A group of students staged a “die-in” in front of the Arbor Thursday to protest the U.S. government’s failure to send AIDS relief money to Africa.
The students organized the protest after Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Jewel Love, who participated in the demonstration, attended a presentation given by a representative of Africa Action, which, according to its website, is “a national organization that works for political, economic and social justice in Africa.”
The group of students was not affiliated with any particular organization, but many members of the Black Students’ Union and Associated Students participated in the demonstration.
“A group of friends came together,” Love said. “We just wanted to let [the situation] be known.”
At 11:50 am, nine members of the group lay down on the ground and remained there for 40 minutes, with two more joining before the end of the “die-in,” bringing the total to 11 participants.
Courtney Schroeder, a junior business economics and political science major, spoke through a bullhorn to explain the demonstration and to call-out statistics to passing students.
“These people lying on the ground represent the seven thousand 7,000 people who die of AIDS in Africa every day, three million every year,” Schroeder said. “Children, adults, elderly. Aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, nieces, nephews. One in every four is a child.”
Schroeder asked that passing students sign postcards that would then be mailed to the White House, asking President George W. Bush to send $15 billion to Africa in AIDS relief money. Bush promised that amount in his “emergency plan” for Africa, which he had presented in his January 2003 State of the Union address.
The postcards, provided by Africa Action, quote the president’s speech, in which he asked Congress “to commit $15 billion … to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations in Africa and the Caribbean.” The postcards go on to say that President Bush “requested no new money for [his] emergency initiative in 2003 and intervened during the budget process and urged Congress to spend less than this initiative promised.”
“Africans comprise 10 percent of the world’s population and 75 percent of AIDS cases,” Schroeder said. “Only 1 percent of Africans have access to health care to prolong their lives.”
Sonny Abegaze, a senior global studies major, and Anthony Ferreria, a senior global studies and Black studies major, took turns playing a djembe, a traditional African drum from Ghana, as their companions lay on the ground.
“Imagine the entire population of UCSB wiped out in three days,” Schroeder said. “We have the medicine that could prolong peoples’ lives. We could stop this, but we don’t; you know why? We don’t make a profit helping others.”
After 40 minutes, Schroeder told the people on the ground to “rise up.”
“We are not dead. We have that choice,” Schroeder said.
Mamdouh Salih, a senior film studies major, was one of the students representing the dead. He said he was born in Sudan and came to the United States in 1991 after being evacuated from Kuwait during the Gulf War.
“A lot of this really hits home for me,” he said. “I’ve had various relatives that have died of illnesses and diseases – malaria, heatstroke – that could have been helped with additional [medical] funding.”
Salih said that in many African nations, even if a person is diagnosed with an illness, there is rarely anything that can be done about it.
“There’s no health care, no medicine,” Salih said. “Most of the time, we don’t even know when someone has something.”
Schroeder implored passing students to get involved.
“We call ourselves humans; where’s our humanity?” Schroeder said. “We say we care about lives; we only care about money.”