Tuesday, October 25, 2005

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

Caravan update : 5

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage caravan rider

October 25, 2005
Casper, Wyoming to Rapid City South Dakota.

This morning I awoke nestled next to my boyfriend on a floor of a church along with my fellow caravan riders. The local media gave us very good coverage, both in the local newspaper and the evening news. We were fed a full breakfast prepared for us by an amazing group of church women who got up early to see us off. We all feel such gratitude for our reception here, and special thanks go to Pastor Charlene Hinkley and Pamela Reamer Williams of the Wyoming AIDS project.
The weather here this season we've been told has been warmer and milder than usual,showcasing the natural beauty of this wide and open land of such diverse range and topography.
Not long after crossing the border into South Dakota we stopped at a small rurally colorful diner called the "Fresh Stop" for a quick lunch, and encountered our first incident of open hostility. Portland caravan rider Paul who is African American and needs a walker due to a broken hip went to use the restroom, where two local yokels told him " There are three clan members here, and only two of you, and you better watch your back." Chris, our other African-American rider, returned to the bus fearing a conflict. We talked with the owner, and were assured that those who threatened us would be banned from that establishment. Back on the bus this was an opportunity to discuss how to handle threats and violence as we get closer to the home town of Fred Phelps, famous for disrupting funerals of those who died from AIDS by yelling through bullhorns "God hates queers" and far more ugly epitaphs. One of our caravan riders experienced Fred Phelps and his congregation disrupt the funeral of his partner when he passed in 1989. Some wounds cut so deep that we never are over them, so I held my friend as he wept as the grief from this trauma washed over him again. He told me how the Reverend Phelps tried to steal the memories of his beloved partner who's passing is still so close to the surface so many years later.
We stopped briefly to view the giant Crazy Horse sculpture that's still under construction after over 50 years of work, a massive project carved into a whole hill visible for miles. We also paid a brief stop at Mt. Rushmore, that strange cultural icon with nearly biblical overtones.
Upon arrival in Rapid City we quickly set up in the hotels arranged here by our hosts, then left for a dinner and informal meeting with local people in a city park.This event was hosted by Positive Approach, the local source for support, re feral, information, assistance, and hospice training for the needs of the local HIV/AIDS community. There are an estimated 400 people living with HIV/AIDS in South Dakota, roughly a hundred live here in Rapid City.
I spoke with Marnee Morris, HIV positive now 17 years, struggling back from a severe stroke. Marnee showed up before today's event began to wash the picnic tables. She had been a ballerina, a soloist for the New York city Ballet company and had performed this art worldwide that she had dreamed of since a child. Today she still experiences those little cuts of discrimination that can bleed one to death such as being told that she should eat off of paper plates.
Marnee gets the medications that she needs to live through Rapid City Community health, one of the many small, rural agencies that will go under if the Ryan White Care act does not get reauthorized, as is the wish of the Bush administration.
Another local activist Tom told me that today he believes finally ending AIDS is a war that we can win, a sentiment he says that he would not have believed last year.

For more information about this caravan, the Campaign To End AIDS, and what you can do to help win this war, log onto:
www.c2ea.org.

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