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 often I'm not just voting for the "lesser of two evils," but voting for someone whom I believe will actually use their office to make life better for me and those I care most about.
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 this: Do 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 Operation: Survive! 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!
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 the first week in October. You may register by contacting your local library or county voter registration office. If you are an AID Atlanta client, you can ask your case manager about registering through their agency. We also have voter registration materials available at our office that we'll be happy to send you if you give us a call.