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Advocacy and Activism Come Alive in Atlanta

June 2002

I read an article the other day that enraged me. It actually happens quite often when I'm reading articles and information about HIV/AIDS.

This particular article was about the stance of the United States delegation at the United Nations Special Session on Children towards issues regarding adolescent sexual reproduction health rights -- rights crucial to combating AIDS.

To read that the U.S. delegation was standing alongside Sudan, Libya, Iran and Pakistan in blocking consensus on the Special Session outcome document appalled me. The document would define and secure adolescent sexual reproductive health rights including sexual education programs.

Apparently the U.S. delegation has two specific problems with the document. Problem number one: the language that provides the ability for schools to offer girls sexual education without parental permission. Problem number two: The U.S. delegation wants four paragraphs rewritten to make it clear that abortions are unacceptable. This stance is undermining any positive language on adolescent sexual reproductive health rights and education.

With young people making up fifty percent of all new infections, the Bush administration and the U.S. delegation should be ashamed for attempting to cripple the fight against HIV/AIDS by continuing this stance and blocking consensus.

Do you see it? The U.S. is standing alongside Sudan, Libya, Iran and Pakistan in their retro-minded ideology on reproductive issues? In effect this virtual buffet of ultra-conservative ideology is helping to keep women at risk by denying them the education that could save their lives. This, coming on the heels of President Bush's statement in his January State of the Union address that respect for women is a right, points out the kind of double-speak that we, as marginalized Americans, have to deal with.

I'm angry. I'm angry at the administration's ability to speak out of both sides of its mouth and not be called on it. I'm angry that people are still getting infected with HIV -- in fact the infection rate rose last year for the first time in years.

I'm angry that there are no microbicides, no vaccines, and apparently (with rising infection rates) not enough education. I'm angry that the United States, which possesses 30 percent of the world's wealth, has only pledged $200 million to fight global AIDS when $2.5 billion is needed. (Meanwhile, back at the Texan's ranch, they've already spent BILLIONS on this war on terror.)

I'm angry that Scott Evertz has seemingly done nothing while Sandra Thurman, former AIDS czar, has signed an agreement to coordinate a fundraising campaign that aims to boost the United States' spending on global AIDS to $2 billion annually. I'm angry that when Mr. Evertz was in Atlanta to speak he didn't really address anything but his own sexuality. God bless you Sandra!

I'm angry that I went to a student global AIDS rally and I was the only self-identified person there with HIV and overall the turnout was dismal at best. Cheers to the group of students who coordinated this. Jeers to the PLWA in the area who had better things to do that day.

I'm angry that I have to join a conference call in New York to discover issues with Coca-Cola here in Atlanta about its careless disregard for employees in AIDS-ravaged countries. Their employees, our brothers and sisters living with AIDS in Africa, are being used up and left to die, dispensible drones for the benefit of big business. This is in my backyard, one of the largest employers in the area, and I had to call New York to find out what's going on and what to do about it.

I'm angry that in this country there are only pockets of coordinated activism any longer. New York, Philadelphia and areas of California are doing what is necessary -- the rest of us are just trying to survive on the work others are out there getting arrested for.

I'm angry that people with HIV/AIDS are sitting around bitching about issues yet not willing to get off their asses and do anything about them. The mindset that "my social worker, the E.D. of that agency, or someone else" will do it really grates on my nerves.

Granted, I am fairly newly diagnosed and not yet burnt out, but where is the anger of the '80s? The differences made then were made by people living with the virus, not their social workers. We (people with HIV/AIDS) took the lead and did what was necessary to be taken seriously, THEN the empathetic non-infected folks joined in. It seems today we rely on them to do it all.

What I'm angriest about is that no one else seems to be angry.

The complacency I see in Atlanta is almost as prevalent as it was in rural Indiana, which I left to come here. Believe me, that is not a complimentary statement. It seems that HIV/AIDS only exists here within the walls of the clinics and AIDS service organizations. The lack of a collective will to do something about any one of the issues we have to be angry about is beyond belief to me.

When programs are underfunded and overburdened; when infection rates are rising; when people are dying and injustices continue, why are we not enraged to action? How dare we not be?

Where are you, positive people? Why are we not protesting in the streets, marching on the legislature and staging civil disobedience? Why aren't we ACTing UP and being heard? I wish I knew what it would take to stir you to the anger that brings action.

There is a time and a place for this kind of advocacy/activism, just as there is for, what a friend of mine calls, "polite advocacy." Both are necessary and vital, both can effect change. While I have seen great examples of "polite advocacy" here in Atlanta -- letter writing campaigns, coordinated visits to the legislature, call-ins -- I have yet to see the "in your face" advocacy too long silent in this area.

We, those of us living with HIV/AIDS, are easily overlooked and marginalized, but ONLY if we allow it. Truly if we are not willing to fight for our own rights, how dare we expect anyone else to do so on our behalf?

Is anyone else angry?

I would like to formally announce the reorganization of ACT UP Atlanta! While in relative infancy and struggling with the pains consistent with growing and attempting to attract interested parties and get the word out -- we will be having a Town Hall Meeting in July closely followed by our first organizational meeting. Already a handful of sharp, involved members of the community have expressed interest and commitment. I am excited and think that we have every true hope of becoming an active, vital coalition. Contact Kellie Casper: 770/432-2436, or via e-mail:

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This article was provided by Gay Men's Health Crisis. It is a part of the publication GMHC Treatment Issues. Visit GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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