By LOUIS FLORES
Members of the HIV/AIDS advocacy group, ACT UP NY, demonstrated on Tuesday afternoon outside a fundraiser to benefit the Democratic Party presidential campaign committee of former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Activists demanded passage of a Robin Hood tax of 0.5 per cent. on Wall Street transactions that would raise hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue and effectively end the era of austerity forced by neoliberal Democratic Party and conservative Republican Party budget cuts by funding a single-payer healthcare system and by restoring funding to important healthcare and social programs. Activists also demanded public policies that would lead to more affordable prescription drug prices, including a demand that former First Lady Clinton expressly assert that she would oppose passage of the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that critics argue would lead to higher prescription drug prices -- and profits -- for large, multi-national pharmaceutical corporations. Global healthcare advocacy groups, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, have predicted that the TPP would maintain high prices for prescription drugs by blocking the manufacture of generic drugs, according to a call to action on the group's Web site.
One of the chants evoked by the activists outside the Sheraton Times Square in Midtown Manhattan, site of the Clinton fundraiser, addressed the austerity-busting effect of the Wall Street transaction tax: "No more budget cuts off our backs ; end AIDS with the Robin Hood tax !"
Whereas, some ACT UP NY members considered taking their austerity-busting messaging outside a Clinton fundraiser an important achievement given the adversarial conditions imposed by the anti-activist policing policies of the New York Police Department, some activists in New York considered that perhaps that an ACT UP NY protest situated outside a Clinton fundraiser even took place at was all the more remarkable.
That the Clinton protest even took place was considered a win for activists seeking to reassert autonomy over ACT UP NY
Ever since the former First Lady hosted a tightly-controlled, closed-door AIDS policy meeting at her Brooklyn campaign headquarters with some members of ACT UP NY, a faction of ACT UP NY members have been on the defensive against accusations that they have been compromising the unflinching autonomy of the HIV/AIDS advocacy group by exhibiting favouritism toward the Clinton campaign.
Known for activism tactics, such as the use of direct action, zaps, and the bird-dogging of powerholders, members of ACT UP NY, who attended the Clinton closed-door AIDS policy meeting instead posed for a group selfie with the former First Lady, triggering an angry internal backlash from more disciplined members of ACT UP NY at having allowed former First Lady Clinton to reportedly use the closed-door meeting to give lip service to AIDS policies whilst ignoring more fundamental demands, like forcing her to commit to supporting the Wall Street transaction tax to fund a single-payer, universal healthcare system as part comprehensive reforms, including opposing the TPP, to help end AIDS.
When a member of ACT UP NY, mocked the group selfie with the former First Lady in a meme posted on Facebook, Clinton supporters within ACT UP NY were suddenly taken by surprise that they would have to defend their decision to place their own self-interested motivations over the group's demands.
The sycophant nature of the treatment given former First Lady Clinton at the closed-door meeting contrasted with the response by leading LGBT and AIDS activists, who condemned the former First Lady after she praised the Reagan response to the AIDS epidemic and after she defended the Clinton administration record on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act with comments many regarded as historical revisionism.
This tension reached a new peak after Clinton supporters within ACT UP NY chose to attack the former First Lady's political rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), after he held his own closed-door meeting with AIDS activists. The critical treatment that was missing from the closed-door meeting with former First Lady Clinton was suddenly selectively applied to Sen. Sanders. Leading the charge to simultaneously defend former First Lady Clinton and attack Sen. Sanders was Peter Staley, a prominent alumnus member of ACT UP NY.*
According to information obtained by Progress Queens, part of the tension within the group of ACT UP NY is that prominent alumni members of the group have invoked the name of ACT UP NY and/or the group's tactics in order to win private meetings with the presidential candidates. Yet, once these private meetings are won, demands that would otherwise be made of candidates by actual members of ACT UP NY are not necessarily represented by alumni during these private meetings.*
Although Mr. Staley and the pro-Clinton wing of ACT UP NY and its alumni did not attend the Clinton protest on Tuesday, the activists, who did show up, showed no political favoritism to any presidential candidate and, instead, focused on making fundamental demands about policies to effect healthcare and economic reform.*
Seen exiting the Sheraton Times Square after former First Lady Clinton boarded her motorcade was former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., whose motivations many advocates for government reform, including U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, have questioned for having shielded Wall Street executives from prosecution related to crimes that are believed to have caused the 2008 financial crisis and resulting global recession.
Clinton's role in the prosecution of activists
At one point during the protest, activists were subjected to physical confrontation from NYPD officers, who threatened the use of arrest against some AIDS activists, including the publisher of Progress Queens. The publisher of Progress Queens challenged police officers by noting that the arrest of activists is something that former First Lady Clinton has actively sought.
According to information published by Progress Queens about records produced by the U.S. Department of Justice in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the publisher of Progress Queens, the U.S. Department of State has provided legal guidance to the U.S. Department of Justice to be used by various U.S. Attorneys' Offices when Federal law enforcement agents consider prosecuting activists for their political activism. This legal guidance is acknowledged to exist by reference in § 9-65.881 of the Unites States Attorneys’ Manual.
Not much is known about the legal guidance. Although the underlying law in that section of the United States Attorneys' Manual relates to the protection of the property of foreign governments, trade pacts, such as the TPP, make clear that U.S. foreign policy has elevated the importance of protecting U.S. trade relationships with large corporations.
In dispositive motion practice initiated by the Government, the U.S. Department of Justice has sought a Court order to terminate the lawsuit filed by the publisher of Progress Queens. In response and in a counter motion, the publisher of Progress Queens has accused the U.S. Department of Justice of misconduct and of withholding records, which are likely to exist, in particular, records about the legal guidance provided by the U.S. Department of State.
During initial Court proceedings in connection with Progress Queens' FOIA lawsuit, U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann ordered the Government to produce at least some records that are likely exist about the prosecution of activists in response to an index prepared by the publisher Progress Queens. It was in the Government's response to that Court order that the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged that, in respect of requests about where the Government obtained authority to prosecute activists, the Government cited, in part, the section of the U.S. Attorneys' Manual that referenced the legal guidance provided by the U.S. Department of State.
The particular requests on the index to which the Government responded by citing, in part, the U.S. Department of State's legal guidance, related to the Government's prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz. Mr. Swartz committed suicide in January 2013 after the Government overzealously sought to prosecute the Internet activist for downloading academic journal articles, the research for which were paid, at least in part, by U.S. tax dollars. Access to the academic journal articles were restricted behind a paywall.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the nation's top Federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, has bourne the brunt of criticism of the Government's harsh prosecution of the late Mr. Swartz. It is not known what role, if any, legal guidance from Obama administration officials may have influenced the decision by U.S. Attorney Ortiz to over-prosecute the late Mr. Swartz. During the time of the Government's overzealous prosecution of the late Mr. Swartz, former First Lady Clinton served as U.S. Secretary of State.
The motions in Progress Queens' FOIA lawsuit remain pending. As reported by Progress Queens, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack entered an order on Friday, referring the Government’s motion for summary judgment and Progress Queens’ Rule 52 motion to U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Mann for a report and recommendation.
(*) UPDATED : This report has been updated to reflect Peter Staley's status as an alumnus member of ACT UP NY, to clarify how private meetings are won with presidential candidates, and to indicate that some members of the pro-Clinton wing of ACT UP NY include alumni of the group.