Saturday, November 05, 2005

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

American Heritage caravan update # 15

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage Caravan rider.

November 5, 2005
Washington, D.C.

The first offense one is aware of when in Washington, D.C. is olfactory. Imagine varying levels of old fish tank, unwashed gym shorts, sewer methane, stewing in a rank, sticky humidity even in November. I had expected more of an kitschy American mutant cousin of Disneyland. No Disneyland could ever be this foul and colorless. No Goofy could be as Goofy as President Monkey Face's mug sold on the street corners on tourist trash commemorative plates and buttons. Whatever struggling fall foliage allowed in hacked-back processions does little to paint this swamp whose primary colors are those of weathered monuments in neglected graveyards.
Our American Heritage caravan disembarked the 26 surviving passengers at the Metropolitan AME Church somewhere in a tangle of intersections. Washington, D.C. was plotted to perplex and the streets layed out to befuddle and confuse any would-be invaders.
It works.
To find your way around, do not think logically, do not try and visualize a sensible grid, as you will become terribly lost in a terrain that can turn suddenly savage.
We were fitted with day-glow orange wrist bands, handed a program book subject to instantaneous change. My boyfriend Dan and I set off to see the legend of this land in the flesh.
The multi-national tourists flocked about as pigeons sure do like taking lots of photographs here. We did the standard monument walk-through, till the noxious waft of the goose-poo filled green and grey reflecting pond leading to the Lincoln Memorial sent us running for freedom.
During this time the 250 strong group of activists that had marched on foot to Washington, D.C. from New York City led by one of the Campaign To End AIDS founders Charles King entered this capitol of capitol cities. This long march was one of the primary events of this action, this latest Mr. King orating as another Baptist King did on these streets echoed in the shadows of history not so far past.
We enjoyed a most-filling early Thanksgiving dinner of Turkey,fried stuffing, green beans, and mashed potatoes served to us at the 1st rising Mt. Zion Church. I was very happy to see at least one African American based Church support the efforts of this caravan.
We were set up at the Kennedy Recreation Center where we were to spend the night sleeping on a cold gymnasium floor. Across the street spread the ruin of a hollowed out church, project blocks ringed the facility. As we were unloading the bus hurriedly a drug deal gone bad erupted in gunshots on the next corner, the occupants of a car layed on the floor as their windows got shot out. We were rushed inside and barricaded. Several caravan riders freaked out, crying uncontrollably as the wail of sirens drowned out the night. Once it was safe, those who could afford to pay for hotel rooms left, almost half of our caravan. Those who were left, many struggling with various levels of illness, were told all was o.k. There were no promised cots, and we were told our only other option was to sleep on the streets. As best as we could we settled for a restless night on air mattresses upon a cold gymnasium floor. The showers were also cold.
Today was the opening rally in a parking lot fenced off on the side of JFK stadium, and a march through the blighted neighborhood of Anacosta.The rally pulled in several hundred participants, far shy of the thousands that we had hoped for. It all was very self-congratulatory as the different caravans were introduced and their members shared the stories of their experiences upon the many roads from the far corners of America that led to this concentrated activist clot. The messages all were very powerful and moving, many stories from both long-term survivors and the newly-infected from the trenches of this new war against the spread of HIV and for the eradication of AIDS. Men, women, children,all races and sexual persuasions were here represented in this little microcosm of the largest global pandemic in human history.
And then in a neat formation we marched bearing flags of all the United States down the tarmac of the Anacosta river walk. On the left was the overgrown bramble of the slow, green waterway, on the right an expanse of an old graveyard gone to seed. We marched 3/4 of a mile chanting and singing to reaffirm our message anyway, if only to ourselves and whatever resident spirits. Then we marched across the Anacosta bridge where our message received many honks of support from passing motorists driving both small cars and large trucks. The weather was sunny, warm, slightly humid. On the other side of the bridge the march split into two groups; one walking directly to a rally site in Anacosta park, the other through Anacosta proper as this neighborhood has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country, either one in four or one in six men here carry the HIV virus hidden in their blood. An ignored aftermath worse than what followed Hurricane Katrina here lies ticking. The Senate just approved cuts in the billions to Medicaid drug-assistance programs for those in this population with no means to pay for their medications priced far above their financial realities.
Tick, tick, tick.....
The rally lasted for several hours, mixing music with message. The statistics that I've been ticking off in these blogs the last few weeks were repeated.
The demands to reauthorize and fully fund the Ryan White CARE Act to domestically care for our sick and dieing. To fund programs to effectively prevent the spread of HIV nationally and globally. To get life-saving medications into third-world nations were the HIV/AIDS pandemic is burning through whole populations as a wildfire of death.
After this rally we were bused then subway-ed to another church for a dinner that was delayed due to over-committed volunteers. Often these mostly young volunteers do not grasp that some of us need to eat on a regular schedule because of medication demands and health concerns, and we are further weakened by the stresses from our journeys here and the near-homeless conditions by which we are accommodated to attend these four days of action in Washington, D.C.
I witnessed another American Heritage caravaner, Chris, start to grow faint from lack of food after marching in the sun and attending the rally. Chris is a former boyfriend so I intimately know his limits, and was able to catch his body before it hit the floor after he fainted from hunger while waiting in the dinner line. He came to and refused to go to the hospital, and after eating began to revive.
We are already starting to drop here, as was just a few months back in the nightmare that was New Orleans.