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Opinion

For Resistance Under Trump, the HIV Community Is Eminently Qualified

February 16, 2017

American flag on cracked background

Credit: Delpixart for iStock via Thinkstock


On January 20, the world as we knew it ceased to be. When Donald Trump became president of the United States, the rules of the game changed, and it is fair to say that both HIV advocates and progressives writ large are experiencing growing pains in trying to figure out how best to adapt. We find ourselves in a brave new world, and we cannot hope for policy victories if we don't substantively change the way we advocate for people living with HIV.

The spaces in which HIV advocates had moved about freely for so long were promptly excised and the seemingly inalterable progress of decades upon decades of activism melted away. All the myriad gains of the Obama years -- including those HIV providers had advocated for and planned tirelessly to implement -- seemed to become illusory in an instant, and no one is sure what will stay and what will go.

But the HIV community is eminently qualified to do what we need in our advocacy.


Back to the Rabble-Rousing Role

With its rich history and experience fighting back against the obstinacy and opposition of the Reagan administration and the intense, unrelenting stigma aimed at people living with HIV in the early years of the epidemic, the HIV community has always taken to active protest like a fish to water. However, having President Obama as an ally in the White House for the last eight years, many HIV advocates have understandably slipped out of the role of rabble-rouser and into that of collaborator -- a role that is no longer tenable under Trump.

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In the face of an administration as vicious and unconscionable as Trump's, the organizing that worked with President Obama will yield no fruit. Even the resistance tactics utilized against Reagan and the Presidents Bush will need some tweaking if they are to be effective.

To defeat Trump, we must begin to think like Trump, and to think like Trump is to banish compromise from our consciousness and view every encounter as a test of strength.

One of the key mistakes made by Democrats and some liberal advocacy groups in approaching Trump thus far (and in dealing with the Tea Party for the past six years) is that they have operated as if they would be working with reasonable, rational individuals who would come to the bargaining table in good faith.

This is akin to bringing a butter knife to a gun fight.


Rebuke Anything Except Unyielding Opposition

If the Democratic Party is allowed to cling to the woefully misguided belief that Trump and the Republican leadership are going to meet them halfway on anything, the HIV community will have little chance to save most provisions of the Affordable Care Act or to prevent the privatization of Medicare and the block granting of Medicaid.

Left to their own devices, many Democrats in Congress -- particularly those up for reelection in 2018 -- will continue to approach the Trump administration and their Republican colleagues in their typical, conciliatory manner. We cannot, under any circumstances, let this happen.

The HIV community must sharply and swiftly rebuke anything less than unyielding opposition to Trump's draconian policies. If certain Democrats refuse to grow spines and fight a health care policy that would cast tens of millions of Americans off the insurance rolls and into sickness and death, then we must let them know their days in office are numbered.


Our Turn to Say No

For eight years, the Republican Party milked the politics of obstructionism, speaking with one voice in opposition to President Obama's policies. They fully embraced their role as the "party of no" and rode their obstinacy to control of both houses of Congress and the presidency.

Now, it is our turn to say no. It is not a role that Democrats typically embody with as much relish as their Republican counterparts do, but it is the role that they must play if the gains of the Affordable Care Act and countless other policies and basic freedoms are to remain intact. If congressional Democrats were to form a unified resistance to the Trump administration and congressional Republicans, it would only be because the HIV community and other similarly impacted groups held their representatives feet to the fire.

At the same time that HIV advocates are engaging in coalition building and attempting to keep Congress honest, we must consider the daunting scope of the task we are embarking on.

HIV advocacy in the age of Trump is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and we will only find success if we are able to balance the necessity of fighting harmful Trump administration policies with the need to be selective in asking our allies for help and generous in helping them in return.

For ethical and practical reasons, HIV advocates must stand together not only with groups that are working specifically on HIV issues, but also with those that are less directly linked. Yes, people living with HIV need to lend their voices to the fight against anti-LGBT legislation and the privatization of Medicare, but they must also march against Trump's Muslim ban and Immigration Customs Enforcement deportation raids (and also recognize that people with HIV include Muslim people, immigrants and others targeted directly by the Trump regime.)

Moving forward, HIV advocates are going to be part of a bigger, more diverse coalition of causes and communities than at any point in the history of the epidemic. If we want to ensure that our allies show up when we need them, then we need to show up for their fights, cultivate relationships across a wide variety of causes and weave ourselves into the heart of the resistance. At the same time, we must make sure that all groups we work with are informed and aware of the issues facing the HIV community and make clear that we expect their support in fighting for them.

Drew Gibson is a social worker and freelance writer based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter at @SuppressThis or visit his blog "Virally Suppressed," which covers a multitude of issues related to public health and social justice.


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