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Pickett Fences: Casualties of War

May/June 2003

It's four days into the war against Iraq as I write this.

It's over 21 years into the war against AIDS.

The Sunday before the war started, I attended a peace rally in downtown Chicago with thousands of other people -- all ages, all stripes -- some representing a broad array of organizations, some simply representing themselves, some wearing two or three hats. Rallies, demonstrations and protests such as this have been happening for months now, mobilizing millions and millions of people here and around the world, in cities big and small. In high schools, colleges and churches, in parks, squares and plazas. Millions of phone calls have been made, millions of faxes and millions of e-mails been sent. Millions have signed their names to petitions and letters.

The outcry is not disproportionate to the horrors of war.

Last year, three million people in the world died due to another war, AIDS. That's like a city the size of Chicago -- emptied. That's like one thousand repeats of the devastation of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, in which three thousand people died. Remember how we felt the week of those attacks. Multiply that by one thousand. Roughly, the amount of deaths worldwide due to AIDS last year is like three 9/11's every single day of the year. That's how many people three million looks like. That's how awful it is.

As I stood in Daley Plaza that beautiful spring-like day and listened to the impassioned speakers, surrounded by so many people who cared about injustice, by so many people who cared about human suffering and devastation, so deeply and with such conviction, I got a lump in my throat more than once. The first was from the overwhelming beauty of being in this milieu, of being in a country that allowed me to dissent, of feeling the love and energy and intense concern in the crowd.

It almost made me cry.

The second lump has yet to leave my throat. And while I want to cry, while I need to cry, I find I cannot. It's not the only thing I can't do lately -- can't sleep or concentrate either. This second lump comes from a terrible frustration and an overwhelming sadness. And not a little jealousy. Over 21 years into the worst human catastrophe the world has ever seen, over 21 years after the most ruthless and wily terrorist ever to be unleashed started wreaking havoc, decimating lives, families, societies and cultures around the globe ... where is the response from everyday people? Where are the rallies? Why aren't there protests in the streets of London and Madrid, Tokyo and New York and Omaha?

Where are the coalitions? Where is the civil rights movement? Where are the churches? The high school and college students? Where are the labor unions? Where are the soccer moms and the crusty old lefties from the 60s? Where is everybody?

To be sure, there are many people here and far fighting this uphill battle every single second of every single day. But the numbers just aren't there. The mass outrage just isn't there. The compassion is missing in action.

Tell me, was there ever a time that over 100,000 people took to the streets of New York to say "No more AIDS?" That's how many were in the streets on Saturday, the 22nd of March, to say "No war." By all accounts it was a pretty amazing and powerful display, all that diverse energy unified on an issue of such great importance. Interestingly, it just so happens that more than 100,000 New Yorkers are HIV-positive, and about half of those are diagnosed with AIDS. With three percent of the country's total population, New York is the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, accounting for 16 percent of the country's AIDS cases. I bet that every single marcher in that antiwar protest in New York was touched by AIDS themselves -- be it through friends, family, coworkers or their own infection, whether they knew it or not. Tell me, how many in that march knew someone in or from Iraq?

The night the war started, around 10,000 people in Chicago blocked traffic on Lake Shore Drive, one of the city's main thoroughfares. It made international news.

In Chicago, over twice that many are living with HIV. More than that number have already died from AIDS. And we have a hard time getting the press to cover the story. "Where's the angle?" "What's new?"

How many more faggots, niggers, junkies and ho's around the world and here at home -- you and me -- must die? How many more poor, disenfranchised, disconnected, stigmatized and marginalized people around the world and here at home -- you and me -- must die? Are you next? Am I? Will anyone notice? Will an editor be able to find a "news peg?"

The war on AIDS deserves, and yes, needs, millions in the streets and millions burning up the Internet, millions firing off letters to legislators and editors. That would be a proportionate response to the unparalleled disaster of three million people dying in one year. Any less is immoral, amoral, subhuman.

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To read more of Jim Pickett's columns, click here.

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
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