Tuesday, December 2, 2014

World AIDS Day between Blade Runner, car crashes, vision zero and tears in the rain

There was an add feeling gong up to Harlem yesterday for World AIDS Day.

For as long as I can remember, Housing Works has read the names of people who have died, the sounds echoing through the streets up from city hall park.  Other years, we’ve protested the Mayor’s bagel breakfast or held a rally. But this year, the event was being held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Waiting in line at the Apollo with other AIDS activists, policy advocates, peer educators, and service providers, my friend Eddie from Housing Works said this was the first year in ages he was not getting arrested.

But here we were with the city changing along with its AIDS policies. 

Its been nearly a decade now, that Housing Works has been talking about the end of AIDS.  Certainly AIDS is not history. And there's a lot we have to do to keep pushing to end this. 

 AIDS is not history fotografie di Nanni Fontana

But this call is starting to feel real, with clear targets and support from government.

The facebook invite noted:

Come out and be a part of the End AIDS NY 2020 campaign!

A coalition of 30+ HIV/AIDS groups gather to renew the fight against HIV/AIDS in NY State. Currently, a NY state task force comprised of NY activists and workers is meeting to develop a plan to end AIDS in NY state by 2020. But it's unclear whether Gov Cuomo will support the directives of the task force.

Join the growing chorus of voices to demand that Gov Cuomo start implementing the suggestions of the task force ASAP. NY-ers can't wait years for PrEP access, 4th generation HIV testing, sex ed in high schools, HASA reforms, needle exchange, and an end to sex worker harassment among other issues.

What: World AIDS Day Rally
Where: Harlem's Apollo Theater (253 W 125th St)
When: 9:30 AM, Mon Dec 1
Directions: Take the A,B,C,D, 2 or 3 to 125th St.
After years of battling Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani and Bloomberg, the world feels different this year.

"I’m Wanda.  I have a home today,” began Wanda Hernanez of VOCAL, who opened the event with a story about her struggles to pay her rent, using 50-60% of her disability check and living on something like $10 dollars a day for the rest of the month.  “Housing is healthcare,” she explained, describing her approach to activism.  She took that message to city hall and told her story over and over.  When words were not enough, she got arrested, a few times.  Then this mayor told his tale of two cites.  He seemed to understand.  He got sick of us coming around.  And one day in Albany, he came up to us and said. Don’t worry.  I got you on this. I want to thank the Mayor for his support.  Today, we don’t have to protest.  We have a head of HASA who sits across the table from us and we talk.  We have a health commissioner who understands that hiv is spread through racism and sexism and homelessness as well as other structural barriers.  We want to thank the mayor for his support for the 30% rent cap and pushing to end AIDS.

Hernandez went on to welcome the mayor, who in turn asked the crowd to give her the applause.  “People thank mayors all the time.  But change comes from the grassroots, from people like Wanda. You should be giving her the applause.”  And the room did.  “Its just the right thing to do.  You should be tracking down people like me in Albany.  That’s how change happens.  This is a day that means many things to us.  It is a day to take stock of losses and recommitting to fighting this. So many have felt it here. You can think of those we’ve lost and live as they would have wanted to live.”

De Blasio recalled the first he heard about hiv when someone he knew at NYU died in 1983.  And then his city council colleague Phil Reed died. As chair of the general welfare committee on the City Council, he heard the stories of countless advocates, trans folks, people with hiv/AIDS. And that informs the mayor’s experience.

“Many things have changed. Hiv is less in the headlines.  Yet, there are 35 million people coping with it, 1.2 in the US, over 100,000 in New York.”  And for this, the city has a special responsibility, on the forefront of research and treatment and advocacy.  The 30% rent cap was something we had do.   Thanks to this, 100,000 New Yorkers will no longer have to decide between paying rent or taking meds.”   The mayor concluded with an overview of the blueprint to end AIDS in New York by 2020. Hope will never be silent, he concluded paraphrasing Harvey Milk.

Several council speakers followed.  Speaker Melissa mark-Viverito reaffirmed the point that government can be part of the solution to this, as opposed to being a barrier.  Hiv infection is not because of individual behavior, she argued, suggesting we keep our eye on structural barriers, such as homeless and access to healthcare.

“Hiv is a disease of inequalities,” Corey Johnson followed.  Poverty, homelessness, and healthcare – address these, keep people with hiv healthy, and prevent new infections.  These all work together. 2020 will not work if not all people get access to prevention services, including HASA.  Yet, today barriers exist. You have to be sick to get housing or other benefits.   How insane is that? Those in need have to wait to get sick to get services.  We should not wait  for people to get ill to access services.  This is 2014, not 1989. These are critical issues across New York state.  We can end hiv if people get housing assistance.  New Yorkers statewide need this.  We can end AIDS.  But we have to harness the resources to do so.  Today, the stars are aligned from Cuomo to de Blasio.

After a while, the speeches  got a bit tired.  For example, as ACT UP member Tim Lunceford noted on facebook.  “State Senator Brad Holyman wished everyone at the Apollo a "Happy World AIDS Day", with a sihteating grin. What a cad?. Next he will be saying something like Happy Holocaust Day.”

Still, the city is changing, getting better for some people, and worse for others, one step up, two back, as the structural violence continues.  Vision Zero is falling by the waste side as more and more people are hit by cars and the city refuses to assign guilt.  A pedestrian or cyclist dies every two days or so in NYC.  Last week, another kid was killed by a driver.  It feels relentless, explained one parent whose kids have watched three of their buddies die from such fatalities in one year.  

"Mohammad is the third kid from my school who's been
killed by a car in 18 months!" noted one of the kids'  friends. 

As Families for Safe Streets, who are holding a press conference Sunday at 2 at City Hall, report:

Please join Families for Safe Streets on Sunday, December 7th at 2pm on the steps of City Hall in lower Manhattan and demand that NYC take traffic violence seriously. We succeeded in lowering the speed limit. Now we need NYC to enforce it! NYC’s failure to enforce traffic laws and hold reckless drivers accountable has created a culture of violence on our streets. Traffic violence is an epidemic - every 30 hours someone is killed; 88 people are injured every day - and something needs to be done now. 

Dana Lerner’s 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi who failed to yield to him and his father in the crosswalk as they crossed the street with the light. The driver was given two traffic tickets and has a hearing on Friday; the most the driver faces is a fine. Cooper and his Dad were obeying the law, but the law failed Cooper. 

Cooper’s death was not an “accident”. Motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable and preventable; they are not outside of human influence or control.Since we can identify the causes of crashes, we can take action to avoid them. Please join us, for Cooper, and demand that New York City enforce its traffic laws and hold reckless drivers accountable so that children like Cooper are allowed to grow-up.

The families held a rally in the rain later at six pm. A few of us met later that night.

Blade Runner was playing. 

Rudger Hauer was watching his time run out.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

But for today, its time to live. Between world aids day and vision zero, we all need to look out for each other in this naked city.  That’s really our only hope. 

As brother Walt wrote so long ago:

“be not dishearten'd - affection  shall solve the problems of Freedom yet; Those who love each other shall be invincible.”

Today, my friend Jennifer Johnson points out, we could use a love bomb.

Join me next week at the Healthgap fundraiser as we continue to live, fight, dance, and scream even with the tears pouring in the rain.

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