‘You give [protesters] their 10-minute say and they’re done. They disperse and they go to the next session.’
were there because they were allowed to be; they were official delegates who could participate in the entire conference, and who served as a con- stant reminder of the early years of the AIDS cri- sis, when groups like ACT UP made the epidemic an international priority. “Anyone demonstrating with the conference
is asked to sign a form that speaks to, they have their right to communicate but not to disrupt or disturb people who are attending the conference to learn more about science or hear a specific speaker,” Gilliard said. “They have their moment, and then we get started with the program.” That’s not typically how meeting professionals approach political demonstrations. “Most of the time if you are having an event and someone is protesting,” Smith said, “your show management wants you to get him out. [But] these are paying delegates that are protesting. If you’re the minister of health from South Africa and I don’t like your stance, I am going to protest your event.” That inclusiveness is one of the reasons why
previewing the event in Vienna two years ago was crucial. At AIDS 2010, Smith saw firsthand how IAS’s two longtime security consultants — both with “federal and city police-force backgrounds,” he said — work directly with activists, talking to them in advance of the conference about what the host destination will and won’t permit in the way of protest activities. In Vienna, for example, protesters climbed a subway station adjacent to the Messe Wien Exhibition & Congress Center and unfurled a banner. “When I saw that,” Smith said, “I was like, ‘D.C. in July — that’s going to get ugly quick.’” Events DC started working with the confer-
ence’s security team almost immediately after AIDS 2010, but still, Smith wasn’t expecting protesters to be threatening or dangerous in any way. “You may get a five-minute warning that a new protest is going to happen,” he said, “but their protests or their rallies aren’t what we would consider violent. They are not aggressive. They
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Acting Up The AIDS conference’s many advocacy efforts and protests included condom giveaways from UNAIDS’s CONDOMIZE! program and a “Robin Hood Tax” mobilization that was one of five simultaneous We Can End AIDS marches converging in front of the White House.