor of the Garden. The activists sat quietly amid the Wisconsin and Nevada delegations as the Youth Convention got underway.
Then, moments after First Daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush introduced Card to a hundreds of Young Republicans, the activists peeled off their street clothes to reveal t-shirts that read "Bush Lies" and they held aloft signs that read, "Bush: Stop AIDS. Drop Global Debt Now."
They jumped on their chairs and began blowing whistles and chanting "Bush kills!" and "Bush lies!"
Instantly, the activists were surrounded by jeering Young Republicans, some of whom pushed and shoved the demonstrators while others tried to drown out the message of the AIDS activists by launching into the convention's ubiquitous "four more years" chant. The Republicans held signs up to prevent television cameras from capturing images of the signs held aloft by the activists.
It was a raucous scene. Card attempted to go ahead with his speech but was forced to stop briefly because of the noise. The demonstrators were quickly dragged from the hall by Secret Service agents and police officers, and police later said there was at least one arrest.
The point of the demonstration, according to Sharonann Lynch of ACT UP, was to demand that the Bush administration support cancellation of the global debt owed by poor countries to donor countries and international banks.
"Right now, sub-Saharan African nations are pouring $15 billion a year into repaying debt to wealthy nations," explained Lynch. "That money could and should be used to provide treatment to the millions of people on the continent living with HIV/AIDS. The Bush administration must move to save the lives of people in the world's poorest countries by supporting 100 percent debt cancellation now."
Specifically, the activists want the United States to join other industrialized countries in supporting debt forgiveness for the planet's poorest nations, so that those nations can direct more resources to fighting AIDs.
ACT-UP activists also want the U.S. to meet its commitments to the Global Fund for fighting AIDS. "While the Fund requested a contribution of $1.2 billion," explained ACT-UP's Lynch, "the Bush White House only asked Congress for $200 million."
John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.