As our nation's political climate continues to cast clouds over many of the gains that vociferous activists fought for in the 1980s and '90s, the greatly reduced 'in-your-face' activist presence is almost as loud as the silence. In frustration, a coalition of AIDS groups and grassroots activists came together in the spring to form the Campaign to End AIDS. 'AIDS activism is not only dormant'we're largely fragmented,' says C2EA cochairman Charles King, who is also the executive director of New York City's Housing Works.
The organization hopes to create a nationally unified voice to lead the next stage of the AIDS fight. It is built around the concept that the United States has the tools to end AIDS yet lacks the political will to use them'which is 'a very moving message that's both honest and inspiring,' says campaign cochairwoman Julie Davids, executive director of the national Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project in New York.
C2EA's first major push for recognition will try to emulate the Poor People's Campaign of 1968, which was a project of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The organizers are hoping for thousands of Americans to travel in 10 'caravans' across the country, all headed for a pivotal weekend in Washington, D.C., October 8'12.
Along each of the 10 routes, which together will snake through all of the 48 contiguous states, there will be events and protests to draw attention to the campaign. The New York City caravan will travel almost entirely on foot. Washington activities will include a breakfast in the church where Frederick Douglass's funeral was held, a day in which participants will attempt to visit every national lawmaker with their concerns, and a march on October 12 beginning at the National Mall and culminating with a rally in the Anacostia neighborhood, which is particularly hard-hit by HIV.
C2EA evolved partly from AIDSVote.org, a group that set HIV platforms for the 2004 presidential election. It is spearheaded largely by Housing Works and Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization as well as the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and the National Association of People With AIDS. King says the campaign's main strength is in its grass roots and its diversity. Smaller local groups such as the Wyoming AIDS Project are also heading up the effort.
'The only way that we're going to get people's attention,' King says, 'is to build a broad-based national movement that elected officials feel they have to respond to.'
Thus the campaign is focusing on elevating the voices of rural HIVers'those living in the 'red states' where political power has shifted in recent years. Further, C2EA is bringing together disparate groups'former ACT UPers, who are primarily secular, older white gay males, and devoutly religious young African-American women, for example'in hopes of presenting a more unified voice.
To get involved with C2EA and to see if the caravans will travel near you, visit www.endAIDSnow.org or call (877) 363-2437.