With the 2018 midterms only seven months away and the Speak Up! 2018 National Leadership Summit for Women Living With HIV taking place this week, we felt now was the perfect time to start shining a light on some of the extraordinary advocates living with and affected by HIV who are hard at work getting out the vote this important election season. HIV advocacy is, by its nature, political work. It is nearly impossible for HIV advocates to guarantee access to comprehensive, affordable, and readily available HIV care and freedom from stigmatizing and unjust laws without making some noise at the polls.
It is with this powerful relationship between the bullhorn and the ballot in mind that Evany Turk has begun mobilizing the HIV community in Texas to become active and informed participants in their local elections. As the membership engagement coordinator for the Positive Women's Network (PWN)-USA, Turk is leading the charge to mobilize HIV advocates into a force for change in the November elections and educating candidates and potential voters on the most important issues for her community. TheBody sat down with Evany to talk about her work and what she hopes to accomplish at the ballot box this year.
Drew Gibson: How did this voter mobilization and education project get started?
Evany Turk: Well, at our PWN chapter in Dallas-Fort Worth, we started talking after the 2016 election about what we could do to get people in the community more engaged in the political process. We wanted to make sure we got people agitated about who was going to be running for election locally this year, and so we just decided to just have a meeting with community members about what they knew and if they wanted to get involved. Voter education ... go over candidates and proposals.
Related: Now Is the Time for People With HIV to Run for Office
DG: What was the response like from the community?
ET: The community response was strong. People felt that voting was important but agreed they didn't know much about who was running and wanted to know more. We decide to invite candidates to a community meeting to get to know them and to learn more about them ourselves.
DG: Are there any particular races or issues that have garnered a lot of interest?
ET: Yes, we've looked at the district attorney race, especially. It was widespread that she [Dallas County DA Faith Johnson] was not liked within the HIV community. There have been a lot of police shootings in Dallas, and she hasn't charged any officers. Her office was known for giving very long, unnecessary sentences and getting rid of diversionary programs. She is not known for working with the community.
A few groups have tried talking to the DA about HIV criminalization, but she wouldn't even meet with anyone. I moved to Texas two years ago from Chicago, and it's been interesting learning how it all works here. One of the first things I heard was about a young lady [Lacresha Craig] who was arrested for spitting on a police officer. After the officer found out that she was HIV positive, she was charged with harassment of a public servant, which is a felony in the state of Texas.
DG: Are you endorsing any candidates in the upcoming election?
ET: As of right now, we are not endorsing any candidates. Down the line, we may. I mean, Ted Cruz is up for re-election and he is just awful. We're not endorsing anybody, but we're definitely against him.
DG: What are your plans for mobilizing the community the vote between now and November?
ET: In a broader sense, we're planning to roll out political education events over the next few months until the general election. We want to go into the areas with low voter turnout and try to recruit popular opinion leaders within the community to get people aware and interested in voting.
We did some trainings for another PWN chapter so they can do some voter engagement at our summit this week. We do plan on rolling this out in other states. Dallas is the only one so far, but Colorado is doing some door knocking.
DG: What would success look like for you once the election is over?
ET: Success would look like getting 100% of people who attend meetings to go vote and getting them into the voting booth knowing who they want to vote for and knowing the purpose of the propositions. If more people participate in the process this time, it tells me they'll do it next time.
I can do my part in changing the landscape here if I get involved in who's going to be voted in. It's really important for us to vote in the people who have our best interests at heart. The best way to deal with frustration is to get in there and change whatever it is you can change.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.