I'm so inspired by the amazing work I'm learning about that's being done all over the world, and the boundless energy of the activists at this humongo-mundo conference. AIDS activists from dramatically different backgrounds and countries are building trust and planning actions together. But there's always room for growth! In that spirit, I've put together some questions for us to think about this week, based on observations other activists have made here at the conference and ideas I've borrowed from other movements.
- Did we put enough energy and time into reaching out to local Mexican grassroots AIDS activists before the conference, so we could best understand each other's struggles, goals for the conference and different strategic approaches, and support each other's actions this week?
- Are white, HIV negative U.S. activists dominating the global activist planning meetings? If so, how can we overcome that?
- What possible challenges can arise if we allow International AIDS Society workers into the activist space? Could this alienate activists from Global South countries who may be more vulnerable to repression in ways that we Global North activists are not aware of?
- So many great AIDS activists, after working themselves to exhaustion for years for no pay, are now able to support themselves as workers at AIDS organizations. I heard a few people say this week that because activists who in the past would be tearing shit up (so to speak, I mean, disrupting panels and taking over booths, etc., marching around) are now hosting their own panels, they are either too busy to get fierce and militant or their hands are tied by their employment at more liberal (less street activist) AIDS organizations.
- How do our groups organize themselves as professional AIDS activists, some of whom are here for their fulltime jobs? Do we allow ourselves to take care of our human needs (sleep, water, time alone, etc.) and relate to our comrades and people we meet as humans first? Are interns and volunteers bossed around by staff? Are decisions made in advance by an executive director, or are they made democratically, with leadership by people who are directly affected by the issues we are organizing around?
- Are we just talking (and yelling) to people in power and the media, or are we giving time and energy to listen and learn from activists with different strategies and skills from around the world? I was struck by the EMPOWER (Thai sex workers activist group) workshop yesterday that involved a hilarious and fun role playing game with people dressed up as police and sex workers. It demonstrated the best popular education methods I've ever seen. Are our movements still doing real popular education with the people we work with in our own communities?
These are sincere questions, because there's a lot I've missed here, including most of the activist meetings and actions. There's so much going on! But I do want to raise the questions, and in doing so, discuss a problem that's talked about by many grassroots organizers against capitalist globalization who are from Global South countries. They refer to this problem as the NGO-ization of the movement. NGOs are non-governmental organizations, which in the US we call nonprofits and foundations. These grassroots organizers from the Global South are right in saying that there are dangers in letting nonprofits and foundations have too much power in our movements. Even if they are our own nonprofits. In the US, a great critique has been sparked by INCITE! Women of Color against Violence, and SONG, Southerners on New Ground. We can also learn from the example of Daspu, the Brazilian sex workers group, which supports its work via its own fashion clothing line, meaning it's independent of funding that could try to control its work.
I am also inspired by an indigenous activist group from Oaxaca, the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca "Ricardo Flores Magon" (I'm writing an article about AIDS activism in Oaxaca...) who say, "Our strength lies in our mutual ability to help ourselves."
If some of the poorest people on the planet can do it...