In a daring act of defiance, a group of activists took a stand by staging a sit-in protest at the office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Washington, D.C. Their primary objective: to draw attention to the alarming threats facing HIV/AIDS funding in the United States. This protest comes in the wake of recent Republican efforts to defund the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program that has been instrumental in saving countless lives since its inception in 2003.
PEPFAR Under Siege
PEPFAR, originally introduced by President George W. Bush, has been hailed for its significant role in curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, garnering reauthorization on three separate occasions due to its resounding success. However, despite President Joe Biden’s earlier commitment to extend the program for a fourth term, it is currently under siege by House Republicans and conservative organizations. False claims that PEPFAR funds abortions have fueled the opposition, with the far-right members of the House’s ‘Freedom Caucus’ even threatening to shut down the government if their demands are not met by the end of the month.
Activists Take a Stand
In response to these dire circumstances, at least six activists initiated a powerful protest within McCarthy’s office. They gathered on the floor, raising their voices and demanding the reauthorization of key PEPFAR provisions. Among those arrested during this demonstration were prominent figures such as Housing Works CEO Charles King and Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell. King emphasized, “PEPFAR has saved millions of lives, and it is criminal for some members of Congress to treat it as a political football.” Russell echoed the sentiment, asserting that House Republicans are “playing political games with the lives of countless adults, children, and newborns with HIV” both nationally and internationally.
As the protesters were handcuffed and escorted out of McCarthy’s office by Capitol Police, their bold act of resistance drew attention to the crucial need to safeguard HIV/AIDS funding amidst political turmoil. With the fate of PEPFAR hanging in the balance, the stakes for those living with HIV/AIDS have never been higher.