Tips and tricks for protests, sit downs and stage storming at AIDS2018
An AIDS conference would not be worthy of its name without a few or indeed several disruptions to the ‘scheduled programme’. Such protests and actions challenge complacency and call people to account.
The background to the history of protests at the AIDS Conferences is well put by Shaun Mellors in his blog for the International AIDS Society.
‘On 2 May 1983, the first AIDS candlelight memorials were held in San Francisco and New York simultaneously, under the theme of “Fighting for our Lives”. It was the first sign that the response to HIV would be much more than a medical issue; it would be an issue that brought together communities to shed tears, to commemorate, to support each other, to react and challenge the seemingly unforgiving epidemic.
Three years later, in 1986, a group of activists living with HIV stormed the stage at the National HIV Conference held in Denver, United States and created what was to become known as the Denver Principles. These Principles were a direct response to the stigma and scapegoating being levelled at those with AIDS diagnoses. It simply stated that, “We condemn attempts to label us as ‘victims,’ a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally ‘patients,’ a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are ‘People with AIDS.’’ From More than a patient: Community leadership in the HIV Response”.
Over 30 years on activists are still storming the stage For example:
Treatment activists at the 20th International AIDS Conference (Melbourne 2014) holding a die-in to protest the exorbitant pricing of Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
However, you don’t have to storm the stage and have the machinery or resources for making fancy signs and banners – this participant at the 2016 conference (Durban, South Africa) got great publicity and an acknowledgement from the stage with a simple single hand-written placard.
See more about this protest here.
It is all about getting your message across,
“Another technique is the well-prepared question in a session which can feel like a drop in the ocean, barely making a ripple, but a well-structured, brief, simply worded question can challenge assumptions, show fresh thinking and gather allies. But make sure you know what you want to say and don’t try and make a long speech; it will just annoy people” says the veteran activist Lisa Power. – see her tip sheet here.
In this year’s conference bag you will find at least one thing that could spark the activist in you.
GIPA in research RED CARD
In your delegate bag you will be receiving a RED CARD. If, you are not that familiar with the use of the RED CARD, it is used as a penalty card shown to players in many sports for blatantly breaking the rules.
All presenters at AIDS 2018 have been encouraged to acknowledge people living with HIV when their research involves gathering data, lived experiences, biological samples or other aspects from the bodies or lives of people living with HIV and the participation of people living with HIV has influenced their work. Presenters were provided with a link of different sample texts to use as an acknowledgement of the role that people living with HIV have played in the response to HIV and have been suggested to use this at the beginning of any presentation of their work.
You are encouraged to use the RED CARD, to indicate to a presenter at AIDS 2018 (either a poster or oral presentation) that you expect that they provide the acknowledgement and respect to people living with HIV in their research findings.
This RED CARD is part of a wider call to action which you can read more about here.
And of course if you are a presenter, ignore people with HIV and their allies at your peril !
However, some things simply will not, and should not be allowed as part of a demonstration in keeping with the principles of ‘peaceful protest’ as the conference organisers guidance states:
‘The IAS opposes the destruction of property or the use or threat of physical force by any individual or group of individuals during the conferences. The IAS opposes the disruption of conference sessions or satellite symposia that results in the inability for dialogue and debate to take place.’
The full guidance can be read here.
It is strongly suggested that you liaise with the conference organisers behind the scenes if you are going to stage a protest during a session or plenary – pitch your idea and explain the issue clearly and see what kind of response you get.
There are many techniques and ways to get your message across at the conference. Your ‘protest’ can be a one-off event or part of a full-scale campaign and series
Here is news of one that is being planned and how to get involved with it.
It is being organized by a broad coalition including the Eurasian Coalition on Male Health (ECOM), East Europe and Central Asia Union of People Living with HIV (ECUO), EECA Sex Workers’ Alliance, Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD), Eurasian Union of Adolescents and Youth “Teenergizer”, Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS (EWNA), Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN). Organizational partner – AFEW International (the Netherlands).
The “Chase the virus, not people!” campaign aims at the common needs of all key populations and focuses on achieving the goals in general and for each community. The campaign’s key icon is handcuffs, as a symbol of limited freedom and actions.
How to get involved and show solidarity:
• insert the logo of the campaign into one of the slides of your presentation at the conference;
• bring handcuffs and put them on during the campaign events
• join the campaign during the March, the opening of the Global Village, the opening/closing sessions, plenaries on July 24 and 26, and the activities in EECA Networking Zone in the Global Village (pavilion 515);
• support the flash mob – every day (time will be announced) in different parts of the Global Village;
• take a picture in handcuffs at the conference and place a photo with the hashtag of the campaign in social networks:
#chasethevirus #chasevirus #chasethevirusnotpeople #chasevirusnotpeople.
But whatever the issue and however angry you are (and let’s face it, we have lots of reasons to be angry) injecting a certain amount of wit and humour can also be a good strategy. It can also get results, get people asking questions, and get people on your side !