Robin Hood Answers Call For AIDS Funding
Attendance reflected the concern – worldwide – and when protesters spilled out of the Washington Convention Center at Mt. Vernon Square at noon yesterday the mood was one of strong focus and commitment. It was mid-week through the 19th International AIDS Conference and marchers hit the streets sounding this theme: We Can End AIDS.
Joining a field of activists and supporters – among them many living with AIDS/HIV+ -- thousands gathered at five separate locations in downtown D.C. and headed toward Lafayette Park, across from the White House. The marchers, sponsored by Health GAP, Vocal-NY, ACT UP, National People’s Action and National Nurses United, and supported by numerous others, filled the streets in a spirited and powerful call to action. Among the chants that resonated was one mantra -- “Wall Street steals, nurses heal” -- heard up and down the cavernous Washington streets, where lobbyists and special interests normally ply their trade.
En route, AIDS activists, nurses and supporters, dressed in the colorful hats and garb of Robin Hood, some with green masks, posted a declaration of Robin Hood Tax principles at a host of locations: offices of the Securities Industries Financial Management Association, Bank of America’s D.C. offices, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce national headquarters and others. NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro witnessed the postings of the declaration at several locales, placing her stamp on the actions in behalf of Robin Hood. Health GAP Managing Director Jennifer Flynn was also there for Robin Hood, rallying with supporters and addressing them at each symbolic stop.
America’s financial and non-financial corporations today sit on a cash hoard estimated at $3.6 trillion, a vast cache of money companies hold in the face of overwhelming need. Communities across the nation continue to suffer from the fall out of Wall Street’s raid on working class families, culminating in their 2008 bail out. For others it’s been a wipe out. And for those in need of AIDS/HIV treatment here and abroad, the withholding of vast and vital resources is especially harsh.
The declaration of principles of the Robin Hood Tax, a small sales tax on Wall Street speculative trading with revenue to be directed to communities in need, provides a path to recover from the 2008 financial collapse and its “too big to fail” policies. Banks continue to prosper, leaving the rest of the country in enduring demise. A small sales tax on trading in stocks, bonds, derivatives and currencies could raise $350 billion a year in the U.S. alone, per the Robin Hood Tax.
We can end AIDS. But not without renewed efforts and funding commitments. In fact, AIDS researchers say, with modest increases in funding and appropriate policies, the world could see an end to the AIDS pandemic in 30 years.
All assembled on the streets of the capital were agreed: a Wall Street Tax is the place to start.
“Wall Street took it away and Robin Hood wants it back,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN, in an address across from the White House. “That revenue can help AIDS prevention and treatment—here and abroad. And help meet all community needs- jobs, education, retirement, the environment.”
A group of protesters took dollar bills tied by ribbon and placed them in the White House fence, a reminder to the government that AIDS funding should be given our highest priority. Some of the dollars were inscribed with green emblems – Robin Hood’s mask – to evoke the call for a Wall Street Tax. Several protesters were arrested in the course of this symbolic act.
The U.S. spends $22 billion a year domestically on prevention and treatment of AIDS- an amount equal to the combined revenues of just a handful of Fortune 500 companies. According to findings presented at this year’s Conference, thousands of Americans will be infected in coming years. In some areas of this country the infection rate is 6 percent for men 30 or younger. Most of these men diagnosed with HIV, in a recent study shared at the Conference, were unemployed and nearly all had annual household incomes under $50,000.
Outside this country, $17 billion is spent each year on AIDS in the developing world all told, helping 8 million people stay alive on antiretroviral drugs. The goal public health officials speak of is to raise that number to 15 million AIDS patients by 2015. But meeting that critical goal will require an additional $7 billion in annual funding. ExxonMobil’s 2011 profits were $7 billion. And $7 billion is the estimated amount gambled away by JPMorgan Chase speculators recently in their high-stakes game for outsized profits. A Robin Hood Tax would both raise needed revenue and help curtail the instability and waste perpetuated by financial speculators, such as those at Chase.
Among the need we all see -- the swelling ranks of unemployed young adults, or children who are to start the academic year yet again in deteriorated schools, the elderly putting off retirement due to poverty, and a collapsing infrastructure that remains unattended -- the healthcare needs of AIDS/HIV patients rank extremely high. These patients deserve our highest priority. Robin Hood knows it.