August 13, 2011
"It started with a poster," an old nice woman once told me when I was a child explaining how in history, dictators used images and posters to demonize people they dislike, or to idealize the one and only beloved. We in the Middle East had many of these posters: a poster showing the beloved Sheik, King, or president hugging a child. Him visiting patients in the hospital. Him as a great teacher. Him taking a shower. Posters everywhere. And there were hate posters that depicted the enemies with horns.
I was flipping through posters in my mind when I was standing in the subway looking at the New York City Health Department's poster, "It's Never Just HIV." The poster used pretty much the same tactic this old lady told me about: Fear ... demonizing individuals. Nothing based on solid facts, except overdramatizing isolated cases.
The issue of that infamous poster is not a matter of bad taste for the city of fashion and tasty food; nor it is an issue of education the "Oliver Twist" way. It's a matter of political mentality within the city health department that embraces a mentality of "We verses Them" and pays little respect to the Poz community.
But, is it only that stupid poster that gives alarming signs in the U.S. of how little attention is paid to the Poz community when it comes to decision making? Furthermore, could such a poster be proudly exhibited in the subways if it had the same amount of ignorance against another group? I think the Poz political will is missing on many levels today and this poster is just a tiny part of it.
The bigger question is, where is the Poz political voice in what is happening today in America, which will affect every Poz person in the U.S. and the world? When it comes to HIV, it's not just about zip codes anymore. An economic Armageddon in the U.S. will damage the global strategy in fighting HIV/AIDS and future plans to eradicate it.
The U.S. as a nation is built on a heritage of setting the example to be followed by others. Reading through African Services Committee's latest annual report, the stories of many HIV-positive immigrants who still seek protection and better lives in the U.S. against all the odds they faced in their home countries strengthened my belief in the American heritage of asking the world to give us their tired, their poor, their huddled masses yearning to breathe free. HIV programs and researches sponsored by the U.S. are proof of the American commitment to a healthier world population. Is that still the case in D.C.?
Months ago, I asked Director Jose Antonio Vargas after the screening of his film The Other City: "Are the folks at the White House aware of this genocide?!" I did not see the term genocide to be an emotional impulse in response to watching the film. It was the best term to describe the lack of adequate governmental response to the HIV crisis in the U.S.
Nevertheless, the story of Capitol Hill with HIV is not limited to ineffective legislations that is linear to the crisis of HIV. In fact, the recent deal reached between President Obama and the conservatives of this nation went too far -- far enough to reach all of us as HIV-positive individuals, as we will be sacrificed on the altar along with the rest of the middle class in America if the current policy of cutting essential social expenses becomes the norm in U.S. economic policy. Without even a dollar of increased taxes for the wealthiest taxpayer, the agreement included higher cuts on Medicaid/Medicare and social pensions than on military expenditure. Thanks of course to the conservatives who understand nothing in economics but few old theories that belong to the Museum of the Cold War.
The effect of this agreement is not limited to the cuts on Medicaid/Medicare and social pensions. The real effect is yet to come when this extreme conservative-driven policy will result in an economic Armageddon. Ignoring the real problems in the structure of our economy and focusing more on scoring at Obama will lead -- inevitably -- to an economic depression that will shake the world economy, cuts in the funding of various HIV/AIDS programs will follow ... and the Poz community will face the harsh effect of this economic disaster.
I guess my HIV virus should vote Republican in the next elections, because this will give it a chance to multiply once my medications get the shortage in supply. Clearly, my virus and I are on very different political agendas. (Oh no! A conservative lives inside me!)
Understanding that I am among the vulnerable category in the U.S. is a stressful feeling -- imagining that if the ship sinks, I will be among the first to jump off the boat. If an ordinary citizen is worried about losing his job and medical insurance, that to a Poz person will equal a death sentence.
I always thought that I had a soft spot for blondish Scandinavians. Now I know: I actually have a crush on their health care system. Maybe it is time to consider it. Thinking about that and the politics behind it the other day, I became stressed and sad. Why do I have to be so vulnerable? Trembling every time I hear that an economic Armageddon might happen. Thinking how this will affect my access to medical treatment and the impact on HIV research. Then I remembered the stories of the brave Poz folks and I flipped through the report I was carrying. I had something else to read on the cover of the ASC report that brought me relief and courage. It was a saying by the great Muslim Sufi Master Jaluldeen Al Rumi: "Branches tremble, the roots are still." Yup that is me and you!