Paul Davis and fellow activist Peter Tridish were arrested on Tuesday at a panel on energy hosted by The National Journal at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The two men, representing the anti-corruption group "Take the Money Out," unfurled a banner that read "Corporate cash nukes this election. @TakeTheMoneyOut," and sent a foaming, fizzing green liquid spilling across the floor.
The National Journal is partly owned by The Southern Company, a corporate conglomerate that owns multiple energy companies, including Georgia Power. The energy forum was hosted by National Journal, a division of Atlantic Media Companyowned by David Bradley and underwritten by The Southern Company, a corporate conglomerate that owns multiple energy companies, including Georgia Power. Georgia Power is currently building the first new nuclear power facility in the U.S. in 30 years.
Davis and Tridish were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and "dispersal of a noxious substance," although the bubbling liquid contained only vinegar, baking soda and green food coloring. Raw Story spoke to Davis, who hails from Hephzibah, Georgia, but now resides in Kenya, about the protest, about his work as an activist and about how he believes that HIV/AIDS lies at the middle of global pattern of poverty and corruption. Davis also works for Health GAP (the Health Global Access Project).
Raw Story: What were you protesting at the National Journal event?
Davis: We wanted to make a graphic illustration of the power of unrestricted, unlimited and anonymous campaign contributions to distort elections. Those people represent the nuclear power industry, an obsolete, unsafe and expensive technology that would not survive in the marketplace on its own. The nuclear industry purchases politicians and they were there to do that at this meeting.
Also represented was The Southern Company, which is building the first nuclear power plant in a generation, specifically in my mother's back yard in Waynesboro, Georgia.
Raw Story: And how does your work for Take the Money Out correspond with your work for Health GAP?
Davis: Health GAP is an activist group that focuses on winning access to medication for everyone in the world. The focal point is HIV and AIDS medication, but in order to get there, then almost everyone is going to get doctors and nurses and health facilities to break the patents on the big pharmaceutical companies. We will pass the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) to help pay to get AIDS medications to everyone, so HIV lies in the middle of almost everything.
We've been working for a long time to win things like funding for global HIV, to win the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a lot of policies. But it's getting harder and harder to do that because we no longer have elections of politicians in this country. We have auctions. We have an arms race between the parties to get the most unlimited, anonymous, sometimes tax-deductible corporate sponsorship.
Raw Story: Amirah Sequeira was telling me that your group also uses the technique called "Bird-dogging," repeatedly asking strategic questions of candidates and elected officials in order to assess and act on the candidate's policy positions. Can you give me an example of how that works?
Davis: On our original campaign in 1999, we were leaked a State Department report about the U.S. co-chair of the U.S.-South Africa bilateral coalition was issuing trade sanctions against no less than Nelson Mandela and the new South African government because they had passed a law saying that the government might break a patent on a medication if it had a compelling use, for instance 30 percent of the population had HIV/AIDS.
They hadn't even broken a patent, they passed a law saying they might break a patent, but all of a sudden trade sanctions went up. Eighteen drug companies filed lawsuits against Nelson Mandela.
We were exceptionally pissed off when we learned that the U.S. co-chair of the U.S.-South Africa bilateral trade commission who was responsible for all these U.S. policies was this guy named Al Gore. We were leaked this report just a few days before he went to announce his candidacy in Carthage, Tennessee, in Manchester, New Hampshire and fittingly, on Wall Street. We showed up at each of those campaign appearances and dozens thereafter and disrupted his campaign until they officially had to say "Uncle."
It doesn't do very well to try to run for the Democratic nomination if you're running against Nelson Mandela. Within six months the cost of medication went from $10,000 per patient per year to $350 per patient per year.
Raw Story: I know that you guys have been trying to make headway with Nancy Pelosi, who has been talking about a constitutional mmendment to repeal "Citizens United." What if that doesn't happen? Is there an alternate plan?
Davis: Well, it's like the First Lady said on Tuesday night. We're in it for the long game. It's been a long time since we passed a constitutional amendment in this country, but the accumulated negative jurisprudence is corroding and distorting American politics to such a point that it becomes unusable and unmanageable.
So, we are looking very much forward to moving the dial in a very significant way through the course of this election by targeting both of the candidates and urging them and their supporters from all parties. We found Gov. Mitt Romney in New Hampshire a week or so ago. We said, "You're spending way too much time raising money from corporations and not enough time connecting with normal, regular voters and would you support a constitutional amendment?"
He said that elections cost far too much money now. He blamed President Obama, in part, which is a little bit of a dodge, but has a little bit of accuracy to it. President Obama was the first candidate to break the ceilings on public finance, and that's never happened before. And unfortunately, right now, the president is paying the price.
Raw Story: So,what's your background? Do you have a medical background? Political science? (jokingly) What was your major?
Davis: I'm doing what I was born to do.
CORRECTION The original version of this article stated that The National Journal is one of the organizations partly owned by the Southern Company, which is an error. Southern Company underwrote the event, but The National Journal is a division of the Atlantic Media Company. Raw Story regrets the error.