In the Hallways of the U.S. Conference on AIDS 2018, Signs of Renewal and Revolution
September 12, 2018
With that activist message in mind, I attended the USCA this year hoping to learn about the HIV movement's collective high-level strategies to overcome current challenges to HIV prevention, treatment, and care in the U.S. Not least, as we all know, political leaders in the White House, Congress, and state governments are actively trying to defund and dismantle programs and policies related to public health and human rights. As examples:
In this context, I was hoping for a national conference that contained some structured sequence of conversations about coordinated strategies and actions for political change.
Big conferences are challenging to report about. Aside from the one plenary session each day, USCA divided people into 15 to 20 parallel workshop options, located across a sprawling hotel meeting space. Furthermore, the USCA was targeted to a range of audiences, including mostly front-line service providers attending to exchange perspectives about fundamental issues and approaches in their day-to-day work. The conference is not only about national and local political mobilization.
That said, although this year's USCA had good sessions about Medicaid, 340B, PrEP, and harm reduction, I failed to detect at the conference any centrally coherent conversation or momentum toward organizing the "fight." "Injustice" was a common refrain and ever-present backdrop, but many speakers from HIV organizations focused narrowly on their service provision and not on mobilization for better government policies and programs. Speakers from social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter said the words "HIV" and "AIDS" but clearly struggled to link their content with HIV-specific issues. Very little was centered on building local political power and getting out the vote in November.
Fortunately, throughout the conference, there were signs of hope in the work of new, younger leaders who are organizing for health and medicines as an issue of social and economic justice. This new cohort of leaders, experienced in the HIV work of the past decade, is charting innovative new models and approaches for the HIV response. As examples of notable work being discussed at this year's USCA:
The HIV response in the U.S. needs a revolution. From its community-based activist origins, the HIV movement is now led by many competent policy experts and organizational managers who are nevertheless stretched by their obligations to their organizations and the practical work of leveraging marginal gains from a badly flawed health care system.
New waves of organizing are needed to reinvigorate the political struggles for health care reform and human rights and to honestly confront barriers to HIV prevention, treatment, and care. The informal organizing efforts at the USCA were promising signs of energy, innovation, and renewal in the HIV movement.
The news from the USCA is that a new cohort of leaders is finding its footing.
May they save us all.
Sam Avrett works with The Fremont Center, a collective of HIV program and policy consultants who support good grant making, program management, and policy and strategy development for health and human rights. Avrett is also a member of the International Committee of the Netherlands organization Stop AIDS Now!, a board member of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), and a volunteer emergency medical technician on an ambulance in his home town of Fremont, New York. Prior to becoming a consultant in 1999, Avrett was a co-founder and first executive director of AVAC and, before that, worked with Gay Men's Health Crisis, New York Blood Center, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
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This article was provided by TheBodyPRO. It is a part of the publication 2018 U.S. Conference on AIDS.
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