The POZ Army: How We End AIDS Together
by Regan Hofmann
While it’s understandable that many of us are afraid of speaking up against such wrongs, we must find the courage to do so. Because by remaining tongue-tied, we leave ourselves at greater risk.
So how do we overcome our fear? We need to get mad as hell.
Larry Kramer has said, “What makes activism work is anger and fear. I do not think it can work without that.”
We—the people living with HIV—must tap into our fear and anger. We must make it politically uncomfortable for the people in power to ignore us. We must let those people know that if they make decisions that will hurt and kill people with HIV then they will weather some serious blowback—beginning with losing our vote. And we must educate the general public and the media about HIV/AIDS.
In a democracy, the people we elect and send to Washington, including our president, are supposed to work for us, not the other way around. But in realpolitik, who succeeds in getting laws passed and budgets allocated to advance their cause? The oil and financial industries, the energy and pharmaceutical companies, the wealthiest individuals who are the biggest donors to our most senior elected officials.
But governments are also susceptible to address large, public outcries. Especially when they happen in the media spotlight.
We must let the world again see the outrage that churns inside us, the kind of outrage that was so effective at the beginning of the epidemic. We must channel it this summer and realize and capitalize on our collective power to fight for our lives.
The end of AIDS is, simply, up to us.
You can enlist and begin training at pozarmy.com.
Think of the POZ Army site as command central for all the work being done to protect and improve the lives of people with HIV—here and around the globe. It’s really easy to join up. Just go to pozarmy.com and click any or all of the three buttons under “Recruitment Station.” One puts you on our email newsletter list, one helps you “friend” us on Facebook, and one helps you follow us on Twitter.
We will use those three main channels to alert members of the POZ Army when it’s time to suit up. We’ll tell you exactly what to do and make it easy and as automated as possible to launch an attack.
The POZ Army site gives you tips, tools, videos and information to help you become an expert soldier. It provides advice on how to call the office of a Congressperson and how to use social media like a pro. It spells out what to say if a reporter sticks a microphone in your face and explains how to get yourself featured in the media. It will be a central spot to find all relevant petitions and calls to arms. And a place to connect to others and share your stories from the front lines. In short, it’s the place to learn new skills and re-up supplies as needed.
Social media and new technology have entirely changed the way we advocate today. Together, they allow us to convene, communicate and raise a royal ruckus without even leaving our houses.
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and the collective demonstrations in the Middle East known as the Arab Spring would not have been possible before social media and today’s cellular technology. Those in power now know to watch groundswells of online activity.
Once, AIDS activists stood outside the walls of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the White House. They blew whistles and carried signs of protest. Over time, people with HIV got inside those organizations and offices. But not enough people living with HIV have direct connection to those in power.
Thanks to technology, we can change that. We no longer have to travel or secure a meeting to ask for our leadership’s help or to tell them what we need and demand. We can broadcast our asks and invite ourselves to the proverbial tables and discussions using the new digital and cellular technology. Using the POZ Army as base camp, we can fan out through the likes of Facebook and Twitter and make our points heard loud and clear online.
When ACT UP was formed 25 years ago, the Internet was in its nascent stage. And ACT UP’s protests were held primarily in large cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Today, technology allows the voices of those around the globe to be virtually linked in protest. Thanks to a simple weapon of war—our cell phones—we can do what our predecessors couldn’t have dreamed of. ACT UP was several hundred strong at its peak. If a few hundred people could save nearly 6 million lives (the number of people who are currently on treatment), think about how many lives the million-strong POZ Army can save.
Not everyone has to put his or her boots directly on the battlefield. You can remain anonymous and still get involved. The POZ Army will include people living and not living with HIV, so being a part of it does not mean you necessarily need to disclose your status.
Those of us who can, will fight for those of us who can’t.
So where will we wage our first campaign? This summer in Washington, DC, using the platform of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The Quilt is deemed a National Treasure by an act of Congress, and it is the world’s most powerful symbol of the epic loss caused by HIV. The more than 47,000 panels stitched together lovingly in remembrance of 94,000 people who died of AIDS remind us of two things: the enormity of the AIDS pandemic—and the fact that it is anything but over. The Quilt carries the energy of the 25 million men, women and children taken from this world because HIV entered their bodies. And it is one of the most profound reminders of what happens if we don’t respond as we should—and can—to this disease. New panels are being sewn every day. The Quilt is a connector, a catalyst, an ambassador and an educator. It is the perfect launchpad for a new era of support and advocacy for the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
The power of the Quilt is not limited to its ability to recall the past. Equally essential is the way it helps start a conversation in the here and now about HIV. It is integral to our advocacy; it affirms our humanity and makes clear our connections to and responsibilities for one another. The Quilt builds a bridge between those living with and affected by the virus and those living in the world who need to be re-awakened to the scale and tragedy of the ongoing AIDS plague.
There’s no better time to unfurl the power of the 54-ton Quilt than during AIDS 2012. And there’s no better place to do it than in the backyard of our president and the U.S. Congress—the people who determine the policies and budgets that impact the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in America and abroad. This summer’s Quilt in the Capital initiative provides the ultimate platform for us to reshape the dialogue and clarify that the best way to end AIDS is to cure it.
If enough of you join the POZ Army today and join us in person and/or online for Quilt in the Capital this summer, we can make a real difference. Think of how our lives could change if we cured AIDS. We would no longer face complications from HIV infection and its treatment. We would no longer face HIV-related stigmatization, discrimination and unjust criminalization. Fewer children would be orphaned. AIDS would not ravage nations to the point of implosion and conflict that require outside intervention. As a result, the world would be a safer place. And when we cure it, fewer U.S. taxpayer dollars will go to fighting AIDS, and the world can move on to solving the next medical mystery and saving other people’s lives.
We are so close to getting the upper hand on AIDS. If we utilize this moment as we are being called to do, we will one day be able to bring our troops home safely.
So consider this your formal invitation to enlist in the POZ Army. Whether you want to help from the safety and privacy of your hometown or you want to become a voice, face and leader on the national stage, POZ, with the network of existing local and global advocacy groups, can help train you to be a part of the force needed to stop the pandemic. There is a role for everyone in the POZ Army no matter your comfort level, skill set or desire to engage.
So lace up your boots, put on your real or proverbial (Day-Glo!) camouflage and join us—literally or virtually—as we head out on the road to Washington.
Welcome to the dawn of a new era of AIDS activism.
Welcome to the POZ Army. Together, we will stay true to the end.
How to Enlist
Every successful soldier carries and uses the same basic equipment: the right boots, a helmet, water and a weapon. Members of the POZ Army will also use a few basics: a cell phone, Internet access and social media.
Go to pozarmy.com to get started:
Also watch for news of the POZ Army in POZ magazine and on our other social media sites such as Google+, Tumblr and Pinterest.
- Sign up for our POZ Army e-newsletter.
- Become a fan on Facebook and watch our wall for action alerts from the POZ Army.
- Follow us on Twitter, and watch our Twitter feed for action alerts from the POZ Army.
Illustrations by Avram Finkelstein
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