Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Paving The Way

October 26 2005 - Paving the Way

October 26, 2005

Paving The Way Caravan

Day: Oh Jeez I’ve totally lost count….

Today we stopped 100 yards short of the Maryland border.  We’ve decided to savor the momentous occasion tomorrow after we’ve had our caffeine and can actually summon up the energy to continue marching on into the state.

We have become so adept at walking briskly that we are way ahead of schedule.  I had the opportunity to examine my legs last night at the YMCA in Wilmington, DE while taking a much needed shower and boy!  Let me tell you I’ve developed muscles on my thighs that I didn’t even know existed.  I and my fellow marchers don’t even break a sweat or puff and pant anymore.  We laugh at uphill slopes, “Ha, Ha and Ha!”  It looks like we are going to be able to get some much needed downtime in the days ahead and actually be able to advocate and talk to people as well as enjoy our surroundings.

We had a rally at the University of Delaware today in the school cafeteria; it was scheduled to be a youth rally with youth speakers, but once again, as on every rally, Charles King brought the house down with his C2EA speech.  I’ve told Charles that every time he delivers it, the words are more powerful, his tone is more forceful and his voice is louder and more convincing.  He delivers stats and facts with such conviction and with such artillery rapidness that you can see people’s mouths literally hanging open.  It’s like receiving AIDS 101 in 15 minutes flat and you are left with a feeling of indignation every single time.  His speech makes me feel as if he has just uncovered the wool over my eyes and I just cannot believe that I’ve been had.  Makes me wonder how others feel.  He receives compliments and accolades galore on his delivery and I honestly feel he should be giving this exact speech on the senate floor.  Love it.

We also picked up yet another stray today who marched with us the entire day.   This was a girl who clearly had emotional and mental issues (she spoke in tongues and said to one person she was from Trinidad and another, Britain) yet felt compelled to march with us, eat with us, share with us and work with us!  Yes, she actually marched AND handed out flyers and condoms!  So what if we always seem to attract strays with one issue or another; we are the defenders of the disenfranchised, the minority, the disabled, the homeless, the infected and affected.  She and the others that have gravitated towards us obviously sense the warmth and non-judgmental vibe we all convey.

So happy to be here; every day brings me closer and closer to different members of my group.  I feel like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, extracting just enough from each to keep me whole and healthy.  This group has become my family on the road because I have no choice in the matter and it feels incredible to surrender to that fact and know that by myself, I cannot do very much but together, we are changing our world as we know it.  It truly is what it is….and it is all good.


Paving The Way

Possibility, etc.

Possibility, etc.

The last two days have been an exercise in sweet agony. We’ve marched through slums in pouring rain which makes these dismal environments even direr.

I expected to grow cold to this. After Trenton, I couldn’t imagine marching through more depressing communities, but we have. In Delaware the division between the haves and have-nots is as clear as any we’ve encountered. But in Wilmington (a decidedly wealthy community) there is a force acting to seek common solutions.

In Wilmington we attended a rally held in an austere Episcopalian church. Vaulted, gently curved white ceilings, pale pink walls, bright white light and the sound of rain dripping from beyond opaque panes of glass, prepared me to expect muted condemnations of an ineffective system. Instead, I found speakers raging with self-proclaimed anger: small, mousy bodies with big hearts and brave words. It was clear that they were not accustomed to expressing themselves to such a receptive audience, and our reception to their passion served to heighten their emotion.

On the road we’ve encountered many ad-hoc marchers. Most of them have been troubled individuals, seeking a refuge from isolation and disenfranchisement: an obviously stoned crack addict hobbled with us, an inebriated homeless man sang and cheered with us for four miles, an unstable, 18 year old woman, whose illness was the remembrance of sexual violation seemed to commit herself to our entire walk before we put her on a bus home.

She was compelled her to use each of us as a confessional and we each responded to her with our own brand of patience and guidance. For some, that expression was more traditional: kind words and a sympathetic ear. For others, compassion was a wake-up call to stop using pills and alcohol and to rediscover her self-control.

With no exception, we are a band of people united by our histories of isolation and self-defeat; but there is no defeat here and for the men and woman who walk among us, there is no defeat.

AIDS is a force of nature. To combat it, we too must use our nature to affect the minds and hearts of those in our wake. We’ve said time and again that we have the solutions; all we need is the heart. We’ve laid claim to possibility as a theory, but until we truly commit ourselves to a practice of possibility, we are no closer to envisioning a world without AIDS and we are no closer to living in a world without AIDS.

This vision is alive: the wider spread the vision, the greater chance of action. The members of our host committees operate outposts of possibility in otherwise voided zones. They work tirelessly against this abominable enemy and our prescience confirms that they are not as alone as they feel and their efforts are not in vain.

Our march should remind every individual we encounter that they are bastions of possibility. Our act is physically grueling and mentally challenging, but we’re not Leather men and marathoners, we’re practitioners of possibility.

Daniel Solon

Paving The Way

Day Twelve

October 26, 2005

Dear Friends,

Most people know that I am not a native New Yorker.  In fact, almost everyone knows that I am from Texas.  But the truth is that I am not a native Texan either.  I was actually born in Wilmington, Delaware.  I don’t even know the name of the hospital.  All I know is that I left Delaware for good two weeks after my second birthday, and moved to Texas.  The last few days are the only time I have spent in my birth state since then (not counting passing through on Amtrak).

As a child, I had a sentimental attachment to the “First State” that surfaced while watching political conventions and the like, but as an adult, the view from the train did not make it seem like a particularly attractive place unless one was forming a for-profit corporation.  Delaware became this “fact” in my life, mentioned only when giving vital statistics.  

If I had stopped yesterday, cold rain would have been the chief reinforcing fact about my birth state.  But today was another story.  This morning we got up again at 5:00am, with a goal of being on the road by 7:30am.  But everyone was too cranky to move at that pace.  We ended up setting out an hour late.  The good news was that the forecasted rain had passed.  The morning was sunny, crisp and windy.  

Who knows whether it was the lack of rain, freedom from rain gear, the chill in the air or the wind pushing us along, but we marched at a surprisingly fast pace, clocking a minimum of three miles an hour.  Our first break was made brief by the manager of the MacDonald’s at which we had stopped.  She became indignant when she caught Laverne distributing C2EA flyers and condoms to people going through the drive-thru.  We did a mini-demonstration for the fun of it, but moved quickly on.

There’s nothing like a spontaneous demonstration to lift Paving the Way’s spirits.  We had horns honking all up and down the highway.  At our next break, a shopkeeper, hearing of our pilgrimage, donated a whole case of goldfish crackers.  The van from New York was full of fresh blood, folk who were eager to carry the flags and banner and who raced to keep up with our now seasoned pace.

By noon, we had marched over a mile passed our rally site.  We bused back to the University of Delaware.  We piled out and got into formation a block away so we could make an appropriately grand and loud entrance into the student center.  Because the podium was set up right in front of the food court, we had hundreds of college students attending the rally, whether they intended to attend or not.

For the second time in two days, we had a mayor speak at our rally.  The general student response was mixed, but the participants were clearly enthusiastic.  And a young man introduced me as a fraternity president, wanting to get his fraternity involved in C2EA.

After the rally ended, we led a march out of the Student Center, bused back to our stopping point and put in another mile just for kicks.  We stopped in sight of the Maryland border, savoring tomorrow’s crossing to our fifth state.

Not to disavow New York or Texas, but Delaware has proved to be something else.  For a small state, it has got some amazing AIDS activists.  Again, my hat is off to Susan Tanner and the other members of the host committee for their hard work and wonderful hospitality.  They have made me proud to claim Delaware as my native state.


Charles King

P.S.:  We perfected a new song in the rain yesterday, written just for my native state.  (Sung to the tune “Those Caissons Go Rolling Along”):

Over here, over there,
We are marching Delaware
And the Campaign to End AIDS goes on

Over here, over there,
We are marching cause we care
And the Campaign to End AIDS goes on

And it’s hi ho hey
We’re Paving the Way
New York to Washington, D.C.

And it’s hi ho hey
We’re Paving the Way
We’re the Campaign to End AIDS, you see

Paving The Way

Soul of the South: Day 7, 8 and part of 9

We got to Baton Rouge and met with an awesome agency headed by Joyce Keller.  She has been an activist for 5 years now, and has presented to the US Congress.  She is very outspoken, inspiring, and lots of fun.  Asia says "that girl has got it going on.  She's acts like she's 18 and she is so determined."  Yolanda and Rhonda, two women from Joyce's agency brought us to family services of Baton Rouge, BRASS, and one other organization.  (I don't have the business cards in front of me, and we've been so many places I can't remember the names of the agencies).  Everyone on our journey has been so friendly.  It's nice to feel like I'm part of something big.  We slept at Joyce's agency and went and had breakfast the next morning at volunteers of America.  I'm starting to memorize Larry's speech.  After breakfast we left BR, and headed to New Orleans.  We stopped in LaPlace to see my mom and aunt.  I hadn't seen her since before Katrina.  We looked at pictures of her house in Chalmette and watched the video they took.  Everyone was so amazed.  I think it didn't affect me as much, because I've seen alot of the destruction already.  I had been back to New Orleans twice since Katrina.  I missed my mom though.  We chatted for awhile, then we left and headed to New Orleans.  We are staying at my old agency NO/AIDS taskforce (specifically the CAN office).  We don't have many things planned for New Orleans, as it's basically a ghost town.  I did notice that alot is being rebuilt.  The superdome was patched up.  I noticed much of the debris in Kenner and Metairie had been cleared out.  I saw alot of roofs being rebuilt.  The galleria had almost all of its windows back.  We took a nap at the CAN office, and then headed to Metairie to meet my friend Joe for dinner.  We ate dinner, then went to Bourbon street for awhile.  I saw a couple of friends that I hadn't seen/heard from pre-Katrina.  It was nice to see familiar faces, but it seemed very different.  The energy of the quarter has changed.  It "feels" different.  We had a couple of drinks, then went back to CAN to sleep.  I shaved today with cold water and a hand held mirror.  That wasn't too fun.  I need a shower too.  Asia, Chuck, and I went to Clover Grill for lunch today and we met the ED of Belle Reve.  She said that she knew of C2EA, because she got an e-mail the week prior to Katrina.  I told her that I sent that e-mail.  How random.  We are getting ready to go to ASO/CBO locations in the area, to leave posters and signs, saying that we were there.


Chris Rothermel

Host Committee Organizer: Soul of the South, Houston
Campaign to End AIDS


C2EA Nor'easter Caravan

Down to the wire...

We are down to the wire, this is going to be an amazing trip and I can't wait to meet so many people throughout the Northeast in this fight and fighting as hard as we can to end this epidemic!

I'm flying to Boston tomorrow to start my journey with the rest!

Tom Donohue
Who's Positive
State College, PA

Paving The Way

Day Eleven

October 25, 2005

Dear Friends,

I am exhausted.  I just pulled off my wet shoes, socks and jeans.  Maybe by morning I will have worked the chill out of my bones.  But it is day eleven on the road and it is still all good.

Amos woke me up at 5:00am this morning.  Instead of turning on the lights, he gently tapped everyone and quietly let us know it was time to get up.  No time even for a sink bath this morning.  Instead it was brush your teeth, grab a cup of coffee, a donut and a couple of apples, and load up the truck.  (Can I just say that I have had about enough of apples?  Everywhere we go, kind and loving people give us bushels of apples - Granny Smith, Cortland, Delicious – I have been eating three apples a day for the last ten days.  Why couldn’t we have marched during peach or cherry season?)

By 7:00am the truck was loaded, and by 7:15am we were in formation, ready to march.  We even had a new flag at the ready for when we hit the Delaware border.  It had been raining all night, the temperature hovering just below 50 degrees, and no letup in sight.  It was surreal marching through industrial wasteland in the early morning rain, surrounded by tall chimneys shooting flames burning excess gas.  We chanted and sang just to keep our spirits up.  

Susan and another volunteer met us at the border at 8:45am.  We unfurled the flag and felt a brief moment of exhilaration before beginning the search for a friendly restroom.  By noon, we had marched nearly ten miles straight, coming into Wilmington with only one pee pee break.  Just outside of the downtown, we were met on the corner by residents and staff from the local AIDS hospice.  Others were slowly making their way down the hill.  We sang together, and did some of our best chants.  It was another reminder of why we are marching.

The folk at the hospice inspired us to carry it on home to the First and Central Presbyterian Church downtown.  As we turned the corner, people came pouring out of the church, cheering us up the last hill.  The rally that followed was great.  The mayor spoke, as did a state senator who has been the key proponent of legal needle exchange.  Clearly a lot of effort had been made to make this a great event.  Then came lunch… and another five miles to march.

The rain had not let up.  If anything, the temperature had dropped, and most of us were already soaked, notwithstanding our rain gear.  At one point, there were only ten people marching, with another ten or so riding in the vans.  It was just enough to have one person for each flag, two for the banner, and three marshals.  To make matters worse, the Township of Elmsmere did not want us at all.  It took the intention of the State Senator to get us permission to walk on the sidewalk, with traffic, and no bullhorns.  Yes, it was another reason to march.

This evening, we had just finished dinner and our time of sharing.  Our Delaware hosts had promised us an evening of pampering and set everyone up to soak their feet.  A forty year-old man came in.  Richard had seen the C2EA signs and asked if there was someone he could talk with about AIDS.  He and I went off into a corner and talked.  He said he was newly diagnosed and that he was still trying to deal with his diagnosis and its implications for himself, his wife and his children.  He said he had six kids.  As a lay minister, he also had not yet figured out how to face his church.

The conversation was part AIDS 101 and part spiritual.  We had just finished praying together when the custodian came over to inform us that everyone else had already left the building and that he was locking up.  We hugged and said goodbye in the rain on the street.

Tomorrow we get up at 5:00am again, sixteen miles with another rally thrown in.  More rain is the forecast.  I can already feel the wet bone-chilling cold.  It’s still all good.


Charles King