Category Archives: economic justice
You knew it was coming. It’s been almost 30 years since the International AIDS Conference was in the U.S. — and this year, it will be in the nation’s capital just a few months shy of an election that many see as a referendum on access to healthcare. The worldwide media will be there. AIDS policymakers from all over will be there. And AIDS activists will gather to make as big a splash as we can.
The thing I love about this protest is not just how big and gorgeous it’s going to be — with 5 branches representing unique struggles that make up the AIDS movement — but that it unashamedly tackles the real problems, the complicated mess of profiteering and stigmatizing and controlling human beings that has caused and perpetuated the AIDS crisis. Please go to www.wecanendaids.org immediately to find out how you can get on the bus, meet up with the convergence in D.C., and get more involved. Read the captivating platform here and find contact info for transportation from your city here. For more information about the 5 branches of the protest, click here.
1. Fight Pharma’s Corporate Greed: People over Profits, Health Care and Treatment Access for All.
2. Tax Wall Street: Use a Robin Hood Tax to Fund AIDS Treatment, Prevention and Health Care, Provide Jobs, and Fight Climate Change at Home and Around the World.
3. Promote Sound Policies: Public Policy Based on Science and Human Needs; Lift the Federal Ban on and Fully Fund Syringe Exchange Programs.
4. End the War on Women: Reproductive Justice and End Gender-Based Violence
5. Respect our Human Rights and Promote Harm Reduction: End the War on Drugs and Drug Users; Confront HIV Criminalization, Stigma, Mass Imprisonment and Anti-LGBTQ Violence and Discrimination.
In 2008, as the stock market crashed and Congress prepared to give trillions of tax dollars to the banks, I desperately emailed all my AIDS activist friends: “We’ve got to stop this bailout! There will be no money for Obama to do anything for our communities.” I felt like a nay-saying bore for endlessly harping that getting politicians to expand their campaign promises is a losing strategy, because politicians lie, and only ending capitalism will shift power and priorities toward health. But when Occupy Wall Street protesters started camping out in lower Manhattan last September, chanting, “All day! All week!” and never leaving, the AIDS movement lost no time in recalling its birth in ACT UP New York, which brought the stock exchange to a screeching halt one day during a protest against price-gouging AZT (watch this thrilling interview with Peter Staley describing the 1987 action or read this recent interview with Douglas Crimp). AIDS activists got involved in OWS immediately, to the great benefit of both movements.
The HIV Prevention Justice Alliance intends to seize the bull by the horns this year, putting “generic drugs and drastic price reductions at the top of the agenda for the domestic HIV/AIDS movement in 2012, moving beyond the ADAP waiting lists to insist on treatment on demand for all.” Alright, PJA! (Read the PJA Action Agenda here). With this kind of vision, the campaign should attract tons of new activists and enliven the rest of us (Join a PJA working group here).
Targeting Big Pharma is not just the most direct route to the root of the problem — the exorbitant profits made at the expense of access to lifesaving treatment. It’s also a way out of the trap of merely resisting the budget cuts that have wracked our communities, or demanding more funding from a government that cares more about banks and corporations than human beings. Led by ACT UP Basel, Switzerland, the current AIDS activist campaign against Novartis is an inspiring example. Why focus all our attention on getting presidents to pledge more tax money for pricey patented meds in developing countries, when we can get generics for all if we keep fighting for them? Novartis sues India to stop making generics for the world: activists occupy Novartis offices in 3 cities during a global day of action. Bam. Let’s build on this! Last week, India issued a rare compulsory license to allow generic production of a Bayer anti-cancer drug, which will save many lives and also bring more Big Pharma pressure to bear on the country. Our voices are needed.
How AIDS Activists Have Occupied Since September
This year’s actions should be fierce, building on the strength of last fall. AIDS activists didn’t sit around wondering if the new 99% movement would invisibilize AIDS, they stepped up to build a true, strong unity that appreciates the strengths that difference offers. A complex unity, as envisioned by revered anti-prison activist Angela Davis, who spoke of the convergence of single-issue movements at Occupy Philly in October. AIDS activists passed out this excellent flier from Housing Works at #OWS to educate occupiers and link the issues.
Andrew Coamey, a Housing Works senior vice prez, penned “Why I Occupied Wall Street” to inspire others to take the plunge. After a gay, HIV positive AIDS activist was punched by a New York police official at an #OWS protest, even more outraged AIDS activists marched with the new movement (see video of police official punching AIDS activist Felix Rivera-Pitre here). After participating in the #OWS global day of action in November, AIDS activists staged a sit-in dressed as Robin Hoods on World AIDS Day, demanding a financial transaction tax to fund the fight against AIDS locally and globally (see video and photos here).
More than 20 cities participated in the Occupy our Homes day of action in December. AIDS activists at VOCAL helped lead the occupation of a home in Brooklyn, where predatory lending and foreclosures have thrown many families onto the street, and helped a homeless family move in (watch this incredibly inspiring video). As longtime AIDS activist Sean Barry said to The Raw Story in an article about the action, “We’re here because [there are] a lot of empty buildings owned by Wall Street banks and we’re going to liberate them.”
As the AIDS movement returns to its rabble-rousing roots, it’s up to us to tell the story of the early days of our movement, as Douglas Crimp’s recent Atlantic Monthly piece on the 1988 activist takeover of the Food and Drug Administration does.
As for myself, I spent a few months last fall shirking any form of paid work, spending my time making videos for Occupy Philly Media and working on Prison Health News. Now, I’m working full-time as a copy editor for a medical publisher to catch up on my rent. But this blog is still on! See you in cyberspace….
This issue’s got
- Why Are So Many People Incarcerated in the U.S.? by Waheedah Shabazz-El
- The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement by Tina Reynolds
- Prison Food: The 411 of Navigating the System by Tré Alexander
- Reach the Light by Kyle
- How to Obtain Your GED While in Prison or Out by Stanley J
- Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating MRSA by Ronda B, Suzy S, Bernard T, and Naseem B
plus, addresses in different regions of the U.S. to write for Advocacy and Support Resources and Informational Resources!
Prison Health News is a print newsletter read by 2,500+ 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, most of whom have been in prison and are living with HIV, 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. Continue reading
We finally finished the Summer issue of Prison Health News — with vital information that is right on time for people in prisons and jails around the country.
This issue’s got
- Beat Stress with Dahn Yoga Meditation by Teresa Sullivan
- Fasting for Human Rights in the Secure Housing Units of California by Suzy Subways
- How HIV Meds Work, Part II: An Update on HIV Drug Classes by Hannah Zellman
- The Society for Employment and Equal Rights by George N. Murray
- Free Your Mind by Angelo Johnson
plus, addresses in different regions of the U.S. to write for Advocacy and Support Resources and Informational Resources!
Prison Health News is a print newsletter read by 2,500+ 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, most of whom have been in prison and are living with HIV, 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 Reaching Out: A Support Group with Action and the Institute for Community Justice, which are based at the HIV/AIDS services organization Philadelphia FIGHT. Volunteers at the AIDS Library (also at FIGHT) answer the many letters to us from people in prisons and jails asking for resources and health information. Continue reading
The spring issue of Prison Health News has been out for a few months — but it is such a good one, I hate to see it go!
This issue’s got
- “Recovery from Injustice”: An Interview with Ronnie Stephens by Suzy Subways
- Nutrition Behind the Walls: If You Are Stressed, Get Sick, or Have Diabetes by Teresa Sullivan, Laura McTighe, and Kimberly Rogers
- NO JUSTICE!: When Sex Work Brands You as a “Sex Offender” in New Orleans by Deon Haywood and Laura McTighe
- Surviving Solitary Confinement by Bro. Tee (Terrance E. White)
- How HIV Meds Work, Part 1 by AIDS InfoNet
plus, addresses for Advocacy and Support Resources and Informational Resources!
Today I got on the bus with ACT UP Philly and participated in the World AIDS Day action at the White House, where we sang hymns and chanted for the $50 billion that Obama promised to fight global AIDS. A crew of African women who have formed an ACT UP Maryland chapter performed a skit to show us what it looks like when dying people go to the doctor and the doctor says, “We have no meds for you.” A Washington, DC, pastor offered a prayer and a poignant reminder of the epidemic here at home, telling us that he had attended five AIDS funerals for people in his life during the past year.
Before the global AIDS protest, we met up in the morning outside City Hall in Washington DC to demand housing for people with AIDS. Mayor Fenty has recently closed some shelters, and now even more people in the city with America’s highest HIV rate are dying in the streets.
Check out the photos from the protest/funeral at the White House, taken by Kaytee Riek, by clicking here.
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.
Sometimes I am the person who criticizes the AIDS movement for not being radical enough… and other times I poke the Left for perpetuating the marginalization of communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS. This critical blog post by my friend and old comrade Kazembe Balagun challenges other leftists in some ways that I think are sorely needed. With the economic crisis, some of the best and brightest thinkers on the Left have argued that we should organized the “oppressed majority” — meaning, in my interpretation, that we should not concentrate on fighting homophobia, racism, transphobia, the prison industrial complex, etc. and instead focus somewhat narrowly on economic issues like foreclosures and unemployment, without an analysis that talks about how all of these issues intersect. In the AIDS movement, we know that the same people losing their homes are often those with loved ones in prison, LGBT people, people who will become marginalized and isolated after becoming homeless due to eviction…
What I’ve learned from the AIDS movement about the importance of confronting stigma is amazing. Cathy Cohen argues in The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-Blackness-Breakdown-Black-Politics/dp/0226112896 that the failure to fight the stigmatization of Black queers, homeless people, drug users, prisoners — everyone most at risk for HIV — has hurt the whole Black community by allowing the proliferation of prisons, the War on Drugs, gentrification, etc. What I see in movements that take on stigma and celebrate our vulnerable, creative, marginal humanity is this incredible, energetic defiance that really moves people to participate and become leaders.
Now more than ever we have to bring the margins to the center, as Kazembe argues. See the full post on his blog by clicking here:
here is a snippet:
“…the vitality of any movements come from bringing the the margin to the center, not the other way around…. There is an overwhelming logic that the only way for activist movements to be effect is to bring the center to the margin: tone down the rhetoric, clean up your act and then people will listen.And maybe they will. But whats the point of speaking if you have forgotten what to say?
That is understandable because the center has gravity: money, connections, power, and popularity. But movements don’t grow from the center. They grow from the margins and take over the center. Think about it; every musical movement in this country has come from the oppressed experiences of Black and Brown people. Blues, jazz, salsa, hip hop are common currency and they all occurred at the bottom.
At the same time, successful social movements have married avant garde elements with vanguard elements. The Black Panther Party was as much into Bob Dylan, Cuban Poster art and film as they were into Mao Zedong. The German Communists of Weimar married expressionism with jazz and a free sex movement. The Harlem Renaissance was as purple as it was red, with queers like Langston Hughes going to Moscow after the Russian Revolution.”
ACT UP Philly still taking it to the streets! End waiting lists in Philadelphia, the U.S., and around the world!
President Obama promised to ensure that everyone has access to AIDS drugs by 2010. But now, the year that everyone was supposed to have access, 70% of people with HIV still lack access to medication!
Join us as we tell Obama:
END THE WAITING LISTS
FOR PEOPLE WITH AIDS!
MONDAY, SEPT 20TH @ 2PM
Meet at Broad & Arch
We will march to a fundraiser Obama is attending at
the Convention Center
– The US is limiting access to treatment to only those in the most dire need around the world. Others are being forced to wait in line until they get sick before they are eligible!
– In the US, more than 3,000 people with AIDS have been forced onto AIDS drug waiting lists, due to state budget cuts!
– Here in Philly, hundreds of people with AIDS are forced to wait in line for housing. A stable home makes it possible to take meds regularly.
ACT UP Philadelphia, Health GAP and Philly Global AIDS Watchdogs (GAWD)
actupphilly (at) gmail.com