top.gif - 25.77 K

White House AIDS Office
Seized by Angry Activists

aidsoffice3.jpg - 52.85 K Act Up member Bob Lederer shouting from the window of Sandra Thurman's office. (Photo: Karen Pantelides)

10 Arrested Protesting
Ban on Needle Exchange Funds

Chain Themselves Inside
Policy Coordinator's Office

Compiled by Badpuppy's GayToday
From National Coalition to Save Lives & ACT-UP, N.Y.

Washington, D.C. - A group of ten activists demanding that President Clinton fund needle exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV seized control of the office of Presidential AIDS Policy Coordinator Sandra Thurman yesterday.

aidsoffice4.gif - 33.00 K Dan Sundquist, director of Harm Reduction Alliance in Manchester, N.H., postering the office while talking with Pacific Radio producer Jeremy Scahill during the Thurman office takeover.
(Photo by Karen Pantelides)
The activists chained themselves inside her office immediately after Thurman refused to publicly condemn Clinton's April 20 decision to uphold the ban on federal funding for needle exchange. "I understand and support the President's policy," Thurman told the activists. All ten were arrested by the Secret Service and released shortly thereafter.

"President Clinton's April 20 act of cowardice spells death for tens of thousands of men, women and children in this country," said Chris Lanier, Coordinator of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now! and one of those arrested. "We've taken drastic action today to insist that human lives not be sacrificed to political expediency."

The protesters had demanded that Thurman call on President Clinton to reverse his decision, as well as to oppose and promise to veto any bill or amendment to make the current funding ban permanent. Participating in the occupation were members of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now! And ACT UP/New York, and needle exchange leaders from three cities.

During the takeover, activists chained and barricaded themselves inside Thurman's office; hung a banner proclaiming, "Clinton: Clean Needles Save Lives," out Thurman's window; covered walls, windows and photos of Bill and Hillary Clinton with posters denouncing administration policy; and shouted their demands through a bullhorn to outside passersby.

The ten protesters held the building for 20 minutes, until Secret Service agents swept into the building and dragged them out in handcuffs. All were charged with disorderly conduct and released after two hours with fines of $50 each.

The activists had also insisted that Thurman join the call by 18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus for Clinton to dismiss Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. The General has bitterly fought against funding needle exchange and was widely criticized for misrepresenting the relevant scientific evidence.

Shortly after police released the Thurman protesters, one of them, ACT UP member Bob Lederer, confronted McCaffrey during a press conference at the National Press Club. McCaffrey tried to stop Lederer's question, offered to debate him at a future date, and then called Clinton's move "absolutely inspired" for affirming the science onneedle exchange while shifting funding responsibility to state and local officials. When Lederer challenged the sthurman.gif - 13.86 K Sandy Thurman
contradiction in that logic, he was ejected by McCaffrey's security guards. "We will vigorously pursue McCaffrey's promise to debate this issue," said Lanier of the National Coalition.

Experts estimate that 33 Americans are infected with HIV every day due to sharing dirty needles, with 10,000 infected directly or indirectly by that route in the five years since Clinton took office. While local funding allows 134 needle exchange programs nationwide to operate, they reach only a fraction of the injection drug users at risk.

On April 20, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala announced Clinton's decision (made at the last minute in the face of McCaffrey's threat of resignation and denunciation) to continue the funding ban, even while finally acknowledging the numerous studies affirming that needle exchange lowers HIV transmission while not increasing drug use.

The Chair of the Presidential AIDS Advisory Council, Dr. Scott Hitt, called the decision "immoral"; the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Maxine Waters, labeled it "shameful."

"Thurman is the official White House spokesperson on AIDS, and she can't have it both ways," said Mel Stevens of ACT UP, one of those arrested. "Either she is the community advocate that she claims to be-in which case she must publicly insist that the Administration put its money where its mouth is-or she is an apologist for Clinton's cowardice. We won't be hoodwinked any longer by false friends at the top."

House bill (HR 1737), which would permanently ban funding for needle exchanges and wipe out other vital AIDS services administered by them, passed the House April 29. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is pushing to pass an identical Senate bill, S. 1959 or attach it as an amendment to any other bill.

In a meeting with activists a week ago, Thurman said that Clinton might sign a bill containing such an amendment into law. The National Coalition is urging all concerned about stopping the spread of HIV to pressure their Senators and Congresspeople, as well as the White House, to stop this legislation.

Demands of the
Thurman Office Takeover

We demand that Sandra Thurman immediately issue a public statement in which she:

1. Joins the leadership of public health, AIDS, African-American and Latino organizations in condemning President Clinton's murderous decision to maintain the needle-exchange funding ban, and demanding that he immediately reverse it.

2. Insists that President Clinton publicly oppose and pledge to veto any Congressional bill or amendment revoking Secretary Shalala's authority to lift the ban or extending the ban to include unrelated "indirect" funding of other vital AIDS services.

3. Echoes the call of the Congressional Black Caucus to remove General Barry McCaffrey as National Drug Policy Coordinator for lying about the data on needle exchange programs and campaigning against these life-saving measures.

© 1997-98 BEI