From Che Gossett:
[Correction: The word limit is 2,000 words, not 5,000 words.]
Anti-prison activists at the US Social Forum wrote this resolution together. For more information about the People’s Movement Assemblies, see http://pma2010.org/
Anti-Prison People’s Movement Assembly
When: Thursday, June 24th, 1-5:30pm
The problem: The United States is a prison empire, founded on the legacy of slavery, which uses racist mass incarceration, widespread criminalization, torture and the targeting of political dissidents to try to solve its fundamental economic and social problems. It locks up more people than any other country on the planet. The prison system is a central node in an apparatus of state repression; it destroys our communities and weakens our resistance and movements for justice. Repression is a tool used to maintain state power, and the prison population represents the most oppressed sectors of society: people of color, the poor, First Nations communities, immigrant communities, working class women, queer and transgender people, and radical organizers from many communities.
Because we share a vision of justice and solidarity against confinement, control, and all forms of political repression, the prison industrial complex must be abolished. We envision a movement and a society free of racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia.
The work to dismantle the prison industrial complex and build stronger communities includes:
• Supporting the efforts of diverse anti-prison organizations as part of a shared movement against repression in all its forms, including political, racial, gender, sexuality, economic, disability and age, legal status, HIV status, national origin, immigration status, and alleged gang affiliation;
• Fighting for the full civil and human rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people and affirming the rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people to speak in their own voice on all matters pertinent to their existence and well-being;
• Eliminating the stigmas that inhibit currently and formerly incarcerated people and their love ones from speaking out;
• Supporting leadership and leadership development of currently and formerly incarcerated people, and ending all forms of discrimination based on legal status for formerly incarcerated people;
• Organizing for the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of war from grand juries, jail, detention, trial or prison;
• Demanding the immediate end to the death penalty, life without parole, solitary confinement, mandatory minimums, the incarceration of youth in adult facilities, behavior modification/communication management units, all forms of torture, the war on drugs and the criminalization of youth, immigrants and gender nonconforming people;
• Promoting physical, mental and emotional health and healing inside and outside of prisons, including humane models of and access to health care and substance abuse treatment that do not expand the prison industrial complex; Continue reading
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!
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
The United States has twice the HIV prevalence of Mexico, so it isn’t surprising that the need to cross the border for work has increased Mexican communities’ vulnerability to HIV. But the reasons for HIV’s increase in some places in Mexico – indigenous, rural communities far from the border – may not be so obvious. “The state of Oaxaca has the highest HIV rate in Southeastern Mexico,” Oaxacan queer activist Leonardo Tlahui says. “One of the primary factors is immigration. The Mixteco people [one of Oaxaca’s largest indigenous groups] have a high population of immigrants to the United States.” He explains that migrating to a country with double the HIV rate makes immigrants more vulnerable to HIV, and that increased vulnerability is then shared with their home communities since most of the immigrants return home to Oaxaca.
Half a million indigenous people from Oaxaca (roughly one-seventh of the state’s total population) live in the United States, according to Rufino Dominguez, a founder of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) in Oaxaca. Interviewed by David Bacon for a Truthout.org article called “The Right to Stay Home,” Dominquez said, “There are no jobs here, and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] made the price of corn so low that it’s not economically possible to plant a crop anymore. We come to the U.S. to work because we can’t get a price for our product at home. There’s no alternative.”
Treaties and Lovers
Two years after the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched its 1994 offensive in the state of Chiapas as NAFTA was implemented, the EZLN won a potential victory for indigenous land rights with the San Andres Accords, an agreement it negotiated with the Mexican government. But in 2002, the government gutted the accords, and now, indigenous activists say that large corporations are buying their peoples’ land. As more young people come to the U.S. to work and send money home, families are separated for years at a time, and individuals far from their partners become vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
For a new study called “Migration and ruralization of AIDS: reports on vulnerability of indigenous communities in Mexico” [“Migración y ruralización del SIDA: relatos de vulnerabilidad en comunidades indígenas de México”], researchers from Mexico City and California interviewed migrant workers and indigenous women in poor rural areas. Before a young man leaves as a teenager, the researchers report, he often partners with a girl who is also too young for legal marriage and hopes for pregnancy so that she will remain faithful while he is away. Some of the women said that, although they understand the likelihood that migrants have other sexual partners, it is very difficult to ask the men to use condoms when they return. It doesn’t help that Oaxaca’s archbishop condemns the use of condoms [“Condena el arzobispo de Oaxaca el uso del condón”] to prevent HIV.
One Zapoteca indigenous woman in Oaxaca, age 23, told the researchers, “I am here with my in-laws while my husband is in the United States, and he sees that somewhere they pick up other women. Now it is long that my husband hasn’t come, like five years. He already entered [the U.S.] for six years [once before]… When he returns, he always comes looking for another pregnancy.”
In a 2008 poster presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) about HIV risk behaviors of Mexican migrant workers, Melissa Sanchez and other researchers reported that migrants, often struggling with unsafe working and living conditions, generally had more sex partners while in the U.S., and had more sex while using drugs or alcohol. A related study found that migrant men in California were 13 times more likely to have sex with another man than they were before leaving Mexico. Condom use increased while away from home, but migrants were unlikely to get tested for HIV for fear of deportation.
Sanchez also told TheBody.com that young men are being targeted for sex work at day-labor pick-up sites where they wait for construction work. “There are actually Web sites developed now where they give tips to people who want to approach Mexican-migrant, job-pick-up-site workers and actually recruit them,” Sanchez said. “They are told, ‘Go after three o’clock, when there is a clear indication that there is no work coming for the day.’ They target young, young men, thinking, ‘Well, they’re going to be more naïve, they’re perhaps more desperate to make some money given that they’re not going to get a landscape job during the day.'”
Corruption and Repression in Oaxaca
|“It was agreed I would sign a document with the government promising…to cease activities concerning HIV/AIDS in Oaxaca.”|
In 2001, the Frente Común Contra el SIDA (Common Front Against AIDS), a community organization in Oaxaca, began buying bus tickets for people living with HIV in the countryside to see their doctors at the clinic of COESIDA, the state AIDS council, in Oaxaca City. While meeting this need, activists got to know the people they were serving. The stories they heard – many of the people weren’t getting their medication regularly, were told to come back next month for medicine, or were given only one or two antiretrovirals rather than the standard combination of three – shocked the activists. According to the Frente’s website, this revelation set in motion a clash with COESIDA that culminated in the Frente’s closure amid threats and violence by government thugs in 2006. Continue reading
Twenty years ago, when 30,000 people with AIDS were at risk of dying homeless on the streets of New York City, AIDS housing activism was born. “In 1988, activists took over the Human Resources Administration Commissioner’s office [in New York City] to demand they honor an injunction to take a plaintiff living with AIDS out of a shelter and put them into single-room occupancy housing,” Charles King, cofounder and CEO of Housing Works, explains. In 1990, Housing Works grew out of ACT UP/New York to provide housing, job training and other services while organizing homeless people with AIDS to fight for their rights and survival.
Now, a coalition of activist groups led by the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN), Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and Housing Works – the HASA For ALL campaign – is fighting to expand the city’s unique guarantee of rental assistance, a nutritional allowance, and transportation for people living with AIDS to all low-income New Yorkers living with HIV.
The HASA For ALL battle began in 2006, when activists successfully pressured the city’s health department to release data on the health of homeless adults. AIDS was the primary cause of death for women in the shelters and the second leading cause of death for men, accounting for 11 percent of all shelter deaths. But people with AIDS weren’t supposed to be in the shelters. A 1998 lawsuit brought by activists guaranteed medically appropriate, same-day emergency housing assistance to homeless people with an AIDS diagnosis through the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).
|About 700 AIDS activists demonstrate in support of HASA For ALL at New York’s City Hall, September 25, 2007 (photo courtesy of Housing Works).|
According to Sean Barry, co-director of NYCAHN, the problem is that “people who didn’t have an AIDS diagnosis and didn’t qualify for HASA because of that are dying because the bad conditions in the shelters worsen their health so quickly – before they can go through the bureaucratic process to get HASA benefits once they do get sick.” Housing Works estimates that 7,000 low-income people living with HIV would benefit from HASA For ALL, including an estimated 800 individuals in the shelter system.
“It took me two years to get on HASA,” Alan Perez, coordinator of the Legislative Action Group at GMHC, says. “I had to stop taking my meds just to get on it. A lot of people are doing something to get sick, especially people who are in the shelter system. They should be in permanent housing.”
The irony that people with HIV who are doing relatively well are making themselves sick just to get needed help is not lost on activists. They developed a cost-benefit analysis revealing that, despite an estimated $68 million per year price tag, HASA For ALL would save the city money in shelter and hospital costs, keeping people with HIV healthy – and preventing as many as 66 new infections each month.
Assisting People With and Without HIV
The idea is a sort of “prevention for positives” approach, but activists appreciate that HIV negative community members need permanent housing as well to protect themselves from HIV and the many other hazards of being homeless. Young trans and gender non-conforming people, as well as men who have sex with men (MSMs), are especially vulnerable, explains Johnny Guaylupo, intake outreach coordinator at Housing Works. Continue reading
By Jose de Marco, ACT UP Philadelphia and Proyecto SOL (Latino AIDS Leadership Organization)
Once ACT UP lays out its basic plans for a campaign, it may plan a demonstration or other type of action. This is where teach-ins come in. ACT UP goes to drug recovery houses, classes for people living with HIV at a local AIDS service organization, and other groups to invite people from the larger community to participate.
Here are de Marco’s seven basic steps for a successful teach-in at a homeless shelter:
ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, has been fighting for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and for human rights-based HIV prevention in Philadelphia for 20 years. Longtime member Jose de Marco says, “People at our meetings – community members living with HIV and our allies – decide what political issues to work on. Sometimes, our campaigns choose us – they come to us and bang on the door.” One action de Marco is most proud of? Interrupting John Kerry during a campaign speech in 2004, which helped inspire Kerry to double Bush’s global AIDS funding promise from $15 billion to $30 billion.
— Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project
November 2007 • Issue 7
Rumor has it that this World AIDS Day, December 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will announce that its estimated number of new HIV infections in the United States each year is higher than 40,000 for the first time since the late 90s – and it may be much higher. Meanwhile, in May, the CDC scaled back its previous goal of reducing annual new HIV infections in half to reducing them by only 10% a year. Is the government giving up on us? Instead of budget cuts that pit our communities against each other, why not add money for interventions that we already know are effective but have no federal funding streams, like syringe exchange and comprehensive sex education? What about studying new ways to fight the epidemic?
The Prevention Justice Mobilization (PJM), initiated by CHAMP in collaboration with SisterLove, the Georgia Prevention Justice Alliance, the Harm Reduction Coalition, the National Women and AIDS Collective, the New York State Black Gay Network, ACT UP Philadelphia, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, and AIDS Foundation of Chicago, is a dynamic force of activists from many communities. We are starting a new conversation in our AIDS service organizations, social justice circles, support groups and homes, and we are telling the CDC at its annual conference in Atlanta in December: We are not going to allow ourselves, as individuals and groups at risk, to be blamed for the consequences of government failures to prevent HIV. To end this epidemic, we have to change the way this country works.
“When people change and systems do not, HIV still thrives,” explains Dázon Dixon Diallo, MPH, a lead organizer of the Prevention Justice Mobilization and founder of SisterLove, based in Atlanta, the first and largest women’s AIDS organization in the Southeast. “We’ve been working under this assumption that HIV transmission is about individual risk behavior, and that’s where all of our resources and our best thinking have gone. But what’s missing from that is an understanding that HIV happens in a larger context. You can be vulnerable to HIV just because of who you are in the world. If you are poor, a person of color, LGBT, disabled, homeless, mentally ill, or dealing with substance abuse, injustices also exacerbate the transmission of HIV. Where are the resources to address those injustices?”
People in groups with higher HIV rates are often no more likely to engage in risk behaviors such as unprotected sex than other groups. But the disparities are just getting worse. Black women today are 23 times more likely to have AIDS than white women, and Latinas are five times more likely. Among white men who have sex with men (MSM), HIV rates have reached 21%, while Continue reading
— Suzy Subways, with reporting by Pedro Soto
November 2007 • Issue 7
*Activist Snapshots #4*
On October 13 and 14, San Francisco Bay Area activists hosted Transforming Justice, the first national gathering to begin developing shared understanding and strategy to end the criminalization and imprisonment of transgender and gender non-conforming people.1 “Prisons are not where we belong, and it’s not what we deserve,” says Kelani Key, a member of the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee (TIP) and an organizer for the event, which drew almost 200 people.
A Transwoman with AIDS Dies in Immigrant Detention
The intersection of these issues was made painfully clear by the death of Victoria Arellano on July 20. Arellano, a 23-year-old transwoman, was swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in May and denied AIDS treatment while in detention for her immigration status. Arellano repeatedly asked to see a doctor but, says Coral Lopez of Bienestar, a Latino AIDS service organization in Los Angeles, “Only once, they gave her Tylenol to reduce the fever.”
Mariana Marroquin, a transgender activist who helped organize a vigil to protest Arellano’s death, says, “To be transgender, HIV positive, and an immigrant are three factors that bring terrible discrimination. What happened to Victoria was a very bad example for transgender people. Already, they don’t want to ask for help because they are afraid of being deported or detained.”
The striking news about Arellano’s story is the depth of solidarity that the male detainees around her showed, bridging the compounded stigma of transgender and HIV status. Lopez says, “All of her fellow inmates – Latinos in majority – went on hunger strike when she was almost dead, and they were screaming, ‘Hospital! Hospital!’” Although this action did get her to the hospital, she died there.
Building Leadership Under Lockdown
Transforming Justice brought together many people who are committed to that kind of solidarity. Organizers set a precedent by not allowing the possible difficulties of bringing together those directly affected by the issues to become an excuse for excluding them. From the beginning, organizers from the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee, Critical Resistance, Justice Now, the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), and the Transgender Law Center worked to ensure the leadership and participation of people most impacted by gender oppression and prisons. Vanessa Huang of Justice Now estimates that, of the participants, “At least half have been through jails, detention centers, and prisons and/or experienced police violence, and the majority who came were trans and gender non-conforming people.”
Even people who are currently imprisoned were able to participate. “From the start, members of TIP and TGIJP visited with people inside to inform the direction of Transforming Justice,” she says. “Trans and gender non-conforming people – mostly in men’s prisons, and a few in women’s prisons – wrote letters that participants who were not in prison were encouraged to respond to.” Continue reading
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.
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
An Interview with Alicia Negron — As told to Pedro Soto, CHAMP, West Coast
APRIL 2007 • Issue 4
Alicia Negron was hired by the city of New Orleans to provide HIV prevention services for Latinos after hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Up to 120,000 Latinos have arrived to work on the reconstruction of New Orleans, where a devastated HIV/AIDS infrastructure remains unprepared to serve them.
New Orleans. This is a different world. Everything has been destroyed. Everything is broken, from politics to police service. Most of the Latinos—Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorians—who have arrived looking for work are undocumented workers who live under bridges or in abandoned houses.
Local government and politics have tied up all the funding for food and housing; they don’t offer it to anyone. People spend two or three days without food; they roam the streets asking for food. People have no knowledge of what HIV is because, in the places that Latino workers live, no one even knows the word. They live in absolute informative discrimination. Continue reading