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Julie Davids Reflects on CHAMP and the Future of HIV Prevention Justice

Interview With Veteran HIV Prevention and Social Justice Activist Julie Davids

Summer 2011

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In December 2010, TAGline caught up with the super energetic and visionary HIV activist Julie Davids, veteran of ACT UP/Philadelphia, HealthGAP, and a slew of more recent U.S. HIV prevention and social justice organizations such as CHAMP, Project UNSHACKLE, and the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance. In January 2011 Julie took over as national advocacy and mobilization director for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. TAGline asked Julie to address the following questions:

  • What changes have happened to HIV prevention research and programs domestically since CHAMP was formed?
  • How have they changed over that period?
  • What are the challenges facing HIV prevention research and programs today?
  • What are the key activist strategies to deal with these challenges?
  • What is needed, and who needs to do it?

Julie Davids: The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) has ended operations as of this writing, though is sustaining our two main networks (Project UNSHACKLE and the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance) through excellent allied organizations (NYCAHN/VOCAL and AIDS Foundation of Chicago, respectively).

Having had the privilege of founding the group in 2003, and working with it until its closure, my feelings about this transition are understandably complex -- but I appreciate the opportunity to reflect a bit on the past and speculate on the future in these pages.

But first, I wish to invite anyone who has had experiences with CHAMP and/or thoughts on the past decade of mobilization, organizing, and policy work on HIV/AIDS in the United States to join our online reflections on our work, the climate in which it occurred, and ideas for future directions. The discussion will be hosted by on an ongoing basis, and submissions can be made as letters, statements, comments on other posts, or links to online media.


In 2002, I began to engage in dialogue with other HIV/AIDS and social change activists as I sought to sketch out what became CHAMP. That fall I had the opportunity to craft some thoughts on domestic HIV/AIDS organizing in this newsletter ("The Way Forward: Philly ACT UPer and Health Gap Founder Tackles the Challenges of an Aging Activist Movement," TAGline, October 2002).

At that time I assumed that a regional or national HIV mobilization initiative focused on building a new generation of leadership while maintaining our community's history of strong advocacy would and should be focused on treatment. But as I moved forward in talking to others about these ideas, people started to confront me, asking, "What about HIV prevention?"

There was a sense of frustration that HIV prevention was, for the most part, outside the scope of much of the AIDS community's diverse organizing and policy change efforts while remaining underfunded and underresearched. Yet it was visibly in the crosshairs of conservative politicians in the seemingly endless days of the [George W.] Bush administration. And I was part of the problem for sure: I remember my broad ignorance on the subject, thinking, "HIV prevention? That doesn't really work, does it, outside of syringe exchange and PMTCT?"

But the more I learned, the more I felt compelled to jump in. I got schooled in the need for HIV prevention advocacy, which had tonot only build the power to resist attacks but integrate a broad range of social justice and equity issues; broaden the concept of HIV prevention beyond abstinence, condoms, and clean needles; and delve into challenging research questions that had never been adequately explored.

Although we struggled with issues of capacity and sustainability, CHAMP had a noted impact on HIV prevention advocacy. Entering a realm with little public, strategic conversation and a wide gap between the small but growing body of prevention research and the underfunded, earnest prevention programs at the community level, we found ourselves bridging disciplines and sectors, becoming a trusted "content provider" feeding honest and strategic information to hardworking front-line prevention workers and policy leaders alike, and a leader in strategic campaigns and coalition efforts.

Over time we crafted a national network of 12,000 people -- many deeply involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS -- who were able to take quick action through online alerts, and who were invited to contribute to debate and dialogue at our events, conference calls, and trainings.

CHAMP began in 2003 by drawing community attention to the secretive process the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was using to revamp their prevention efforts under the "Advancing HIV Prevention" rubric, which was to have major implications, including the near fossilization of interventions into a set of mandated "boxed" interventions.

Now the broader federal government, with much leadership from the CDC, stands poised to reorient prevention approaches in a time of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). Last year was a very busy year that saw the release of the unprecedented NHAS as well as encouraging results of partial efficacy from microbicide and preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) trials. But CHAMP, which grew out of those initial constructive confrontations from prevention advocates seeking a national movement, is shutting down.

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This article was provided by Treatment Action Group. It is a part of the publication TAGline.
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