Monday, November 07, 2005

Missing the Campaign to End AIDS

The Campaign to End AIDS has led a series of caravans across the country and is now in Washington, DC. I've seen little news coverage of the Campaign, but here's one story I could do without.

Here's all I have:

Local AIDS groups bypass D.C. march / Leaders say money is better spent on projects at home

San Francisco Chronicle Sun, 06 Nov 2005 3:43 AM PST

As a ragtag band of activists from around the nation marched Saturday through a predominantly black Washington, D.C., neighborhood in an effort to reinvigorate a flagging AIDS movement, notably absent from the crowd of demonstrators were representatives from...

The link doesn't work in my source news feed, so I can't read the original story. Still, two things popped out at me from this news feed without even getting to see the rest of the story.

One, look at the adjectives: "ragtag," "flagging." Both are diminishing terms. The "band of activists" is not only small ("band"), they are "ragtag," meaning without organization, without uniform appearance, perhaps even shabby in their appearance. And the "AIDS movement" is declining, weakening, even drooping. Whatever the rest of the story might have said, it's clear that already the people who marched and the cause for which they were marching have been dismissed by the reporter (and presumably his/her editor and publisher).

If I could have reponded with a letter to the editor, I'd have made a couple of points in reply. I would have said: "If the marchers were indeed 'ragtag,' then they did an excellent job of presenting an accurate and vivid display of the face of AIDS. They showed by their diversity and their poverty of appearance where we are with HIV today in America. We are facing an epidemic that affects people from many different communities, not merely men, not merely homosexuals, not merely white folk. We are facing, moreover, an epidemic that devastates rich and poor alike, sapping their ability to make a living and draining away any wealth that they may have had in order to pay for treatment. Behold the image of AIDS in America!" I would also have said: "Movement, schmovement! What is flagging in this country is the will to fight HIV with all the weapons we have at our disposal. We have a government that declares war on condoms, that refuses to accept the science that supports the success of needle exchange, that pumps money into medications but not into services or prevention, that diverts attention from the needs of Americans with stories of devastation elsewhere, that will spend billions overseas and make cuts at home. We have no panacea available to us, to be sure, but it certainly seems as if this administration has surrendered to HIV at home while making a big show of fighting it elsewhere."

The second thing? Look at the headline itself. Local organizations, presumably in San Francisco (and I have no idea which ones), decided not to participate in the Campaign to End AIDS. No problem here. We all have work to do. We can't all be two places at once, although, goodness knows, I've tried. But then the headline continues with a dis: "money is better spent on projects at home." I'm spluttering here. Lest I say something tacky, let me approach the issue obliquely.

Once upon a time in a legislative session that has long faded from memory, there was a heated battle among pro-choice organizations regarding something or other. The Choice Girls were being so active in dissing one another and generally not getting along that they drew legislative attention to their disagreement, while their issue took a back seat. The situation was so dire that then-Representative Glen Maxey (a hero for HIV legislation in Texas if there ever was one) called me to his office along with representatives from a couple of other organizations that, now and then, also worked on HIV issues. His message was simple: "Do not, under any circumstances, disagree with each other in public." We were all (a) truly convinced of Rep. Maxey's wisdom in just about all things and (b) not stupid. As much as there may have been some elements of sibling rivalry among the groups, we weren't going to parade that before conservative Texas legislators who needed very little excuse to sink our issues.

I'm going to take a leap of faith here and blame the Chronicle (without the least bit of evidence one way or the other) for going a little too far with its headline. Instead, I'm going to think (and say) that what must have happened is that the Chronicle simply misunderstood a local San Francisco organization when its representative surely said something like: "The Campaign to End AIDS is an important effort by many who have been affected by HIV to remind Congress that the epidemic still needs serious policy and funding support in this country. While we ourselves are unable to participate in the Campaign because of funding, we strongly support their efforts and wish them success, because their success will help us do more and better work for the San Francisco community."

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