The annual AIDS Watch assembly will begin on Monday, April 28th. AIDS Watch is a large constituent-based gathering that focuses on advocating for HIV/AIDS issues such as funding for programs and research, policy making, and community organizing. Advocates, grassroots organizations, and most importantly people living with HIV will be in attendance. The event includes policy briefing, scheduled visits with members of Congress, awards reception and a rally in Upper Senate Park. AIDS Watch was a long time event sponsored by the defunct National Association for People With AIDS (NAPWA). It is now organized by AIDS United, a DC-based advocacy group.
Michael Kaplan, President and CEO of AIDS United, answered three important questions about the potential impact of AIDS United and why selected groups should get involved.
1. What can a first timer expect at AIDS Watch 2014?
The experience can vary for so many, but undoubtedly, they will find themselves among several hundred HIV and AIDS advocates – many of whom are living with HIV, and others that work as allies in the field. They will get up-to-date training on HIV within the U.S., core policy issues, and how to effectively tell their stories to legislators. They will find themselves in all kinds of settings, from Congressional offices on Capitol Hill to a rally out in the park; and from a formal training at the FHI360 Conference Center to a Reception at the Rayburn Office building to honor retiring House Members Waxman and Christensen as well as community advocates, Robert Suttle and Tre Alexander.
2. How effective are these visits to Capitol Hill?
The visits can make a significant difference. The federal government invests well over $3 billion in discretionary programs to address HIV, the vast majority of which is spent in local communities to support programs related to HIV such as housing, case management, assistance with access to HIV-related treatment, and screening and prevention. Our legislators make decisions that impact hugely how we end this epidemic, and without the voices of those most impacted, we’re less likely to get the outcomes we need. We need the ban on using federal funds for syringe exchange programs removed, we need legislation that has already been introduced to fight HIV-criminalization passed, we need more up-to-date allocation of housing funds for people living with HIV, and so much more if we are to really meet the opportunity that is here to end AIDS. These issues are already being discussed on Capitol Hill, and constituents coming to meet with their elected officials, sharing information on how HIV impacts our lives, how Congress can make a difference, and how we vote makes a huge impact on what legislators decide to do.
3. Why should minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics, LBGT, Women) get involved with AIDS Watch?
The reality is, HIV disproportionately affects many of the most marginalized communities in our country. While there is not a demographic you can find that has not been touched by HIV – the huge and disproportionate impact on sexual minorities, communities of color, on women who have faced domestic violence and on the poor is undeniable. These are the very communities that often are the least served in federal policy, and the only way we change that is by ensuring our current legislators here from us; and that we work together to ensure that the legislative body more fairly reflects the beautiful diversity of our country.
Registration is still going on for AIDS Watch 2014. Seats fill up quickly. Click here for more information on the schedule of events and online registration.