As summer slowly gives way to fall, the next round of campaigning is just beginning to heat up. Commentators, pundits and talk show hosts are all shouting about how important this election is -- just as they have been for months. So what's so important about it? President, Senator, Congress, the entire Georgia General Assembly ... these are just a few of the positions that will be elected on November 2. Furthermore, Georgia is also facing unprecedented attacks upon the future of civil rights by the hateful anti-gay ballot initiative (see Greg Smith's article in this issue).
If you think that voting doesn't matter to you, think again. I'm still a strong believer in direct action politics as a way of influencing political action in a quick and decisive manner, but I also realize having officials who are knowledgeable and sensitive to the issues related to HIV can save problems down the road. I have also begun to realize that oftentimes I'm not just voting for the "lesser of two evils" but voting for someone who I believe will actually use their office to make life better for me and those I care most about ... someone who will not only advocate directly for my beliefs, but will have the wisdom to appoint and monitor the various staff members, bureaucrats and other policymakers who really do the day-to-day work of our government in like-minded fashion. Like it or not, the people elected in November will affect your life for years to come.
Several years ago, someone commented in a letter sent to our office that they did not understand why AIDS Survival Project was involved with voter registration and political activity. The letter writer felt that these activities should take a back seat to educating people about opportunistic infections and fighting both pharmaceutical companies and medical bureaucracies. My concern is that many of you may agree with his sentiment -- that HIV is a medical issue -- and that all this talk of politics is just a distraction from the real work to be done.
I don't think anyone around here would argue that knowing the voting record of your state senator is more important than taking steps to avoid PCP. I also know that we spend far more time trying to have an impact on how HIV-related services are provided than monitoring the political scene. Our advocacy work centers on health-related activities.
But for those of you who feel that politics is best left to someone else, let me ask you if you receive assistance from Medicaid, Medicare, SSI, HOPWA or Ryan White? Has one of your health care providers received training from the Southeast AIDS Training and Education Center, or have you benefited from government-sponsored clinical trials? Do you think the CDC should be informing people of the risks associated with having unprotected sex or sharing contaminated needles? If you said "yes" to any of these, you really need to be concerned about who is elected.
All the decisions regarding the future of these services will ultimately be decided by elected officials. Whether the issue is funding, quality of service or the procedure for determining who gets access, in the end, it's voted on by politicians.
When we challenge you to be educated, be registered and vote, we are not asking you to ignore the basics of prevention of infections, treatment of HIV and the right to be regarded by your service providers with dignity and respect. We are trying to point out to you that with empowerment comes responsibility. Every day, people take the responsibility for making their own health care decisions and for speaking up to an insensitive service provider. In the same way, folks need to take responsibility for overseeing the political process.
Remember that ultimately, this is the process that makes decisions regarding everything from the types of drugs you can access to the types of housing you can live in. Just as THRIVE! Weekend is the first step in empowering yourself to take care of your health, voting is the first step in empowering yourself to take care of your health care system!
Finally, here are some facts I'd like you to think about when deciding whether to register and vote this year:
Therefore, the views of as few as only 15% of the residents of Georgia can decide policy that affects the lives of over 8.7 million people. Are you willing to turn your rights, your tax money and your future over to such a small group without at least trying to have your own opinion heard?
Oh, and if you're afraid that registering and voting will make you have to serve jury duty, think again -- you're just as likely to be called for jury duty if you are registered to drive ... yet how many people refuse to get a driver's license out of fear of jury duty?!
If you are not currently registered to vote, or if you have moved since the last primary or general election, you will need to register to vote at least 30 days before the November election. This year's deadline for registering is October 4. You may register by visiting the Secretary of State's web site at www.sos.state.ga.us/elections/voter_registration/voter_reg_app.htm. We also have voter registration materials available at our office that we'll be happy to send you if you give us a call.
Jeff Graham can be reached at JGraham@aidssurvivalproject.org.