POSITIVELY AWARE JULY/AUGUST 2011
When Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives last November, many of us involved in the HIV/AIDS social service sector couldn’t help but feel a sense of looming defeat. Although the fight against HIV in this country is a non-partisan one, and our organizations must advocate on both sides of the aisle in order to make progress, history has proven that Republicans are generally less sensitive to the needs of the communities most impacted by the epidemic.
The reality we felt was that the progress made during the first two years of the Obama administration could come to a screeching halt. Progress that includes, but is not limited to, health care reform, the lifting of federal bans that restricted syringe exchange programs and that kept people with HIV from crossing U.S. borders, and the implementation of our nation’s first HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) which prioritizes gay men of all races, including African Americans and Latinos.
Republican legislators haven’t done much in the way of calming our fears. President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is under constant attack, proposed riders to the FY11 (the current fiscal year) federal budget threatened to reinstate the above-mentioned federal bans, and the present budget battle challenges movement on NHAS with potentially historic cuts to programs critical to fighting the epidemic.
Shortly after the elections, I had an opportunity to engage Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a very open conversation with HIV/AIDS advocates and service providers here in Chicago. Dr. Fenton spoke of how he was preparing his department for the impact of the change in power. He was crystal clear that some compromise would be required, but that an equal commitment to maintaining progress was necessary.
It was during that conversation when it occurred to me that, on the ground, we’re going to have to make a sincere effort to do what our President has been calling for our political leaders to do since his time on the campaign trail—meet in the middle of the aisle. It is, after all, the only true way to compromise while remaining equally committed to maintaining progress.
Meeting in the middle of the aisle doesn’t mean that we’ll agree on everything. At the end of the day we have to understand that we are all humans first, and thus neighbors in the world that we share. We have far more in common than we have differences, and if we could devote just a little energy to a couple of those things then we might find ourselves better equipped for civil discourse on the things with which we disagree.
Since that meeting I’ve looked for a way to consciously promote such reaching. It has come in a rather interesting form.
During my last visit with my doctor I learned that my cholesterol is “borderline high.” My current regimen is known to increase bad cholesterol levels, so he suggested a change in meds. I’ve been on the same combination of meds for the past five years and I’ve never had an issue with cholesterol. What I have had issues with, however, are stress and junk food. My busy work life has resulted in unhealthy relationships with the local Leona’s Pizza and several 24-hour greasy spoons. The gym is but a distant memory.
I told my doc that I’d like to wait a couple of months before making any changes because there were a couple of things that I needed to do on my own.
The first thing I did was to completely clear out my refrigerator and replace anything more than a week old with a bunch of fresh stuff that I’m actually likely to eat. Sounds like a simple trick, but it works. Next, I started planning and preparing my own meals. No more fast food.
Then I started to research workout plans that could be a good fit for me. That’s when I stumbled upon the edition of Men’s Health magazine with Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock on the cover bearing his incredible 6-pack abs.
Congressman Schock’s mention of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Get Fit” campaign really caught my attention, and the way that he related it all back to health care and ultimately to health care reform was actually quite moving. I interpreted this as a subtle hint of reaching across the aisle, and was immediately moved to action.
Since the First Lady’s campaign is geared more towards young people, and I am committed to finally letting go of my “youth status” this year (LOL), I am personally taking on Congressman Schock’s fitness challenge. Now, as I said earlier, this doesn’t mean that we have to agree on everything. Respectfully, I am not interested in having abs like the Congressman (though I won’t fight them off if they happen to develop), and therefore will not be adapting his workout plan exactly. I am, however, interested in being healthy, and I also understand that being healthy with HIV can keep the cost of my health care down significantly.
So what I am committing to do, besides freshening up my diet, is to train for and run the Team 2 End AIDS Honolulu Marathon scheduled for December 2011. I am also reaching out to the 500-plus people living with HIV in the Congressman’s district, to take him up on his fitness challenge in their own way.
HIV-related stigma is so strong within many of the areas that the Congressman represents that he may never hear from any of the people who did. He should know, though, that a man living with HIV in Chicago whose job is to advocate on behalf of all the people in Illinois living with HIV is taking him up on his challenge on their behalf.
That’s my way of encouraging us all to reach across the aisle. I’m interested to see where it goes.
Keith R. Green is the Director of Federal Affairs for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.