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2005: Global AIDS Activist Leadership Summit - Report

The Global AIDS Alliance (GAA) convened leading grassroots activists from key states, with a focus on congressional districts whose legislators play a lead role in determining global AIDS allocations. Specifically, the conference included activists from the districts of House Appropriations Committee Chair Jerry Lewis (R-CA), House Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), House Budget Committee Chair Jim Nussle (R-IA), Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS), Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), among others.

Participants included faith-based activists, domestic AIDS advocates, university students, advocates for orphaned and vulnerable children, people living with HIV/AIDS, and others who have shown a strong commitment to building the political will needed to secure improved global AIDS policies. The meeting included Africans living in the U.S., as well as Indian Americans, several of whom are working to increase global AIDS awareness within their respective communities. Geographic representation was broad, including 14 states and the District of Columbia. Three of the participants had also attended GAA's September 2003 activist training conference.

The program agenda featured a mix of issue briefings, skills-building presentations, and participatory planning sessions. Briefings focused on linking HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Development Goals, expanding AIDS and TB treatment access, and promoting universal basic education as a key component of HIV prevention. Special attention was focused on making effective presentations utilizing the "EPIC" approach, i.e., engage the listeners, state the problem, inform about the solution, and make a call to action. Experienced activists presented examples of local programs that succeeded in influencing congressional decision-makers and strengthening local grassroots networks. And activists who had previously been involved primarily with domestic AIDS issues gained a greater understanding of global AIDS advocacy.

Conference participants received a comprehensive "advocacy toolkit," including information on making effective public presentations, contacting and meeting with members of Congress, writing letters to the editor, pitching op-eds and editorials, and building a local grassroots network. This toolkit also featured talking points on key HIV/AIDS issues, a legislative update, briefings on AIDS-related issues such as tuberculosis, education, and debt, an outline of the federal legislative and appropriations processes, and the membership of key congressional committees.

In addition, participants developed local action plans, which were presented to the broader group on the final day of the conference. GAA's Communications Director, David Bryden, intends to conduct periodic conference calls to monitor progress in implementing these action plans and provide support as needed.

The Stony Point conference also brought together individuals who are primarily advocates on domestic AIDS issues with those who are advocates on issues related to global AIDS and orphaned and vulnerable children. There was clearly a lot of enthusiasm for greater collaboration, and the meeting included discussion of specific challenges and opportunities, such as the Campaign to End AIDS (www.campaigntoendaids.org). GAA's screening of the film "Raising Their Voices" was particularly well-received and provided the Stony Point participants with a unique opportunity to meet with the director and discuss how the film might more effectively motivate grassroots activism. In addition, the "Face-to-Face" photo exhibit was an impressive addition to the conference, and its organizers met with several participants to discuss the possibility of bringing the exhibit to their communities.

The meeting served to strengthen GAA's collaboration with the RESULTS Educational Fund, a D.C.-based nonprofit that shares a focus on global health issues and a commitment to expanding universal basic education as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention. RESULTS has a well-developed national grassroots program, and several of the conference attendees are long-time RESULTS volunteers who are now better equipped to get involved on global AIDS issues. The Stony Point meeting provided a "test run" for a potential partnership with RESULTS to build and sustain a national grassroots network of global AIDS activists, and discussions regarding a formal collaboration are ongoing.

Above all, the Stony Point conference succeeded in providing much-needed inspiration to individuals who choose to devote their own time and resources to speaking out on global AIDS issues. Keeping local activists energized is a primary challenge of grassroots advocacy, and most participants reported that the conference motivated them to become more actively engaged. One said, "I plan to take the information and ideas to my church, local AIDS organizations, and civic organizations for coalition building to move my Senators." Another reported that he left Stony Point with a "renewed since of purpose and new and improved tools to work with."

Importantly, the work you funded at Stony Point has already translated into action:

  • Mary J. Frost, R.N., published an op-ed in the Biloxi Sun Herald on May 21 calling on congressional leaders to allocate $3.7 billion for global HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria programs in the 2006 budget and increase the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund. This op-ed was accompanied by a piece describing Mary's visit to Cape Town, where she experienced the crisis of orphaned and vulnerable children firsthand. It concludes, "It is time to shake off our complacency and take action. We have the tools and the compassion; we must use them if this problem is to be overcome."
  • Another Stony Point attendee, Clare Effiong, reports that she's already been in touch with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) on the issue of eliminating school fees.
  • Activists in California used the training to better inform their face-to-face advocacy during Rep. Jerry Lewis's recent public appearances at a local university.
  • And Ron Brabson has reached out to several journalists in Knoxville, Tennessee, and begun working with a local coordinator of the Campaign to End AIDS.
These initial developments demonstrate the positive impact of the Stony Point meeting and validate GAA's broader strategy for training and mobilizing grassroots activists. The evaluation forms completed by the conference attendees also attest to the value of the conference, and a complete set of evaluation forms is enclosed for your review.

Two participants from Oklahoma and Mississippi shared stories about how they used family connections to influence congressional decision-makers, and GAA hopes to increase its focus on so-called "grasstops" organizing, which seeks to mobilize individuals who are well-positioned to influence key decision-makers through personal or professional relationships.

The conference also highlighted the importance of the Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA), a new coalition of HIV-positive Americans, activists, and civil-society organizations that is demanding effective U.S. government action to end the epidemic here and around the world. Several Stony Point participants hope to host events around the caravans that C2EA is organizing nationwide.

The Stony Point conference did not establish a formal network to coordinate local activism-a goal that may have been too ambitious given both the brevity of the meeting and the fact that some participants lacked extensive experience with global HIV/AIDS advocacy. However, most of the Stony Point attendees already belong to grassroots networks maintained by organizations such as RESULTS, AIDSWatch, and the Campaign to End AIDS. This is not surprising given that GAA's main criteria for selecting conference participants were strong personal commitment, access to a local constituency, e.g., NGOs, students, faith-based groups, etc., and location in a state or congressional district whose political representative(s) play an important role in policymaking on global AIDS issues.

The "advocacy toolkit" compiled and distributed to each participant prior to the meeting provided the framework for the Stony Point meeting and is intended to provide an ongoing source of information and guidance for grassroots activism. In addition, conference participants began work on a series of local or regional action plans for promoting and coordinating grassroots activism on global AIDS issues-plans that will be further developed in consultation with community-based activists and advocacy organizations. Finally, all Stony Point attendees are now receiving GAA's email action alerts.

GAA's primary next steps related to the Stony Point conference include the following:

  • Organize periodic conference calls with conference participants to monitor progress in implementing local action plans and provide continued support and motivation for ongoing grassroots activism. These calls may focus on activities related to the Campaign to End AIDS.
  • Continue discussions with the RESULTS Educational Fund to determine the feasibility of a formal partnership to create and sustain a nationwide network of local activists working on global AIDS issues.
  • Explore the possibility of organizing an activist conference or speaker tour in a key state such as Kentucky or Tennessee.


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