To commemorate the organization's 25th anniversary, members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) chained themselves together across Broadway at Wall Street this morning. Activists demanded a Financial Speculation Tax (FST) on Wall Street affecting all transactions and speculative trades in order to raise the money to end the global AIDS epidemic and provide universal healthcare in the Unites States. Police arrived with chain cutters and nine protesters were promptly arrested for obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct—to the sounds of jeering New York Stock Exchange workers. Later, approximately 1,500 demonstrators from organizations like Occupy Wall Street, Housing Works, Vocal NY, and National Nurses United marched from City Hall to the Department of Social Services at 180 Water Street before finally gathering again in front of Trinity Church on Broadway, chanting "Act up! Fight back! Fight AIDS!"
ACT UP's Andrew Vélez took to the people's mic reminding those on Wall Street of the AIDS crisis: "Twenty-five years ago, I stood on this corner with friends who were overwhelmed by an epidemic. Many are here, but many can't be because they are dead," he said. "But we can end this: we need money for housing. We need money for medicine." In a moving tribute to those who could not be present, Vélez instructed the crowd to call out the names of friends and family members who had been lost to the HIV/AIDS crisis. "Robert Mapplethorpe," began one protester. "Keith Haring," said another. "My brother Tom," a strained voice shouted over the roar of the crowd. "This miniscule tax would raise enough money to get people treated and tested," said Vélez.
Organizers framed the protest as part of a larger global campaign of civil society organizations and grassroots movements demanding an FST—sometimes called a "Robin Hood" tax—which would generate revenue through a small tariff on all financial transactions involving stocks, bonds, foreign exchange of currencies, and derivatives such as futures, swaps, and options. Both ACT UP and Occupy Wall Street estimate that a global tax of 0.05 percent or less—approximately $50 for every $100,000 in transactions—could generate as much as $400 billion in revenue worldwide which, according to Annette Gaudino of Healthcare for the 99%, would be enough money to restore cuts made to the Global Fund on AIDS, TB and Malaria.
ACT UP is no stranger to direct action and civil disobedience on Wall Street. In 1989, seven activists snuck onto the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange and chained themselves to the VIP balcony before unfurling a banner that read "Sell Welcome," referencing the only pharmaceutical sponsor of AZT. Burroughs Wellcome had set the price of AZT at an astronomical $10,000 annually per patient. Trading was briefly halted for the first and only instance outside of wartime, and within a matter of days the price of AZT plummeted to $6,400.
"We are organizing this historic united front to bring our message to governments and to Wall Street financiers who are sitting on the key to ending the AIDS epidemic," said Eric Sawyer, a founding member of ACT UP New York. "There is no excuse. We have the know-how to end AIDS. It is a lack of funding and political will that keeps us from reaching universal access to HIV treatment worldwide. The AIDS crisis is not over—but it could be."