August 24, 2007
CAN I ASK YOU ONE QUESTION?
Frampton makes a personal connection
Two weeks ago, when Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards kicked off his bus tour through Iowa, there weren't too many folks around to hear his speech—Edwards had shown up an hour and a half late for the kickoff. But Des Moines resident Larry Frampton had hung around, and when Edwards finished, Frampton saw his chance. "Mr. Edwards," he said, "When are you going to post your position on domestic and global AIDS on your website?"
"I'll check into that," Edwards replied cordially."What's your name, sir?"
Frampton gave his name, then added, "And I'm a person living with AIDS for 18 years."
Then Edwards did something that took Frampton by surprise: He gave Frampton a hug and said, "We have a lot of work to do." Edwards also reminded Frampton that he supported full funding for the Ryan White CARE Act and AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP). "I thanked him for saying all that," Frampton told the Update. "A lot of candidates wouldn't have acknowledged that there's work to be done."
Frampton's encounter with Edwards solidified his decision to vote for the well-coiffed former senator—and Frampton knows his candidates. In an attempt to win Iowa's critical presidential primary, most presidential hopefuls have spent their summer vacations courting the state's voters. Frampton is a member of the Community HIV Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network (CHAIN), and he and his fellow advocates have attended dozens of campaign speeches, exploiting their opportunities to question Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton and others about their positions on AIDS, as well as press for a comprehensive domestic AIDS platform.
CHAIN was founded in 2005 in response to Iowa's ADAP waiting list. When the state came through with sufficient ADAP funding, the 150-member-strong group decided to continue on in order to seek more funding for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis in Iowa. Now its members are on the vanguard of the movement to elect a president who will provide vision and leadership on AIDS. "We have an incredible responsibility here in Iowa to ask questions on behalf of people with HIV across the nation," said CHAIN member Tami Haught, of Nashua, Iowa, who has spoken with both Edwards and Clinton.
"If you have AIDS, people judge"
Haught's hand shot up when it was time for questions after Edwards' speech at the Floyd Co. Historical Museum in Charles City, Iowa. Haught, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1993, attended the mid-August event with her 10-year old son Adrian. She wanted Edwards to know about the stigma of living with HIV. "If you have cancer people care, but if you have AIDS people judge," she said. Haught then told Edwards how her husband died two months before her son was born and reminded him about the ADAP waiting lists in four states. Lastly, she asked Edwards if he planned to continue Bush's abstinence-until-marriage sex-education policies. Then Haught gave Edwards a picture of her and her son. "I told him to remember that behind every number and statistic is a life and a family," Haught said.
The picture Haught gave to Edwards of herself and her son Adrian
In response, Edwards repeated the pledge that he made to Frampton to fund the Ryan White CARE Act, adding that he would expand early access to treatment and step up prevention. He also said that he did not support abstinence-only education. Then the senator walked down from the stage and gave Haught and her son a hug. "I was so happy to hear him talk about AIDS in the U.S.," Haught said. "Right now all the talk is about global AIDS, which is important, but it's important that we're also focused on the people here at home." Elizabeth Edwards even got involved in the discussion, noting that as a person with cancer, she experiences a different sort of stigma—the belief that she can't live a full and productive life.
Frampton and Haught have scored face time with other candidates, too. Two months ago, Haught told Clinton her story in Waterloo, Iowa, and asked her if she would fully fund the Ryan White CARE Act. Clinton said she would and explained that she voted against the reauthorization of Ryan White in Congress because it wasn't adequately funded. "I understood why she did it, because she was the senator of New York and had to represent her state," said Haught, noting that New York lost funding in the last Ryan White cycle. "But I hope if she's president she represents all states."
Haught was more impressed by the way Edwards answered her questions but hasn't made up her mind who she's voting for. "I like Edwards but he needs to get his poll numbers up. Clinton's the front runner and we need a Democrat in the White House," she said. Frampton, of course, has already chosen Edwards. He disclosed his status to Sen. Barack Obama at an LGBT event in Palmer's Deli in Des Moines last month—but Obama's reaction was less emotional. And Frampton gave up his allegiance to Clinton after he felt she "danced around the issue of AIDS."
Have you hugged your candidate today?
With candidates practically living in their backyards, Frampton and Haught have a unique opportunity to get answers, but people all over the country living with HIV/AIDS will also get a chance to "bird-dog" presidential candidates when they come to town. (Bird-dogging means asking politicians to take a stance on an issue, or to question a stance that a candidate has already taken, in a public forum.) Haught, Frampton and Kaytee Riek, a grassroots organizer at Health GAP and a veteran bird-dogger, offer these helpful bird-dogging tips:
Before an event, write your question down. Bird-dogging is fun, but the first few times you might feel the pressure of the moment. Don't worry, it will get easier quickly
- Let the candidate know where you stand on the issue you're raising—with the pressure on, he or she will be more likely to go on the record agreeing with you.
- Don't assume the candidate is an expert on every issue. Particularly with HIV/AIDS, many are not as informed as you would hope. Mention some relevant statistics to sway the candidate.
- You know how in school no one ever wants to ask the first question? Use that to your advantage. As Haught did, raise your hand quickly and high, and try to ask the first question—it could be the only one that gets posed before the candidates' handlers sweep him or her away.(Also, you want to see and be seen: When you arrive at the event venue, sit up front, or near a microphone.)
- Get in line to shake the candidate's hand, and then, as Frampton did, ask a quick question such as, "Are you opposed to Bush's policy on abstinence-until-marriage sex ed?"
- Keep up with what's happening at candidate forums in other states. Despite Frampton's question, Edwards still hasn't posted his positions on AIDS issues on his website. If you see him, ask him why!
"Anyone can do it," Haught said of bird-dogging. "Once you get over being nervous, it's easy." Haught's next target? Republicans. According to Haught and Frampton, they are less likely to take questions from audience members, and as of yet no one from CHAIN has gotten to pose one. But Haught, Frampton and the gang will keep on trying.