Did the election of Barack Obama give you a sense of elation and newfound freedom, like you had gotten released from prison, escaped from a camp or crawled out from an underground bunker?
It did for millions of Americans, including me. But one consequence of crawling out from the bunker is the devastation suffered becomes disturbingly clear. We have a lot to rebuild.
To reconstruct a building destroyed by the bombs of war, one starts by repairing and securing its foundation, brick by brick, stone by stone.
To reconstruct an activist movement devastated by years of anti-science, anti-empowerment, anti-people policies, one also must start with its foundation and rebuild it, step by step.
Help Rebuild the Movement
That’s why I am writing you: To ask you to join me in the important process of rebuilding our community’s movement to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Please let me explain.
The foundation of the self-empowerment movement for people with HIV—and all of the service providers, treatment activism, public education and awareness that followed in its wake—can be found in a document known as “The Denver Principles.”
“The Denver Principles” was written by a group of people with AIDS, including pioneer activists such as Michael Callen, Dan Turner and Bobbi Campbell, at a GLBT health conference held June 1983 in Denver.
Their landmark manifesto outlined the rights and responsibilities of people with AIDS. Near the end of the conference, they stormed the podium and read “The Denver Principles” manifesto in front of a banner that read “Fighting for Our Lives!” Ginny Apuzzo, the conference co-chair, said the activists got a 10-minute standing ovation and “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
“The Denver Principles” represents the first time in the history of humanity that a group of people who shared a disease organized politically, asserting an inalienable right to participate in the decision-making processes, at all levels, that would so profoundly affect their lives.
What “The Denver Principles” Enabled
In the early years of the epidemic, “The Denver Principles” enabled us to combat stigma, create an extraordinary peer-to-peer service delivery system and implement community-based HIV prevention that worked. In the years since, UNAIDS, WHO and other organizations around the world have used “The Denver Principles” as a model for service delivery to disenfranchised communities.
For people with HIV, “The Denver Principles” is the Declaration of Independence, Bill or Rights, Constitution and Magna Carta all rolled into one. That’s why the manifesto was applauded and celebrated so greatly when introduced at the Denver conference—because those in attendance knew that important history was being made.
A few weeks after that Denver meeting, the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) was formed in Washington, DC, to provide a unified national voice to represent us in the media, on Capitol Hill and within the executive branch of our federal government.
The Denver Principles Project
Today, I am working with NAPWA and POZ Magazine on The Denver Principles Project, and I would like to ask for your help.
The Denver Principles Project is a three-part campaign to recommit our community to the principles of self-empowerment, to raise awareness of “The Denver Principles” among service providers and the communities they reach and to build a large national membership for NAPWA that will give it the voice and authority it needs to be most effective.
The first step is simply asking individuals and organizations involved in or who care about the epidemic, like you, to add your name to a list of those agreeing to recommit to “The Denver Principles.”
I hope you can go to www.napwa.org, click on The Denver Principles Project link and add your name, or your organization’s name, to the roster of those supporting this historic initiative.
The second step is to raise awareness of “The Denver Principles” and The Denver Principles Project through your organization’s resources, by including information about the project in your newsletters; by educating staff, volunteers and clients about the history and meaning of the principles; and by posting copies of “The Denver Principles” in waiting and reception areas.
Most important, we are asking you to encourage your clients with HIV to sign up for a sponsored membership in the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). That’s right: no cost to the person with HIV who wants to be involved.
When NAPWA was founded, it was originally envisioned to grow along the lines of other national organizations such as NOW, NAACP or HRC, with thousands of members contributing $35 or $50 each.
But most people with HIV live in poverty, and many have trouble maintaining secure housing, feeding their families or accessing medical care. That traditional constituent-building model will not work because people with HIV do not have the funds to pay for membership.
That’s why NAPWA has made a commitment to find sponsors to pay for memberships for anyone with HIV who wants to become empowered, anyone who wants to add his or her voice and become a member of NAPWA.
POZ Support With Its Anniversary Issue
POZ is supporting this effort as well. To kick it off, the magazine has agreed to donate all of the advertising sales from its 15th anniversary issue, this coming May, to the NAPWA Membership Fund. Those funds, along with donations from corporate, foundation and individual sponsors, will pay for memberships in NAPWA for any person with HIV who would like to join.
Other Organizations Support The Denver Principles Project
There are more than a dozen national AIDS organizations, but NAPWA, as an organization of people with HIV/AIDS, has a unique role. That’s why the National Minority AIDS Council, the Latino Commission on AIDS and other national groups, as well as more than 140 local service providers from 45 states (including AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Gay Men’s Health Crisis of New York City, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Nashville Cares, Nevada AIDS Project, Tulsa CARES, Action AIDS of Philadelphia, AIDS Delaware of Wilmington) are supporting The Denver Principles Project. (For a complete list, go to http://www.napwa.org/)
They know giving greater voice to those of us with the disease is not just important—it is vital in order to secure funding, increase health care access, combat stigma, reduce new infections and empower people with HIV and improve their health. Isn’t that what the fight against AIDS is all about?
Objective: 100,000 NAPWA Members by December 1
Our goal is for NAPWA to have 100,000 members by World AIDS Day, December 1, of this year. Imagine how important the ability to mobilize a large NAPWA membership will be for everyone working to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act this year, and to secure funding for state ADAP or HIV testing programs and to have a voice in the Obama administration’s initiatives for health care reform.
We have suffered because our voice has not been adequately heard. We need to be represented in Washington, and that is why I am hopeful you can join us in this historic effort at this uniquely opportune time.
For years we have had a culture in Washington that has denigrated the needs of people with HIV, ignored their voices and treated us like a problem population to be regulated and controlled rather than the key to successfully addressing the epidemic.
Obama’s Election Is Great, But No Guarantee
The election of Barack Obama has brought great hope and inspiration, to be sure. But changes in bureaucracies and long-entrenched policies do not come magically or easily, even with the election of powerful and progressive new leadership.
We must fight for these changes. And to fight effectively, we must have clarity of vision—that’s why it’s so important to recommit to the founding ideas expressed in “The Denver Principles.” That’s why we must have a large membership—to demonstrate the community’s support of this effort to make sure we get the attention of elected officials and public policy leaders.
Can You Join Us?
Please, I urge you to take a moment right now and go to www.napwa.org and click on The Denver Principles Project link. Join us in recommitting to “The Denver Principles,” raising awareness of the principles and building NAPWA’s membership to make sure our voice in Washington is heard clearly.
Yours in the struggle for justice,
P.S. Everyone who contributes $35 or more, or any organization promoting membership in NAPWA to their clients will have their name(s) listed in the roster of supporters of The Denver Principles Project that will be printed in the 15th anniversary May issue of POZ. But time is short—to include your name, you must sign up by March 15. Please, go to www.napwa.org/supportdpp right now to sign up. Thank you.