Thursday, January 15, 2009

Traveler's Notes: AIDS Advocacy in the Age of Obama

by David Ernesto Munar
AIDS Foundation of Chicago

via AIDS Connect

Sometimes you do your best thinking on the beach.

So it was a week after the election as I retreated from the 24-hour news cycle to relax with family in Cartagena, Colombia.

Known as the Heroic City, Cartagena readied for its annual independence parades and festivals as I arrived. The laid-back rhythms of this Caribbean colonial port helped soothe my accumulated stress. On a healthy diet of seafood and sun, I gained a renewed perspective about the significance of this transformative period in American history.

"Is he as impressive as he seems?" I was asked frequently. In this predominately multi-racial society where racism nonetheless prevails, President-elect Barack Obama inspires both a sense of pride and enormous awe in the resiliency of the American spirit.

For those of us affected by HIV/AIDS, Obama's ambitious AIDS plan portends a better future. Could our aspirations be dashed, however, under the weight of AIDS complacency and competing priorities?

AIDS advocates have good reason to be cautious. As the U.S. deployed unprecedented assistance to combat the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Administration of President George W. Bush blocked lifesaving and science-based HIV prevention, divested from community-based HIV organizations, and allowed the domestic epidemic to grow without a commensurate expansion in services.

The global AIDS response, while commendable, nonetheless neglected proven harm reduction approaches, undermined access to condoms and family planning, and failed to empower women, girls, and gay/bisexual men in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

I harbor resentment that no amount of caravans, protests, facts, or organizing succeeded in dampening the Bush Administration's (and its allies') powerful and ideologically based resistance to sound HIV/AIDS policies.

After these past eight years, I'm practically programmed to be disappointed.

So I gathered with my mix of emotions – and North American newspapers – in the quiet moments of my Colombian vacation to recalibrate my thinking about our movement's next strategies and approaches.

Read the rest on AIDS Connect.

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