Monday, October 24, 2005

Paving The Way

Paving the Way--Days 9 & 10

October 24, 2005

Dear Friends,

No excuses for not writing yesterday.  We set out marching about 9:30 – 10:00am on the outskirts of Philadelphia.  Eight miles and three hours later, we were circling City Hall in Center City, done for the day.  Instead of blogging, I found a sports bar and got in two football games.  “Fight back; fight AIDS; go Eagles!”  It was a gay sports bar, so there were green pompoms at each seat.  

Exhaustion had finally caught up with me when I returned to our urban campsite.  Appropriate for a church basement, I slept the sleep of the righteous.  (I have noticed that our snorers have settled down.  Some of them seem to have stopped snoring all together.  The others have synchronized, snoring in four-part harmony.)

We had a slow start this morning.  It was all of a two block march to our rally site.  Our host, Charlene, who had marched with us for the last two days, spoke powerfully, for the first time in public about her experience of invisibility as a transgendered person living with AIDS.  When she finished speaking, we chanted, “trans people count; end AIDS now!”  Charlene was followed by her boss, Yoshiaki Yamasaki.  He had tears in his eyes as he talked about the transformation his organization had experienced participating in the Campaign.  

While the rally was small in numbers, we left feeling a powerful sense of purpose.  Marching the Baltimore Pike to Chester, we encountered lots of young people wanting to know what we were doing. Honks of recognition made it clear that word of our journey had spread.  The rain threatened but held back all day as we marched the twelve miles to Chester.  Only when we got into the town limits did the rain start to fall, gentle, and then heavier for the last half our, marching through bleak neighborhoods, in the dark and in the rain.

Bethany Baptist Church was a welcome beacon.  The children’s choir was rehearsing in the sanctuary.  Downstairs was a hearty spread of roast chicken, roast potatoes, green beans, several varieties of cake, and sweet tea and lemonade.  A dozen men and women hung around late to make sure we were satiated and comfortable.  Each one blessed us as he or she parted, promising continued prayers for our journey.

Increasingly as this journey has unfolded, I have become less concerned with numbers and more concerned with how deeply people’s hearts are touched.  I know that those of us who are making this journey are already experiencing changed lives.  I pray the people we encounter along the way are experiencing changed lives as well.

I have thrilled to see each of the other caravans starting out their journeys.  I pray that each of your pilgrimages is as filled with adventure and reason for gratitude as we have found with Paving the Way.

Much love,

Charles King

Paving The Way

Day 6 cont.

Day 6 cont.

 

We went out to a bar with our host committee last night.  I met up with my dad and one of my best friends Godfrey.  I missed them so much!  We talked about pre-Katrina home.  Memories :(  It was so nice to be around them.  We watched a drag show, and I got supremely drunk.  Dad and Godfrey made sure of that!  lol!  My dad said he was so proud of me for being a part of C2EA.  I tried to convince Godfrey to get on the caravan, but he wouldn't.  We took a bunch of pictures this morning with the people living here.  I feel honored to be a part of the caravans.  I will never get a chance to do this again.  Well we're headed to Baton Rouge now.  Maybe New Orleans tomorrow, I don't know yet.

-C

 

Chris Rothermel

Host Committee Organizer: Soul of the South, Houston
Campaign to End AIDS
rothermel.c@gmail.com

 

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

American Heritage caravan update # 3

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage caravan rider
October 23, 2005
Laramie, Wyoming

This morning I awoke to the bustle of rush hour traffic around 6:30 a.m.
Traffic so early on a Sunday morning?
Oh. Still in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Last night our field representative Katee who had flown out to Portland to help get us started for our first two days flew back home to Washington, D.C. to further prepare on-site for the days of action once all of the caravans arrive in Washington, D.C. on November the 4th. We all loved having Katee on board, her tireless organizing and dedication, overcoming many obstacles from this nationwide series of actions and events to raise awareness of the critical state of HIV/AIDS services in this country and beyond.
We traded in our two cramped mini-vans for a delux Trailways tour bus, upholstered in a rainbow pattern and equiped with television, dvd player and a toilet.
We all found Salt Lake City to be a friendly and welcoming place; a liberal blue bubble popping up in the reddest of states. Our caravan is thankful for all of the dedicated work by our Salt Lake City support crew. Special thanks to Stuart Merril, David Ward, Missy Larsen, Jennifer Nuttall, Carl Bateman, Toni Johnson, Heather Bush, Becky Porter, Juan Lopez, and a big hippy hug for Aaron Garrett. In Salt Lake City our caravan was joined by Lonnie from Chicago, and Darrell, Glenn, Bruce, and Jef from Salt Lake city, bringing our caravan number of riders up to 13. As waves of smartly dressed Mormons filed into Temple Square, our bus departed for the long road to Laramie, Wyoming.
Hunting season also began this weekend. Alongside the freeway we saw dots of day-glo orange vests stalking the red-ochre hillsides hunting for game. More wide open grasslands spread out in all directions, stretches of sculpted hills and ranges mostly far away in the distance. Cows, Antelopes, and year-round fireworks markets.
Oh yes, we were quite nervous entering the land where seven years back Matthew Shepard had his body broken by monsters who left his bleeding remains to die in the cold tied to a fence. When we stopped in a Wal-Mart (so sorry) to buy sleeping bags for several of our riders, empty shotgun shells layed in the parking lot like old bones.
At about sunset we arrived at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where we were greeted by our host Travis. Since January of this year, eight students here have tested positive for HIV, a spike that has kicked up old ghosts of fear.
There are only two doctors dealing specifically with infectious diseases in the whole state of Wyoming. There are about two hundred HIV positive people living in this stae, but considering the dodgy way these statistics are collected, the numbers very well may be much higher. Wyoming and South Dakota recieve the lowest amounts of HIV/AIDS funding in all of the United States. Wyoming has the lowest rate of new infections in the nation at 15% of the national rate.
Part of the purpose of these caravans is to pick up new people and new perspectives from all across the land. Unfortunately the people dealing with HIV/AIDS in Wyoming are spread so thin that they couldn't spare the time to come on the caravan with us without neglecting those who depend upon them. But they did teach us some valuable lessons about the different needs of the rural communities as opposed to the urban ones which most of us come from. While Travis did point out one of his concerns was "Not letting people forget the differences between urban and rural (needs)" Bob also pointed out that "(an) advantage of being a small state is that we don't have a large bureaucracy to weigh us down." Considerations are thins like the distance between poz individuals (which inhibits networking and peer support) to lack of confidentiality when there's only one or two doctors in your town. And so many other similar issues we rarely think about except when thinking of sub-Saharan Africa or South America with their isolated populations.
Wyoming, due to it's population being so spread out and lacking in needed medical providers must send new HIV/AIDS cases to neighboring states for basic care! This is outrageous! Can you imagine a pandemic as AIDS has become and there are whole counties and even states which are not able to take care of their ill for lack of medical providers with the basic needed skills for ending so much needless and preventable death. And we are over twenty years into this pandemic now.
Last night in Laramie was held the first "Homegrown Drag Show" in a bona-fide cowboy bar (THE redneck cowboy hick bar in town, we were told) to benefit the Rainbow Resource Center. $1,150 dollars was raised, with a standing room only crowd. Only one crusty patron complained to the bartender, who told him to go sit back down, as the drag queens and their friends were far better tippers!

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

American Heritage caravan update # 2

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage caravan rider
October 22, 2005
Boise, Idaho to Salt Lake city.

This morning we awoke in Boise, Idaho and dined from a wonderful breakfast spread prepared for us by our hosts Duane and Kevin and their support crew created for this caravan. All of the caravan riders felt energized and enthused for the road ahead of us leading to Washington, D.C., thankful for all of the love and support given us by our supporters in Boise. We drove through the vast expanse of the Snake river plain, a lot more flatness than this Oregon boy is used to seeing. Marches of rolling pastel hued hills and canyons ringed the horizon, from desert earth tones of tans and reds leading to deep purple/blue ridgelines hazing out far in the distance away from us. These hills took on an almost sensuous mode smoothed by millinia of erosion, great sleeping forms curled into themselves.
We drove through this plain at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour, as other vehicles sped past probably doing 100.
Welcome to Utah, the reddest of the red states so colored from this last election. We got curious looks from other drivers on the road, no doubt reading the large "END AIDS NOW" magnetic signs on the sides of both the caravan vehicles. No honks or yells, pro or con. The strength of the Portland caravan I feel is it's diversity of background and experience. Though mostly gay and male, our caravan riders all come from a diverse cultural background: Black, white, Native American, HIV positive and negative, full onset AIDS, newly diagnosed and long-term survivors, new and seasoned activists, and three of our riders have worked directly with the very social service agencies that provide the vital safety nets that those living with HIV/AIDS need to survive, so we do not drop dead in the streets from neglect as were the victims of hurricane Katrina in George Bush's America.
In the next couple of weeks during the life of these blogs I'll tell each of the American Heritage caravan's riders stories.
We arrived in Salt Lake City to a memorial and rally in the plaza at Library Square in the historic part of town. As was on the steps of the Boise capitol building the day before, thousands of empty shoes were lined up in rows covering a sizeable chunk of courtyard to remind everyone there of just how many people in Utah have died of AIDS. Since 1985, an estemated 4,000 people have been infected with the HIV virus in Utah. Over 1,000 of these people have died. One in four people infected with the HIV virus don't even know that they are infected, exposing yet more people to the grave risk of contracting this disease through unknown exposure.
I spoke with Seanna who is one of the many volunteers who stepped forward to work on this action. The volunteers would engage people passing by in dialogue about the Campaign To End AIDS and it's goals in finally ending this global pandemic that each day kills over 8,500 men, women, and children. Where Seanna was stationed were dozens of pairs of children's shoes neatly laid out to symbolize that it's not just adults engaging in high-risk behaviors that contract and die from this disease as is the common stereotype. When a baby is born infected with HIV, it's chances to reach adulthood are slim at best. She told of young children with hearts aged as if they were fifty from the constant medications needed to keep them alive, but rob them of their childhoods. She told of grandmothers who would start to weep when she told them what all of those little empty shoes represent. "These are not adults, they are children, and they are dieing every single day because our elected officials refuse to keep the funds desperately needed for research and services."
At the rally Salt lake city Mayor Caroon spoke about how breakthroughs can also come through education and anonymous testing, that in America over one million people are estemated to have HIV/AIDS, of these 250-300 thousand can not afford healthcare or medicine.
HIV/AIDS advocate Stuart Merril spoke that if the Ryan White care act is not re-authorized, the only thing that will be left to cut will be people's lives.
Ricky, Chris, and Lowen spoke from the American Heritage caravan.
Openly gay Utah state Senator Scott McCoy promised to bring the message to the legislators on capitol hill and educate them that these vital services need continued funding to keep those affected alive, and to end this pandemic.
Several hundred people walked through the Library Plaza today and saw this message, and many filled out cards supporting the goals and mission of this caravan, cards that we will deliver to their elected officials in Washington, D.C. during the first week of November.
After the rally the American Heritage caravan riders and their local support crew were treated to a catered feast at the Jubilee Center by Lavendar Catering and Construction. Dinner was Chicken En Croute, Caprese Bruschetta, Fall Pear and Gorganzola Salad, Garlic Smashed Potatoes, and Sauteed Fall Vegetables.
And you don't have to be over 21 to drink coffee in Utah.

For more information log onto: www.c2ea.org

To learn more about HIV/AIDS in Utah please contact Stuart Merrill,HIV/AIDSadvocateat:
stuartamerrill@hotmail.com