Spread of HIV/AIDS: 'Proof positive of injustice'
Published Dec 13, 2007 10:41 PM
It happened as some 3,000 researchers, scientists, health professionals and
agency administrators had gathered in Atlanta for the Centers for Disease
Control national conference on HIV/AIDS prevention Dec. 2-5. A coalition of
grass-roots AIDS organizations, the Prevention Justice Mobilization (PJM),
intervened to bring a real solution to the epidemic that has killed millions
around the world.
After more than two decades of research, the methods of transmission of HIV are
well established. There are effective medical treatments to enhance and prolong
the lives of those infected with the disease.
Why then, are the numbers of new infections rising among certain populations,
specifically communities of color? Why are so many people not receiving medical
‘AIDS doesn’t discriminate—but society does’
In Georgia, for example, almost 80 percent of newly infected people are
African-American or Latino. It is estimated that 50 percent of Black gay men in
major urban areas are HIV-positive. The greatest increase in new infections is
among people under 25. AIDS is the number one cause of death among Black women
ages 18 to 49.
To the activists with Prevention Justice Mobilization, these facts are
proof-positive of social injustice and social and economic disparities. They
counter the traditional response to the AIDS epidemic—targeting an
individual’s “risky” behavior—by raising the structural
“risks” of rates of homelessness, incarceration, domestic and other
gender-based violence, lack of access to healthcare, and inadequate wages or
income that plague marginalized communities.
These factors are the greatest indicator of who will contract HIV and die of
Years of “abstinence-only” sex education, the failure to provide
condoms in prisons, and the rejection of needle-exchange programs have only
confirmed that scientific and medical solutions are being ignored because of
religious and right-wing ideology, class and social disparities, and racist and
On the third day of the conference, PJM members poured out of the Hyatt Regency
Hotel to take their message to the streets.
Some 300 people with whistles, flashlights, signs and banners brought the
demand for a comprehensive and just prevention program to the many workers and
tourists on Peachtree Street at rush hour on Dec. 4.
Hotel and restaurant staff came to the windows and gave a thumbs up. Drivers in
their cars honked in support.
Denied a permit to march in the street by the Atlanta Police Department, the
marchers nevertheless stopped traffic on this major thoroughfare by crossing
back and forth across the street at the traffic lights.
The rally in Woodruff Park included the singing of “The 12 Days of
Christmas.” The final verse went as follows:
“In the AIDS epidemic, the gov’ment gave to me, NO NATIONAL
PLAN—anti-gay bias, a decade of flat funding, a fast track to prison, no
decent housing, roadblocks to treatment, silver virginity rings, censorship of
science, discrimination, misinformation and a country full of H.I.V.”
The Atlanta march was preceded by actions across the country, from Boston to
Austin to Oakland.
In Washington, D.C., on Nov. 30, nearly 200 activists—including community
members, students and people living with HIV and AIDS—brought together
local, domestic and global demands for critical changes to U.S. HIV and AIDS
After the rally, in a separate demonstration in front of the White House, 40
demonstrators wrapped in red tape—a symbol of the political red tape
blocking effective HIV and AIDS action—and wearing shirts that said
“At-Risk Youth” and “Hand-tied Teacher” sat in front of
the presidential palace and refused to move until the government cut the red
Referencing the three warnings given to advocates conducting civil disobedience
before they’re arrested, they chanted, “Warning one, warning two,
warning three, warning eight. We won’t leave ’til you cut the red
All 40 were arrested.
The PJM was initiated by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) in
collaboration with ACT UP Philadelphia, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Center
for HIV Law and Policy, the Georgia Prevention Justice Alliance, the Harm
Reduction Coalition, the National Women and AIDS Collective, the New York State
Black Gay Network and SisterLove.
For more information, go to www.preventionjustice.org. Material on
the D.C. demonstration is from that Web site.
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