January 25, 2008
TALKIN' ABOUT DEM AIDS
Edwards' daughter and U.S. Reps attend
C2EA-SC's Karen Bates listens to Edwards
On Martin Luther King Day in Myrtle Beach, S.C., politics was in the air, food and water—CNN pundits and campaign staffers seemed to outnumber locals in the lead up to Monday night's Democratic presidential debate. Candidates' supporters lined the streets heading to the Palace Theatre as they waited for their favorite candidates to arrive for the evening's bicker-fest. But Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA) activist Ron Crowder had a different agenda. He hadn't driven some 10 hours from Nashville just to cheerlead for a favorite Democratic candidate but to make sure that everyone on the podium made ending the AIDS epidemic a priority.
"I'm here to get the word out that we need universal health care, we need AIDS funding here and abroad and we need a president who will care about AIDS, not just during an election year. We intend to keep the pressure up," Crowder said at the C2EA "Rally to End AIDS," which took place three hours before Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton stopped just short of telling one another "Yo mama so fat..."
Crowder was one of some 125 activists who gathered from seven states for the rally. Despite uncharacteristically chilly weather, folks from Howard University Youth AIDS, D.C. Fights Back, ACT UP Philadelphia, Health GAP, Title II Community AIDS National Network, the CARE Team of Myrtle Beach and SisterLove joined the C2EA event. After a planning session at a nearby Starbucks, the activists descended on a field outside the Palace Theatre where they held up AIDSVote.org signs bearing the names of the different presidential candidates and chanted "Presidential Candidates! End AIDS in '08!" People who are currently homeless stood side-by-side with lawyers who stood next to recovering addicts who stood next to university students, and the diverse crowd drew most of the attention away from Democratic party activists, a man dressed as a "Y" (apparently symbolizing youth) as well as coal and anti-coal supporters.
"These are people living and dying with the disease. People working with depleted resources," said Larry Bryant, the HIV-positive C2EA national organizer who was one of the planners of the rally. "We were not there as part of the Obama club or the Hillary fan club, but as voters demanding attention to the issues."
An AIDS mini-debate
This rally was markedly different from the last major debate-centered AIDS event, a "Trick or Treat" protest in Philadelphia where candidates were criticized for failing to release an AIDS plan. Now that all the Dems have released AIDS plans (check out AIDSVote.org for all the details), this rally praised the candidates—though didn't endorse any—with representatives from each candidate invited to speak. Rep. Al Green (D-TX) spoke for Obama and Cate Edwards spoke for her father John Edwards. Although Clinton didn't send an official representative, her supporter Rep. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-VI) was also a speaker.
Cate spoke of her father's AIDS plan, and though the crowd chided her when she incorrectly said there was an ADAP waiting list in South Carolina, she won their affections by illustrating her father's comprehensive AIDS plan. "HIV/AIDS is an issue that I believe doesn't get the attention it deserves," she said. She ticked off the Edwards campaign commitments to HIV prevention based on science rather than ideology, age-appropriate comprehensive sex ed, lifting the ban on federal funding for needle exchange, universal access to HIV treatment by 2010 and $50 billion for global AIDS in the next five years. Click here for the video.
Isaac Henry, Crowder and Rep. Al Green show C2EA pride
Green spoke of Obama's strong committment. "People are suffering for no reason," he said. "Properly fought, we can end AIDS. Obama can do that. He believes in liberty and justice for all." Christian-Christensen, who like Green, is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, stumped for Clinton, saying, "She has the best health plan."
Other speakers addressed the points of the C2EA platform which is to:
- Fully fund quality treatment and support services for all people living with HIV
- Ramp up HIV prevention at home and abroad, guided by science rather than ideology
- Increase research to find a cure, more effective treatments and better prevention tools
- Fight AIDS stigma and protect the civil rights of all people with HIV and AIDS everywhere
SisterLove founder Dázon Dixon Diallo spoke of the need for prevention justice and Lolisa Gibson, 21, with the C2EA Youth Caucus, gave a poignant speech about being born with HIV and the need to fight stigma. "My mother didn't want anyone to know I was born with HIV because then they'd know I have it," she said. "The world still looks at HIV as something bad. The only way to stop stigma will be if we are the ones who stop it."
Hitting the bars
Park and Obama talk microbicides
Post-rally, about 20 activists, or "Team Bird Dog" as Health GAP's Kaytee Riek named them, headed to the debate parties for Clinton and Obama at nearby bars. The teams cheered when Clinton was asked a question that mentioned HIV/AIDS (though the question didn't actually address it directly). While Clinton was a no-show to her party, Obama showed up and shook hands, giving bird-doggers—who sat cross-legged by the stage to make sure they were in the very front when the candidate arrived—a brief moment to ask questions. First time bird dogger Christine Park asked Obama about his commitment to fight violence against women and its link to the feminization of AIDS. He said he was committed to that, and because of his support of female-controlled prevention efforts, he sponsored the Microbicide Development Act (see last week's Update story). Currently the MDA is floundering and advocates hope it will go to committee in the House and the Senate.
"I was pleased with his responsiveness, but now we need to follow up on it and makes sure he sticks to his commitments," said Park, the campaign organizer for the 41 Million Strong Campaign, which is an organization of women of color united to raise awareness about and demand an end to Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS.
Following the success in Myrtle Beach, C2EA will continue to push candidates nationally as well as locally to fight HIV/AIDS. "The most exciting part of the rally was hearing all those voices demanding an end to HIV/AIDS on the national level," Bryant said. "Imagine that energy if they can do it back home? They will scare the hell out of their city council members."