Student Global AIDS Campaign
-- Celeste Lavin
With over 40 million people in the world living with HIV/AIDS, the next US president has to step up and do something. He or she needs to address the ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that we fund, the federal ban on needle-exchange funding, how much we contribute to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, lack of health care, treatment access, and what we are doing to help fight the pandemic globally.
I am part of a grassroots high school and college student-run organization called the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC). We use advocacy and action to help the fight against AIDS. This doesn't just mean letter writing and phone calls (though we do a lot of this too) but also protests, demonstrations, lobbying, teach-ins, fund raising, etc. It is not a charity group, but a group that works in solidarity with those affected by HIV/AIDS to address the fundamental issues behind the pandemic.
Things that may seem totally irrelevant to AIDS sometimes are extremely significant in prolonging the crisis. Intellectual property rights in Thailand seem random? Thailand is being threatened by the US to stop using its compulsory licenses for fear of losing its trade preferences. What do these compulsory licenses do? They let Thailand ignore patent laws, and legally create cheap, life-saving generic AIDS medication.
Student Global AIDS Campaign march in Washington, DC.
The first amendment seems unrelated? Au contraire - the Mexico City Policy (or what we AIDS activists like to call the Global Gag Rule) says that the US won't give any funding to foreign organizations that mention abortion as an option. These organizations do not even need to perform abortions to forfeit their funding, simply mentioning abortion qualifies them to lose their funding. This is a direct violation of freedom of speech but the US government says that foreigners don't deserve the same rights as we do. Thus, in our dealing with foreign entities we can ignore our own constitution.
Certainly anyone can complain about the US government for a multitude of reasons, but how do we address these problems and find a solution? Talk to the decision makers for one. If lobbying isn't your style, SGACers and other activists use a technique called bird-dogging. It is essentially asking a politician, business person, or somebody else a pointed question to get him or her to agree with you. For example: "Senator Biden, if elected president, will you spend $50 billion in AIDS funding over the next five years?" The question has to be specific, comprehensible, and something people would agree with. Sure, he may give a politician's answer and completely avoid the question, but if people in Charleston, Des Moines, Philadelphia, and Manchester are all asking the same thing for 18 months, he might get the idea that his voters care about this. And if you can't ask him a question in front of everybody, run up and get a handshake question, or yell things during his speech. It may seem like a pretty basic tactic, but it is essentially why all of the Democratic candidates for president (save Mike Gravel, mostly because of a lack of targeting) signed on to the $50 billion ask.
SGAC truly is a student organization. There are only about five people who are not students working for the organization, and nearly all plans, materials, and campaigns come from students. These SGAC bird-doggers are students, the people bringing this back to campuses are students, and the activists are students as well. We partner with student groups such as the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), but also with non-student groups like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or the Health Global Access Project.
Student activists create a mock cemetary to draw attention
to the plight of AIDS victims.
In our area, Lower Merion High School has an SGAC chapter, and we work with AMSA from Drexel and other AIDS related groups in Philly and its suburbs. For World AIDS Day on December 1, SGAC is holding a demonstration in DC and joining partners in NH for another demonstration on November 30. Haverford College will be displaying segments of the AIDS quilt on campus. Join us for World AIDS Day, or go to Haverford. And the next time a candidate comes to town, go bird-dogging! If you would like to start an SGAC chapter or have any questions about SGAC, please
contact me, the national High School Coordinator of the Student Global AIDS Campaign.
Did you enjoy this article?
- share it with your friends
so they do not miss out on this article,
(free), so you do not miss out on the next issue,
(not quite free but greatly appreciated) to enable us to continue
providing this free service.