Category Archives: disaster capitalism

Prison Health News: Spring 2012 Issue!

You can download it as a pdf for reading by clicking here, or the printable version by clicking here. See the end of this post for helpful printing instructions.

ImagePrison Health News is a print newsletter read by about 5,000 people who are locked up in prisons and jails across the United States. It is produced by a Philadelphia-based collective of writers and editors and includes the work of imprisoned artists and writers. Our readers are living inside a system that denies them prevention tools and treatment information about HIV, hepatitis, and other health issues. They are dealing with medical neglect, daily humiliations driven by intense stigma, and the destruction of their communities by mass imprisonment.

Prison Health News is a project of the HIV/AIDS services organization Philadelphia FIGHT. Volunteers answer the many letters to us from people in prisons and jails asking for resources and health information.

To help distribute Prison Health News, contact:

Institute for Community Justice, Philadelphia FIGHT
21 S. 12th Street, 7th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Office: 215.525.0460
Fax: 215.525.0461

Instructions for printing Prison Health News on your home printer:

1. Download the printable version here.

2. Use Letter size (8 1/2 x 11) paper. Make sure that the printer is not set to reduce, or “scale” the document. On my Mac in Preview, I go under “File” and click on “Page Setup,” then make sure “Scale” is set to 100%. I don’t think it’s much different for other computers and programs.

3. In the printing options, select “Odd pages only.” Press print.

4. Half of the pamphlet will print. After it finishes printing, take the whole pile, flip it over, and insert it back into the printer. It usually has to be flipped over lengthwise, but you might want to make sure by using a test page.

5. In the printing options, select “Even pages only” and press print.

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Filed under African Americans, arts and culture, criminalization of HIV, disaster capitalism, police repression, prison, stigma, treatment access, Uncategorized

Why Ideology Matters, and what the AIDS Movement Can Teach the Left about Organizing

Every day I read another depressing news article about how the lame duck Democrats are going to cut off unemployment checks for millions of people right before the holidays and keep Dubya’s tax cuts for the super-rich intact. And sometimes I start to think, OK, maybe this does mean that we should drop our organizing for justice against mass imprisonment and AIDS, and all get together to fight back against this corporate class warfare, something almost everyone in the country could get behind if we all stood together.

But then I think, Wait a minute. How did we get in this situation? How did so many Americans get so screwed up in their thinking that we could allow the government to start dismantling social security and endlessly wage two wars (or three, if you count Pakistan) funded by devastating cuts to our libraries, hospitals, schools, everything that’s left of the New Deal? For us to roll over and take this, we had to be persuaded to blame ourselves for everything bad that happens to us. They started with blaming drug users and people with criminal records, and they really started winning when they blamed “welfare mothers.” Now they can blame the young people for all the violence in our communities, and if the parents don’t want to accept that, the parents can blame themselves and each other. If we can’t find a job, it’s our own fault. Failure and shame.

Blaming the Victim

My dear friend and study group comrade Dana Barnett turned me on to an amazing book called Blaming the Victim by  William Ryan. He wrote it in 1970, but I think it’s even more infuriatingly accurate for our own times. Here’s a bit from page 5: “The miserable health care of the poor is explained away on the grounds that the victim has poor motivation and lacks health information…. The ‘multiproblem’ poor, it is claimed, suffer the psychological effects of impoverishment, the ‘culture of poverty,’ and the deviant value system of the lower classes; consequently, though unwittingly, they cause their own troubles. From such a viewpoint, the obvious fact that poverty is primarily an absence of money is easily overlooked or set aside.”

The rich, the Right, and the liberals started off by blaming the people who can most easily be marginalized, and then they came for the rest of us. This means our best hope to take apart this incredibly successful victim-blaming ideology is to learn from the movements built by the most stigmatized, the people most abandoned and hated and feared by the majority.

Re-Building Ourselves, Building Our Movements

People with AIDS deal with stigma most of us can’t imagine, the kind where your family refuses to share plates or toilet seats, where telling others your health status in prison can get you killed. How do HIV positive people get past the self-blame, too, the sense that you failed because you didn’t insist on a condom, you shared needles, or you were raped? The only way to do this is by building a movement and community based on supporting and believing in each other, encouraging each other to take on new challenges and skills and make changes we never thought possible. In the AIDS movement, a person living under a cardboard box can make a speech in front of City Hall at a rally. In the AIDS community’s support groups, domestic abusers and survivors can find themselves hugging in celebration of their newfound power to overcome and become someone new.

Any strategy to build popular refusal to pay for the corporate elite’s economic crisis has to be rooted in taking apart the ideology of blaming the victim. People cannot believe in themselves and become leaders if they are blaming themselves for their own oppression. And we can’t let ourselves take the short-cut and accept the myth of the “deserving poor,” the people who used to be middle-class and have had the rug pulled out from under them. We have to fight this thing on all fronts – for our rights to housing, education, health care, the return of our loved ones from prison, meaningful jobs, everything – but wherever we do, we have to consciously attack the ideology of blaming the victim, and not let anyone get marginalized out of the movements we are building. Those are the folks we can learn from the most.

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Gone ’til November? Wyclef Jean and the Haitian elections

I’m a huge fan of Wyclef Jean’s music, from 1996’s height of Fugees glory, The Score — an album played nonstop at every activist dance party that year — to his solo efforts, which never fail to lift my spirit. I was intrigued to hear that Wyclef was running for president of Haiti, one of the first places in the world to be hit hard by HIV in the ’80s. So was the AIDS activist group Housing Works, which does some organizing there and asked on August 2nd, Would President Wyclef Jean Make HIV/AIDS a Priority? Unfortunately, my research on Wyclef’s politics sang me a tune that was not music to my ears. It turns out Wyclef Jean supports the policies that keep 90% of the population desperately poor and without the resources to recover from famine, tropical storms’ destruction, and HIV/AIDS.

This cartoon, created Aug. 15 by Mykel Archie, was inspired by an article in SF BayView (http://sfbayview.com/2010/wyclef-jean-for-president-of-haiti-look-beyond-the-hype/). Check out more of Mykel's artwork at http://www.perfectmandesigns.com.

Well, the question may be moot, as Wyclef was kept out of the race by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). He has declared his intention to sue the CEP for deciding he has not lived in Haiti the past 5 years, but this may do no more than keep him in the election spotlight for the next few months. The media spectacle he is creating — with his song hating on the CEP and onstage pot shots at Sean Penn — may be exactly the point. Wyclef is global capital’s answer to the nation that freed itself from slavery in 1804 and refuses to accept the kidnapping and banishment of its beloved president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Haiti is still not free, but neither has it been defeated, because it has successfully resisted what Czechoslovakian writer Milan Kundera called “laughter and forgetting.”

I’ve always loved Wyclef Jean’s goofy humor, but lately he’s looking more like a minstrel show, playing the fool for the powers that be. He actually supported the right-wing coup against Aristide, who as president refused to sell the phone and electric companies, using their profits to cut illiteracy in half and make food accessible. Aristide wanted to raise the minimum wage to $2 a day, while Wyclef Jean supports Bill Clinton’s plan for more sweatshops. Even before January’s devastating earthquake, Haiti’s elected government was not allowed to implement its own recovery plans after the food crisis and the economic crisis. Haiti is occupied by UN forces, and its only resources for recovery are controlled by nonprofit organizations from the countries that staged the coup.

Yet Haiti’s popular movements remain strong, demanding Aristide’s return and $21 billion in restitution from France, which forced Haiti to pay French slave owners for its freedom after the revolution.

Aristide’s political party, Lavalas, remains the largest and most popular in Haiti. When Lavalas was officially banned from last year’s Senate elections, a popular boycott resulted in a meager voter turnout of 3 to 5%. This year, Lavalas was disqualified again despite full compliance with all requirements. To prevent another boycott, what else but the distracting dazzle that American voters know so well — the meaningless spectacle of celebrity posturing?

When Lavalas candidates were barred from the ballot for the Senate election of April 19, 2009, almost no one voted; even some poll workers refused to vote. That's how loyal Haitians are to the Lavalas Party. – Photo: Alice Smeets

The challenge for AIDS activists in the U.S. is to reject our own brand of laughter and forgetting: our pragmatic acceptance of the status quo in fighting HIV/AIDS and poverty here, where large nonprofits only take on one “issue” at a time and are not accountable to any kind of popular democracy. Because we can’t imagine a different kind of system, one based on solidarity not charity, we can’t hear the demands of Haiti’s popular movements to control their own recovery from the intertwining crises of food, jobs, HIV, and environmental destruction.

For more information, please read this August 28, 2010 article by Haiti Action Committee member Charlie Hinton: “Haiti’s Election Circus Continues, and Wyclef Jean Won’t Take No for an Answer”

Bill Clinton, Wyclef Jean and U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon visit a Cite Soleil school where children are fed in March 2008. – Photo: Marco Dormino, MINUSTAH

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Filed under Alternatives to 501c3, arts and culture, disaster capitalism, economic justice, Haiti, imperialism/colonialism, Uncategorized

ADAP Crisis: More people on waiting lists for HIV meds than ever before

“We die — you make money!” That’s what we shouted at the stock exchange in 1997, during ACT UP New York’s 10th anniversary Wall Street action. How is Wall Street doing today? It’s hard to tell. The Campaign for America’s Future reported in April that “multiple federal agencies have disbursed $4.6 trillion dollars in supporting the financial sector since the meltdown in 2007-2008…. This is an astonishing 32% of our GDP (2008) 130% of the federal budget (FY 2009).”

OK, so how are people living with HIV and AIDS doing? Well, The Body reports that as of July 1st, 2,090 individuals in 12 states are now on waiting lists for lifesaving medications through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). Since its founding more than ten years ago, ADAP has always been in crisis. But this is the longest the waiting list has ever been.

According to a July 1 New York Times article, Arkansas and Utah have dropped people from the program, cutting off meds they were already receiving. New Jersey plans to cut eligibility on August 1st, removing 600 of the 7,700 people in ADAP in that state. The article goes on to say, “Louisiana capped enrollment on June 1 but decided against keeping a waiting list. ‘It implies you’re actually waiting on something,’ said DeAnn Gruber, the interim director of the state’s H.I.V./AIDS program. ‘We don’t want to give anyone false hope.’”

OK, so how are the drug companies doing? A September 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation chart shows us that the pharmaceutical industry is doing quite well, thank you very much, while other industries are tanking due to the recession. I’m not exactly sure what 19.3% profitability means, but I’m told it translates to very fucking profitable, and try to chase our asses to our private island resort to get some of your money back, suckers!

I worked at a pharmaceutical advertising agency for a year to pay off my credit card debt and learn medical copyediting. They threw money at me — a $45,000 salary to make zerox copies and put them in a binder. Why is the pharmaceutical advertising industry so rich? Why does it even exist?

What if, like every single other country in the world except for New Zealand (according to ABC news), drug companies weren’t allowed to advertise to consumers? What if instead of spending $5 billion in TV, radio, magazine and newspaper ads each year (says Nielsen Media Research, cited in the ABC news article above), they simply lowered their prices? What if corporations weren’t allowed to sell lifesaving medications at a profit? Imagine that.

Advocates from the Fair Pricing Coalition have negotiated rebates and better prices from drug companies for ADAP in recent years. But their hard work and success have not been able to prevent the current ADAP crisis. Activists from every major AIDS advocacy organization are issuing action alerts this week. Currently they are asking everyone to call the president. Go to the Bilerico Project to take action: http://www.bilerico.com/2010/07/president_obama_address_the_adap_crisis.php

Check out the AIDSConnect.net blog for ideas on how to build a lasting and powerful movement to fight for our community’s right to the medications that keep people with HIV and AIDS living strong.

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US Social Forum workshops not to be missed!

So the US Social Forum starts tomorrow in Detroit!

I had a life-altering, mind-blowing experience at the first-ever USSF, in Atlanta in 2007, and wrote this open letter to the AIDS movement and the Left: https://aidsandsocialjustice.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/open-letter-to-the-left-and-the-aids-movement-two-ships-passing-on-our-winding-way-to-a-new-dawn/

This will be the second-ever USSF. I’ll be blogging about sessions I go to that are inspiring. But I probably won’t post anything here til after I get home, exhausted as my aching bones get at conferences, and me without a laptop.

Here are some sessions I’d recommend for AIDS activists and all social justice activists who are blessed to be going to Detroit!

– Suzy

WED, 10am-noon, Cobo Hall: O2-42
Join in the Whirlwind: A Cooperative Panel on Research and Movement Building
Team Colors Collective

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: D2-08
The Take Back the Land Movement: Realizing the Human Right to Housing in the US
Take Back the Land (Miami), Survivors Village (New Orleans), Chicago Anti-Eviction Coalition

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: W2-67
US Social Forum Queer People’s Movement Assembly
co-hosted by The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, which works on prison issues, along with other groups including Queers for Economic Justice, SONG: Southerners on New Ground, and more groundbreaking LGBT groups Continue reading

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Filed under Africa, African Americans, Alternatives to 501c3, arts and culture, California, disaster capitalism, displacement and gentrification, Drug users' rights, economic justice, gay and bisexual men, gender, Haiti, harm reduction, housing, immigration/migration, imperialism/colonialism, Latina/o communities in the United States, New Orleans, New York City, police repression, prison, revolutionary strategies, sex workers' rights, sexual violence, Southern United States, trans and gender non-conforming, transformative justice, treatment access, women

Housing As HIV Prevention

—Suzy Subways

As many as 60% of all HIV positive people have experienced homelessness or unstable housing (such as staying on a friend’s couch, where a person could be kicked out at any time) in their lifetimes, according to research by Angela Aidala, Ph.D. of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. But often, even when organizations or governments provide housing as a part of HIV services, the issue is talked about in a way that blames individuals for “risky behavior” and assumes that if someone is dealing with both housing problems and HIV, these two challenges are a result of being a “risky person.”

For 20 years, AIDS housing activists have known that housing challenges are often beyond the control of an individual because lack of stable, adequate housing affects whole communities and is rooted in racism and poverty. The research of Mindy Fullilove, also at Mailman, has shown that destruction of urban neighborhoods uproots whole communities of people and makes them vulnerable to homelessness, drug use, and HIV.

Rodrick Wallace, an epidemiologist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, also points to the forced displacement of Black neighborhoods, whether through urban renewal programs, redlining (when banks refuse to lend money to African Americans to buy homes), eminent domain (a legal process by which houses are taken for city or commercial use of the land), gentrification (when residents are priced out of their neighborhoods by an influx of wealthier residents), or disasters like Hurricane Katrina (due to neglect of infrastructure), and the Bronx fires in the 1970s (due to the closing of firehouses). “Health disparities in the Black community can be traced to a 70-year course of serial forced displacement,” Wallace says, and he offers a dire warning for New York City. “Gentrification is driving African Americans from Harlem, the South Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant [Brooklyn], which will create a ring of refugee camps around an alabaster white city. Multi-drug resistant HIV will be allowed to grow in these communities over time before spreading to the rest of the world.”

Poor communities are experiencing forced displacement in cities around the world, with even worse implications in places like South Africa, where the HIV rate is already extremely high. But people living in shacks around the cities of South Africa are resisting forced evictions, and people living with HIV in New York City are demanding housing – not just for their own survival, but also as a prevention tool. Activists at Housing Works, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) are leading a campaign to force New York City to provide housing to all people living with HIV by expanding the city’s unique policy that guarantees housing only to people living with an AIDS diagnosis.

“One of the single biggest ways to prevent HIV by reducing risk behavior is to provide stability in housing,” says Charles King, president and CEO of Housing Works. “As long as you have chronic homelessness, people will be involved in drug activity that’s related to their homelessness and sex trade that’s related to their homelessness. Whether you’re HIV positive or negative, homelessness increases the risk of HIV transmission. The more people are forced to engage in survival activities, the greater the risk.”

Alan Perez, coordinator of the Legislative Action Group at GMHC, agrees and emphasizes how unstable housing puts people at risk. “We have clients who have to sell their bodies just to stay where they’re at,” he says.

With organizing help from Housing Works and the National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC), researchers have come together with new data showing that housing is integral to HIV treatment, care and prevention. And activists are using the research as tools in their advocacy. This collaboration between activists and researchers is further strengthened by collaboration between AIDS housing activists and housing justice activists, people who fight to end homelessness and gentrification in cities around the world. This issue of Solidarity Project explores some of this inspiring work.

This mural, “House Every One,” is a collaboration between Groundswell Community Mural Project and NYCAHN (© Groundswell Community Mural Project; Lead artist: Belle Benfield; Assistant artist: Claude Cantave, with youth from TEMA (Teen Empowerment Mural Apprenticeship Program); 14 x 28 feet on canvas, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 2004).

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Filed under African Americans, disaster capitalism, displacement and gentrification, economic justice, housing, New York City, Solidarity Project, South Africa

Abahlali baseMjondolo – The South African Shack Dwellers Movement

— Suzy Subways

May/June 2008 • Issue 8

Abahlali organizers and sisters Nellie and Nosipho Mtshali amid the wreckage of a shack demolished by the city of Durban, South Africa, in the Arnett Drive settlement on January 17, 2008 (photo courtesy of Abahlali baseMjondolo).
Abahlali marches on Mayor Obed Mlaba, September 28, 2007, demanding an immediate moratorium on forced evictions, as well as land for more housing and basic city services (photo by Mnikelo and Richard, courtesy of Abahlali baseMjondolo).

South Africans living in the imijondolo – shack dwellers – have by far the highest HIV prevalence in the country. Sometimes called shantytowns or informal settlements, these communities of people, living in shacks made of materials like tin and paper, usually have no water, electricity, sanitation, healthcare or garbage removal. According to the 2005 South African National Household Survey on HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication, commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, HIV prevalence among 15- to 49-year-old shack dwellers is 25.8%. Nationwide, women ages 15 to 24 are up to four times more likely to be HIV positive than their male counterparts.

“Our women and children are vulnerable to HIV because they become homeless through eviction by the government from the shacks,” explains Zandile Nsibande, an AIDS activist and member of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement. “Others are unemployed and find it hard to rent an accommodation. They involve themselves in conditional love, because they need a place to sleep with their children, and they are voiceless when it comes to condom use,” she says. “That is how our women become vulnerable to rape and HIV infection.” Also, without access to toilets in the imijondolo, women are raped in the bushes.

Abahlali baseMjondolo began in the large port city of Durban in early 2005, with a road blockade organized by people living in the Kennedy Road settlement to protest the sale to a local industrialist of nearby land that had long been promised by a local government representative to the shack dwellers for housing. The movement grew quickly, and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements, according to a history of Abahlali written by the Abahlali baseMjondolo Book Collective in October 2006. The document reports, “Amongst other victories, the Abahlali have democratised the governance of many settlements, stopped evictions in a number of settlements, won access to schools, stopped the industrial development of the land promised to Kennedy Road, forced numerous government officials, offices and projects to ‘come down to the people,’ and mounted vigorous challenges to the uncritical assumption of a right to lead the local struggles of the poor in the name of a privileged access to the ‘global,’ i.e., Northern donors, academics and non-government organizations (NGOs), that remains typical of most of the NGO-based left.” The group’s peaceful demonstrations have frequently met with police beatings, rubber bullets (and sometimes live ammunition), and arrests. Continue reading

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Filed under Alternatives to 501c3, disaster capitalism, displacement and gentrification, economic justice, housing, imperialism/colonialism, police repression, revolutionary strategies, Solidarity Project, South Africa, women

RESOURCES

English Links:

New research from National Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit (Press release, March 2008)
Information about two major, long-awaited studies showing that housing for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS not only improves health outcomes but also saves millions in medical costs. Another study found that homeless youth are four to five times more likely to engage in high-risk drug use and more than twice as likely to engage in high-risk sex than youth in housing with some adult supervision.

AIDS and Behavior housing issue (Journal, November 2007)
Special issue of AIDS and Behavior with new research on HIV/AIDS and housing. The National AIDS Housing Coalition is offering free copies for a modest shipping charge.

CHAMP Community Forum, “Housing as HIV Prevention” (Summary, November 2007)
Notes and PowerPoint slides from presentations by speakers from Housing Here & Now!, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and the New York City AIDS Housing Network.

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) (Website)
An international human rights organization fighting forced evictions.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness (Report, January 2007)
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force/National Coalition for the Homeless comprehensive report showing that 40% of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.

AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco (Website)
An advocacy group founded and run by disabled people with HIV/AIDS.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) (Article, March 2008)
In Left Turn magazine, R J Maccani writes about Movement for Justice in El Barrio, an East Harlem-based organization of immigrants and low-income people of color fighting gentrification in Manhattan’s “last frontier.”

INDIA: Black Flags in Dharavi (Video, 2007)
15,000 shack dwellers in Mumbai, India, protest the displacement of Dharavi, popularly known as Asia’s largest slum, by real estate developers.

Homeless Forums (Website)
A global English-language forum for people who are homeless to share their stories and offer helpful information.

BBC: Tent Cities Spring Up in LA (Video, 2008)
News report on a shantytown in Southern California as people have lost their homes during the mortgage crisis.

Links en Español:
VIH/SIDA y la Vivienda: Una Buena Inversión de Recursos Públicos (Factsheet, 2007)
How housing reduces HIV infection rates and saves money.

VIH/SIDA y la Vivienda: Previniendo la Transmisión de VIH (Factsheet, 2007)
How stable housing prevents HIV transmission.

Los de Abajo (Article, March 2008)
This article by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada discusses the work of Movement for Justice in El Barrio to resist gentrification in New York City.

Bilingual Link:
Forced Evictions in Guatemala (Video, January 2007)
This video by Rights Action shows Guatemalan police and army forcibly evicting indigenous families for a mining company.

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Filed under disaster capitalism, displacement and gentrification, economic justice, housing, imperialism/colonialism, Solidarity Project

Open Letter to the Left and the AIDS Movement: Two ships passing on our winding way to a new dawn

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

[Note: I am a queer, white, HIV-negative person who uses female pronouns and has non-transgender privilege. These ideas are the result of conversations with many people, but I wrote this as an independent AIDS community journalist and a leftist, and I don’t speak for any group. Many thanks to my mentors who gave me feedback yesterday! It has changed a lot.]

The US Social Forum blew my mind, it grew my mind like a wild weed, it heard my voice and it rendered me inaudible—I talked and cheered and chanted so much that I couldn’t speak above a whisper from Saturday morning until today. It gave me a feeling like, the Left is finally getting its shit together. I got a sense that people of color—especially immigrants, indigenous people, women of color and queer people of color—were like, “the Left is ours,” and were bringing the most innovative strategies and concepts to be seen in years, rocketing the whole thing into another dimension.

The speech by Andrea Smith of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence at the plenary on Liberating Gender and Sexuality: Integrating Gender and Sexual Justice Across Our Movements—and the audience of hundreds’ overwhelming response to it—was one of the most inspiring moments of my life. Not only did Smith question the domestic violence movement’s reliance on the state to protect us, her organization’s work offers all our movements the building blocks of an alternative.

I’ve been an activist for 17 years (mostly on access to higher education and queer and AIDS issues), and I feel like this is what many of us have been hoping for, yet not daring to imagine. Could the Left really be shedding its massive layers of racism, sexism, and homophobia? But the most inspiring moments always leave room for us to grow. This is a moment of great possibility for the AIDS movement and the Left. I won’t make a list of reasons why the AIDS movement had moments of feeling marginalized at the USSF, but to illustrate this, I will say that HIV/AIDS was not mentioned once at the plenary on gender and sexuality.

For those of us in the AIDS movement, this kind of silence tugs at old wounds, because Reagan did not say “AIDS” out loud until 1987, by which time an average of nine Americans had died of AIDS for every day that he had been in office. Now, we have lifesaving medicines in the US and other rich countries, but about 8,500 people around the world die of AIDS every day, and according to the NAACP, every day 72 African Americans contract HIV.

My goal with this letter is to point toward the light the Left offers the AIDS movement now, and ways the Left can learn from the AIDS movement now. The Social Forum illuminates both, because without women of color at the center, neither will ever find its way—and without the innovative new strategies emerging now, we would all just be talking.

Life after nonprofits

INCITE’s second book, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, sold out all copies at the Forum, and its panel by the same name filled up so quickly that organizers had to post a sign on the door saying, “Please do not open – Fire Hazard!”—and still people squeezed in. Southerners on New Ground (SONG, a multiracial LGBT/queer group) held a workshop where participants also discussed the limits of the 501c3 model (for example, competition for funding between community groups; letting funders set your agenda; allowing college graduates to serve as front lines in communities they know nothing about or are themselves gentrifying; big nonprofits setting movement goals; grassroots groups not being taken seriously; self-perpetuation being valued over service and honesty, etc.) and exciting new ways to do what SONG called “free organizing.” There were also “hybrid models,” with some aspects of both the 501c3 and the free, such as a working board of directors with no staff, or having members vote on organizational decisions and pay dues. (For questions to ask yourself and help stimulate more ideas, see http://www.southernersonnewground.org/?p=53)

One attendee talked about her childcare collective, which charges only $75 every five months (for groceries). An activist from Louisville said that her community trusts her group more now that they’re not backed by a white funder from outside the community. An activist from LA told how the Garment Worker Center is moving from a paid-staff model to all volunteers, with mentoring from Brooklyn’s Sista II Sista.

In the AIDS movement, we know how the move from street action to institution-building meant that we had built the capacity to provide lifesaving services to our communities. Plus, AIDS organizations are the biggest employer of LGBT people in the US—and in some places, a provider of jobs to many people in our community who have a hard time finding work in a discriminatory environment due to their experience with prison, homelessness, drug use, or sex work, or because they’re trans or gender non-conforming or living with HIV.

But our institutions are now turning on their creators—people living with HIV—and turning them into passive “consumers” of services, as if your local AIDS service organization were the local mall and HIV is no longer political. And “AIDS, Inc.” took us off the streets, cooled off our activism. Who among us hasn’t feared losing our jobs if we speak at that demo, or been told protests are a relic from the past? At the Campaign to End AIDS, a major national mobilization in 2005, Sean Strub, the PWA founder of POZ magazine, listed the major AIDS advocacy organizations that had failed to endorse or support the campaign, and railed against the lack of HIV positive inclusion on nonprofit boards. [note: “PWA” means “person/people living with HIV/AIDS”]

SONG members pointed out that whether or not we choose to find new ways of serving and organizing our communities, we’ll be forced to anyway, because our community-based nonprofits are dying. This especially speaks to the AIDS movement. Small HIV prevention and support organizations that Black, Latino, gay and other communities started 20 years ago are closing their doors all over the country because the federal money is being cut back to just cover medical care and HIV testing, not vital programs like condom distribution, street outreach, counseling, buddy programs, language interpretation, and housing. (For more info see http://www.poz.com/articles/401_11463.shtml)

The most inspiring and transformative HIV/AIDS program I’ve ever witnessed, Philadelphia’s TEACH Outside, has been on the chopping block several times this year. Run by John Bell, who was a leader in ACT UP for years and is an HIV positive, African American Vietnam vet in recovery who spent years in prison, TEACH Outside is a class for people living with HIV who are newly released from incarceration. John Bell teaches how to live healthy with HIV and strategies for dealing with life on the outside, mentors students in activism, and tells them to call him anytime—but the biggest challenge for students is dealing with the double stigma of prison and HIV. I asked him once if the program is more than just a class, and he said, “It has to be. Because people aren’t just unfeeling beings. Even though people have been incarcerated they’re still human beings. To allow that person to become a working member of society, we’re going to have to actually address the totality of their being. The emotional side, the spiritual side, the intellectual side.”

Philadelphia’s Project TEACH classes keep facing the axe because they are “psychosocial programs,” not medical programs. So what are we going to do about the totality of the human being when the government will no longer fund it? Let’s figure it out. The AIDS community should aim to be among those at the forefront of this effort, because our communities may have the most to lose, with lives depending on our services.

Protecting each other

We can also learn new ways to protect our communities from violence. At another Social Forum panel, the Young Women’s Empowerment Project (a youth leadership organization grounded in harm reduction and social justice organizing by and for girls and young women ages 12-23 impacted by the sex trade and street economies) from Chicago talked about defending each other from street violence without relying on the police, who offer their own forms of violence. Some of the ways they suggest creating conditions in which violence against women is unacceptable include solidarity among women (sisterhood in the hood), safe housing, allies who can deal with pimps, and self-defense training. However we do it, finding new ways to protect each other from violence is an urgent need for the AIDS community, because the police do not protect people who are most at risk for HIV, like trans and gender non-conforming people, sex workers, and drug users. And the link between HIV and violence—which messes with people’s ability to protect themselves from HIV—means that protecting our communities from violence is HIV prevention work.

Taking inspiration from each other’s movements

In the HIV/AIDS movement, we need to make sure that women of color and queer people of color are at the center, and also that HIV positive people are at the center. We need to take inspiration from this moment in the Left and be reminded that we can’t afford to compromise on taking the time to build new leadership among people directly affected by the issues, even when our time is urgently demanded to push for policy that can save millions of lives around the world. A strong movement is a social force that shifts policy in its wake or renders government decisions irrelevant by taking care of its own community’s needs.

We also need for the Left to understand that our leaders are still dying. And it’s mostly the people of color in our movement who are dying, for many reasons related to intersecting forms of oppression, but also because people with both HIV and hepatitis C have even more complex health challenges and treatment options than those with HIV alone. In other words, neither the Left nor the AIDS movement can afford to sleep on the issue of hepatitis C.

AIDS is now the leading cause of death among Black women aged 25 to 34. Nearly half of Black men who have sex with men are HIV positive. I’m not saying that people with HIV aren’t living full, healthy lives, with stigma being their most pressing HIV-related problem. But ACT UP Philly still has too many funerals. Within a few months several years ago, the New York City HIV/AIDS housing movement lost three beloved leaders—Joe Capestany and Joe Bostic of the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) and Keith Cylar, cofounder of Housing Works.

But it’s also a movement full of life. Have you ever been to a global AIDS conference? The Zapatistas’ Other Campaign (La Otra Campagna) was there last summer in Toronto. Korean activists were marching through the conference site against the impending US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. South Africans demanded treatment, Indian activists in bright colors chanted, “Big Pharma – Quit India!” and a Russian activist speaking at the closing plenary said, “Down with the imperialism of the pharmaceutical companies!” It was like the Social Forum, without the standing ovation (activists had to demand that people with AIDS be allowed to speak at the global AIDS conference).

And where else but the AIDS community have you seen heterosexual ex-drug users bond so closely with the most fabulously gender-bending queers? (This is not a rhetorical question, I’m sure it happens elsewhere, and I’d love to hear about it!) The AIDS movement at its best links together some of the most pressing issues of our time: homelessness, prison, the war on drugs, gender, sexuality, immigration, and displacement.

But if you want to tackle one thing, I’d say the Left can start with stamping out any tendencies toward HIV denialism, the idea that HIV does not really cause AIDS. While handing out flyers for the AIDS march at the Social Forum, my friend encountered some folks who said things like, “Well, if they would just stop taking those medicines that make them sick….” These comments were fairly insulting to my friend, who is HIV positive. This foolishness would not take root in the Left without our (the Left’s) willingness to let our intelligent distrust of pharmaceutical companies go uncomplicated by any understanding of the privilege many of us experience—not having to deal with HIV, and not living in communities whose health is compromised in so many ways by systemic racism, poverty, homophobia and transphobia. For more information about HIV denialism, please see AIDSTruth.org or the website of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign.

A moment of possibilities

Partly to push visibility of AIDS issues in the Left, and in the tradition of marches at the global AIDS conference, AIDS activists at the Social Forum decided to march up from the basement of the Atlanta Civic Center, through the lobby filled with people milling around t-shirts and literature, out the doors and past the tables outside. It was a fun, chaotic moment that people responded to with excitement and support. We stopped across from the Health Tent, where among the activists who joined us was Panama Vicente Alba, a longtime New York City labor and police brutality activist and former Young Lords Party member. I was thrilled and surprised to see him get on the mic (at the invitation of NYCAHN), because I’d never thought of him as an AIDS activist.

NYCAHN’s Jennifer Flynn enlightened me to the fact that Panama has been an AIDS activist for more than 15 years. “Needle exchange exists in the Bronx because of Panama,” she said, and I was struck by how within my own mind I have such a separation between my lefty world and my AIDS activist world that it has gotten me to where I’m putting people into boxes. Jennifer also pointed out that the Young Lords were well known for tackling tuberculosis, and for their understanding of how government neglect in communities of color leads to epidemics.

I had slept on the fact of Panama’s deep involvement with the campaign to demand HIV treatment for people on waiting lists in Puerto Rico. He had been in New Orleans at the HIV Prevention Leadership Summit in May, one of the activists whose graceful and somber protest interrupted a Bush administration speaker to draw attention to the crisis in Puerto Rico. “We know that more than a thousand people are on waiting lists for HIV medicines,” Panama told me. “But the mayor of San Juan said nobody died. As long as Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S., this is the political reality that exists. We need a third party, outside the colonial government, to allocate the funds.”

The moment Panama united the AIDS movement and the Left was for me a moment of the clouds parting and the stars emerging to show our ships the way forward. Let’s take the opportunity now, with the excitement the Social Forum has hopefully instilled in us, to chart our courses a little closer together, share our stories, and really listen to each other.

In solidarity,

Suzy Subways

Philadelphia

Editor, Solidarity Project, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), 2006 – present

Independent AIDS community journalist and active/inactive member of ACT UP Philly, 2004 – present

Assistant Editor, POZ Magazine, 2001 – 2004

Founding member, Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), City University of New York, 1995/96 – 2001

Member, New York Local, Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, 1995 – 98

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Filed under African Americans, Alternatives to 501c3, disaster capitalism, Drug users' rights, economic justice, gay and bisexual men, gender, harm reduction, hepatitis, housing, imperialism/colonialism, Latina/o communities in the United States, New York City, people with AIDS in leadership, Philadelphia, police repression, prison, revolutionary strategies, sex workers' rights, Southern United States, stigma, trans and gender non-conforming, Uncategorized, women

Harm Reduction Activism in Russia

By Masha Ovchinnikova

JUNE 2007 • Issue 5

Masha Ovchinnikova is an activist and project coordinator at FrontAIDS, a Russian AIDS activist group. She is a former drug user living in Moscow and has been doing harm reduction work for about three years. She can be reached at Riotmasha (at) yandex.ru.

In November 2004, shortly after activists started FrontAIDS, the group protested outside the government administration building in St. Petersburg to demand HIV treatment for drug users.

There are more than one million people living with HIV in the Russian Federation, and about 80 percent have an experience of injecting drug use. About 60 percent of people using injection drugs have hepatitis C (HCV), and about five million people in Russia are officially registered as living with HCV.

Harm reduction or forced detox?

The Russian government is more attracted to taking repressive action against drug use than encouraging harm reduction measures. Now government officials are discussing forced treatment for drug users. Methadone is a medication from the “first list” (the list of most dangerous) drugs, which means it is banned. We tried to raise this question in a meeting with the director of the Russian narcological system, N. N. Ivanez, and he said that it’s absolutely unrealistic to create a methadone therapy system in Russia now.

Drop-in centers and needle exchange programs are dependent on the local government’s opinion. In some cities, like Kaliningrad, needle exchange programs are absolutely prohibited. They are interpreted as a form of propaganda for drug use, so people who provide it are subject to arrest. In some places, syringe exchange is legal but, still, it is not well funded. Usually there are just two or three exchanges in each city, and drug users are often afraid of going to such places because they could be arrested near them.

Drug users and human rights

Many financial, bureaucratic and moral barriers keep drug users from being able to take care of their health, or sometimes their lives. People can’t receive any medical help at the usual clinics if they are “kicking.” If you want to go into a detox program, you have to wait a few weeks, sometimes more. You have to prepare a lot of documents and take some tests (including HIV testing). Then, there is no guarantee you’ll get good medicine — but what’s for sure is that you’ll be blamed and humiliated by the clinic staff. Continue reading

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Filed under disaster capitalism, Drug users' rights, economic justice, harm reduction, hepatitis, police repression, Russia, Solidarity Project, stigma, treatment access, Uncategorized