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2006: Pushing Back: New ideas to Counter the Ideological Assault on Science-based HIV/AIDS Prevention - Participants

With a grant from the John M Lloyd Foundation, from May 5-7, 2006, Advocates for Youth convened a meeting of colleague organizations to discuss a series of "push back" concepts for raising the volume on HIV advocacy over the next eight to twelve months.

The session was not intended as a strategic planning process or as a vehicle for addressing all of the critical issues that currently impact policy, messaging, and collaboration within the movement. Rather, the goal was to develop up to 10 smart advocacy concepts that could be circulated to key foundations in the field for possible feedback and funding.

Criteria that Advocates used to select meeting participants included:

  • Colleagues from HIV and reproductive health organizations who view their work in a larger human rights, science-based public health context and who are open to collaboration across fields.
  • Colleagues who bring a range of voices to HIV advocacy, including those of HIV-positive individuals, youth, youth of color, women, progressive people of faith, and the LGBT community.
  • Colleagues who have a track record of speaking out and not shying away from aggressive and bold advocacy tactics and strategies.
  • Colleagues who could bring national and state perspectives to the table, as well as colleagues from both the prevention and treatment sides of the equation.

Advocates for Youth committed to preparing a concise meeting summary and to compiling the participants' push-back concept papers for distribution to interested parties. Follow up inquiries regarding these concepts should be directed to the individual organizational authors as opposed to Advocates for Youth.

Following is a brief summary of the weekend's dialogue including an overview of challenges presented by the current climate, a 'snapshot' of the push back concepts presented, and a list of issues raised but not fully addressed by participants. An accompanying appendix contains concept papers with more detail about each idea.

A. Climate and Themes

External Challenges:

  • In the last few years, there has been a virtual collapse of bold, visible HIV policy advocacy at the national and state levels. The bulk of current advocacy efforts are on appropriations for AIDS prevention and treatment programs rather than the policies that determine how the funds are spent.
  • The human rights, science-based HIV prevention and treatment vision is being undermined by two ideologies:
  • Ultra-conservative Christian Fundamentalism: The stigma-driven, fear-based "sex only within marriage" ideology is corroding domestic and international prevention efforts with billions of dollars being spent on abstinence-only programs, a campaign to demonize condoms, and a shift in domestic policy that targets people with HIV rather than supports targeted primary prevention efforts.
  • Corporate Interests Dictating Economic and Trade Policies: Corporate "coddling" by the administration and Congress, particularly on patents and trade policy, is significantly slowing progress towards universal access to treatment. Treatment is not just a health issue, but also an economic justice issue that commands direct action to challenge the corporate veto over the flow of resources.

Internal Challenges:

  • Neither major political party is a likely hero in the quest for comprehensive, medically-accurate HIV and AIDS programs and services. Aversion to dealing with issues related to sex and sexuality means that they are prone to take on only the "easier" issues (including treatment), and only then if the proposed solutions pass corporate muster.
  • The lack of strong consistent Congressional support for comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs underscores the need to focus on movement building to fashion a credible grassroots base and provide a pipeline of new leaders, new ideas, and new tactics.
  • There is a vital, ongoing, healthy discussion around the tension between a congressionally-directed strategy and a "movement" directed strategy.
  • The historic divisions between reproductive health and HIV/AIDS organizations, between prevention and treatment, and between gender and public health lenses, need to be bridged by using a larger human rights/social justice frame that provides a platform for collaboration and consistent messaging.

B. Push-Back Concepts: A Snapshot
After the conference, participants produced concept papers that provide more detail on their ideas. (To request a copy of these concept papers, email info@johnmlloyd.org) Following is a very brief summary of each concept to provide an overview. Please contact the organization directly with any questions, comments, or interest that you might have about individual ideas.

Jodi Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Concept: A concept for coalescing existing women's activist networks as a rapid response tool for pushing back on ultra-conservatives attacks on effective HIV/AIDS prevention for women. Using a compelling "evidence/exposure/mobilization" frame, these international issues can be effectively marketed domestically.

Matt Kavanagh, National Coordinator, Student Global AIDS Campaign
Concept: A youth activist-driven grassroots campaign for universal treatment access by 2010 that would expose the current administration's "double talk" on funding and access commitments. A very effective strategy for pulling the "corporate cloak" from the administration policy.

Paul Davis, Advocacy Policy Director, Health Global Access Project (Health GAP)
Concept: A major international health care workers' initiative to bolster health care infrastructure in HIV/AIDS-ravaged countries around the world. Though this may take a number of years to move, it provides significant short term opportunities for messaging and mobilization.

Sean Barry, Director of Prevention Policy, The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)
Concepts: A push-back strategy for engaging HIV-positive activists as messengers who can frame abstinence-only programs as "stigma promotion programs" and a "condom hunt" campaign in New York City high schools to hold officials accountable to the city's policies requiring condom availability.

William Smith, Vice President for Public Policy, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS)
Concept: A check-list of strategies and benchmarks for leveraging in a push-back context, including ways to make science-based evidence more compelling in the public debate, using the 2006 International World AIDS Conference to highlight the "science vs. ideology" frame, and training northern European countries to expose far-right tactics.

Bob Tracy, Director of Development, Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP)
Concept: Challenging colleagues to move outside of the non-profit advocacy box to connect more effectively with electoral politics in their own time (non-501c3 time). Given the timidity of many elected officials on these issues, colleagues can get engaged as campaign volunteers, managers, and even as candidates to fill the pipeline with people who believe passionately about this set of issues.

Rob Keithan, Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), Oliver Martin, Health and Wholeness Advocacy Ministry Team, United Church of Christ (UCC), and Ann Hanson, Minister for Children, Families, and Human Sexuality, UCC
Concept: Engaging progressive religious voices in the public debate on these issues by expanding the UUA/UCC Advocacy Training Institute as a tool to recruit and train high-end, high-impact messengers capable of being plugged into sex education advocacy at key strategic levels. Submitting UUA and UCC applications for the administration's Faith-based AIDS Initiative and tracking how treatment of these applications differs from that of applications submitted by conservative organizations.

Naina Dhingra, Director of Public Policy, Advocates for Youth
Concept: Creating a social marketing/advocacy campaign that "re-brands" the condom as a tool of social responsibility and a symbol of political struggle against the ultra-conservatives' war on condoms. Working with foreign delegations at international forums to empower and equip them to challenge U.S. attacks on the reproductive and sexual rights endorsed at Cairo.

Crystal Plati, Executive Director, Choice USA
Concept: A "truth and consequences" tour of youth activists in target states where there is active controversy on prevention issues (sex education, condoms etc.). The tour would include a "science fiction" component to highlight the administration's ideological approaches to prevention and other visibility tactics to bring home the extremism of current policies.

Aimee Thorne-Thompson, Executive Director, Pro-Choice Education Project (PEP)
Concept: A push-back strategy to assist HIV/AIDS advocacy efforts by conducting and disseminating new research that identifies key messages to mobilize young women of color on domestic and international AIDS issues.

Jose Marco, Director, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) Philadelphia
Concept: Engaging ACT UP members in the Philadelphia area to "bird dog" key members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, with the goal of holding them accountable in a public and visible way during key votes on domestic and international HIV issues. Advocating for condom dispensers in public high schools, a strategy that is being embraced by a number of progressive city health departments across the country.

C. Outstanding Issues
A number of "big picture" issues were broached during the weekend but, given the specific, concrete, nature of the meeting, they could not be adequately addressed. Consideration should be given within the field to addressing these issues in other forums. They include:

  • How can resources be directed to grassroots mobilization in order to build a sustainable progressive movement that bridges single-issue efforts?
  • What strategies can be deployed to avoid the "ideological hijacking" of new prevention and treatment initiatives by ultra-conservatives in Congress and the administration?
  • How can the widest possible application of new health care technologies be made available across gender and region? (e.g., marketing the "female" condom in a manner that encourages use among men who have sex with men)'
  • Plans by public health officials to normalize HIV testing within private healthcare settings prompt concern regarding patient confidentiality, provision of counseling, and the impact of power dynamics between physicians and patients.
  • What is the appropriate strategic balance between the "field of opportunities?" (i.e., how to allocate focus and resources between electoral politics (non-501c3 participation), domestic federal policy, domestic state policy, international policy, and movement building. Where are the biggest opportunities in the short and long term?


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