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Pickett Fences: Work Your Action

March/April 2005

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

Jim Pickett
Jim Pickett
I am writing this in early January 2005, in the thick of dissent within the AIDS community and I'm feeling quite dismayed, as many do, with the latest shenanigans from the Washington, DC AIDS lobby group called AIDS Action.

The organization's executive director had signed on to be a host of an inaugural fundraiser saluting President Bush and celebrating Republican electoral success. The proceeds of said event will go to the AIDS Responsibility Project (ARP), essentially a Big Pharma front group that works to keep generic drugs out of the hands, and bodies, of sick and dying people with AIDS in third-world countries. In Bangkok this past summer, ARP staged counter-demonstrations against activists calling for greater generic access with signs bearing the slogans, "GENERICS KILL" and "CAPITALISM WORKS." They also took out a full-page ad in the Bangkok Post attacking generic drugs.

Writer/activist Doug Ireland broke the story about this foul fiesta around Christmas, and the howling began. An enraged group of advocates and activists forced AIDS Action, "the national voice on AIDS," to disassociate itself from this revelry. AIDS Action indicated they had no idea the invite would be so partisan. Uh, yeah. WHAT-evah. Interestingly, they indicated NADA about their affiliation with ARP, or why they would choose to support a fundraiser for such a group.

Speaking of muck, I've more tidbits about ARP. Its executive director is Abner Mason, the international committee chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS who wrote a column titled, "Why Bush's win is a victory for gays" in the December 21 issue of The Advocate. Work your Google for more info on that piece of work.

How many of us felt AIDS Action had our back? How do you feel now? Whose back do you think Abner Mason has?

Okay, enough trash talk. Let's chat about the polar opposite -- Senator Barack Obama -- for a hot second. This newly elected hottie from Illinois, the only African American in the U.S. Senate, is being hailed across the nation as the second coming, our progressive savior who will fight for all of us who care about social justice, education, access to healthcare, trees and the birds and the bees. He's dazzling our popular culture and dominating our headlines, capturing our imaginations like few ever have.

So we don't have to worry. Mr. Obama has gone to Washington. He's gonna take care of business. He's got our back.

Moving on, allow me to appear self-indulgent and self-aggrandize for just a moment. It's all about appearances after all, ain't it? Perhaps you are aware that I operate a national listserv that focuses on HIV/AIDS, gay men's health issues and progressive politics. Perhaps not. Anyway, a couple thousand subscribe, and I've heard from more than one that they are thankful for the information I provide and are glad "I got their back."

Yeah, I got their back. Feel real good about that. Doncha worry. I'll dig up all the information ya'all need.

Clearly, a side-by-side evaluation of these different entities and personalities is like comparing rotten tomatoes and moist, succulent fruits. The common theme here is the sense we have that other people are watching out for us, that organizations and people in power and obnoxious, sleep-deprived overly-caffeinated queens with big mouths will advocate for our interests, will represent us, will have our backs. Some of the above will have our backs most/all of the time. Some will some of the time. Some will get tired, some will forget who they're advocating for. And some will give the appearance of having our back as the knife plunges in, over and over ...

The desire to be protected and looked out for is a very human, but rather infantile trait. Grow up. You gotta work your own action. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't put your faith into institutions and people in whom you trust and may have connections and abilities you don't. But never, ever rely on them to do it all for you. Never, ever feel like it's unnecessary to engage. Never, ever kick back on your Jennifer Convertible and say, "They got my back. Gimme the remote."

We must empower ourselves. And that's a job we cannot delegate.

These are not days in which to be lazy, my dears. We're immersed in a morally repugnant war that is draining the nation's treasury. Social Security and Medicaid are on the chopping block. The Ryan White CARE Act, which provides many of us with medical and supportive services, is up for reauthorization and it's unclear how that may play out. Funding for domestic AIDS programs has been cut two years running while the need continues to grow. Meanwhile abstinence-only programs are receiving more money than ever, with curricula that teach that sweat and tears are potential vectors for HIV transmission, and that girls can get pregnant by touching a boy's wee wee. The CDC has dangerously narrowed its prevention focus, and actively worked to disparage the efficacy of condoms. Prevention programs for gay men are under attack.

Faith is trumping science every time, the flat earthers are going back for seconds and thirds at the buffet while millions go hungry.

More people are living in poverty, more people than ever have no health insurance.

We must get involved. We must engage. WE do. We must inform each other and our communities. Surf it, Google it, look it up. Join a group, go to a meeting, go to lots of meetings, sign on to a committee, plan a protest. Call and e-mail Barack and our elected officials at every level. We gotta show up at their district offices and in our state capitals and the nation's capital. We gotta work our action!

You bettah work ... I have a couple dates to lipstick into your planner. Plan to participate where and when you can. Engage. Have your own back.

April 12-13, 2005 -- Caring for Our Communities-HIV/AIDS Advocacy Days in Springfield, Illinois. More info at

May 2-5, 2005 -- An expanded super-sized AIDS Watch (co-sponsored with the National Association of People with AIDS) training and advocacy days in Washington, DC. This is the first installment of the Campaign to End AIDS. More info at, and

August 19-21, 2005 -- Staying Alive, annual conference by the National Association for People with AIDS, in Los Angeles, CA. More info at

October 8-12, 2005 -- Five days of Action to End AIDS, with caravans of activists from around the country and PWAs from around the world convening in Washington, DC for an historic mobilization that will build political power for the AIDS movement for years to come. This is being organized and planned even as you finish this phrase, and you can join the efforts NOW. Check out for more info.

Finally, as ONE way to HELP stay informed, sign up for my free listserv. Send an e-mail to

Work it out!

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A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

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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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