The funeral procession walked sombrely around the City Hall rotunda on Sept 23. After staging a mass die-in below Mayor Rob Ford’s office, the demonstrators stood up and shouted, “Stop the cuts! AIDS action now!”
The rainy weather provided a fitting backdrop for the powerful protest. At the front of the procession, musicians played a dirge and a protester dressed as the Grim Reaper led about 60 people across Nathan Phillips Square, many of them holding candles and flowers.
Activists unfurled a black banner above the entrance to City Hall that read, “Ford’s cuts will kill. AIDS Action Now = Life.”
“What we’re telling the mayor is there should be no cuts at all to services,” says AIDS Action Now’s Zoe Dodd. “He has created this crisis. He needs to find the funding. Look to all levels of government and stop attacking our communities.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says she was watching the mayor’s office window above the rotunda. “Not one person from his office came to the window to look.”
Dodd and Tim McCaskell vow to continue fighting until all the cuts are off the table.
“People’s lives are not gravy,” McCaskell says. “These programs and services save lives.”
Before the group entered City Hall, security warned organizers not to be “disruptive” and ordered that signs and musical instruments be left outside.
For a moment, Dodd says, she was concerned the group wouldn’t get in the building.
“That angered me because this is a public space, and we should be allowed into City Hall,” she says. “This whole [core services review] process has been really upsetting. They say they want to listen to the community, but they’re not listening to us.”
As the procession entered City Hall, councillors Shelley Carroll and Wong-Tam stayed outside and cried. Carroll says they were overcome with grief.
“We stood here and remembered all the funerals we went to in the ’80s and the early ’90s. It was monthly,” a tearful Carroll tells Xtra. “I didn’t expect it to all come flooding back.”
Carroll says that if HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs, many funded through city grants, are cut, “we’ll be back going to funerals.
“And I’m not going back there. That’s all there is to it. For such a tiny sum of money, we made so much death go away…. It’s the spare change on the floor that makes a huge difference. It’s ridiculous to think of cutting these grants.”
Hear audio of Xtra‘s interview with councillors Carroll and Wong-Tam, in which they talk about the importance of AIDS grants.