Unity
Jeff Berry
By Jeff Berry @paeditor

I write this just a few days after the monstrous, hideous attack on counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, and only one day after Trump doubled down on them. During a press conference about “infrastructure,” 45 attempted in his remarks to create a false equivalency between those opposing hatred and bigotry who were standing up for everything that’s right about this country, and those who promote ugly, hateful views and rhetoric that go against everything this country stands for: inclusion, equality, and diversity.

It was exactly one year ago that I wrote another editor’s note in POSITIVELY AWARE and talked about the importance of community following the tragic events that took place at the Pulse nightclub. I, like everyone else, was horrified and saddened by the massacre at the popular gay hotspot in Orlando. But as with other tragedies that had come before, I was somehow able to find a way to honor those we lost, while remaining hopeful that maybe things would change in the future.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to remain hopeful; I have to consciously make an effort each and every day not to amplify the negative, as it swirls around me in social media and news outlets. Endless video loops of senseless violence and report after report of man’s inhumanity to man make you start to believe that it is our essence, and that when you get down to it, all this ugliness is ultimately who and what we are as humans.

I refuse to believe that. But it’s hard to resist the temptation to “share” or “like” the negative posts. I often feel like my newsfeed in Facebook has become the high school yearbook that you tried to get everyone to sign combined with the negative stream of consciousness that I’ve worked all my life to get away from.

I have no idea what will have transpired in the three weeks between the time I write this and when it gets printed and into your hands—I never do. Increasingly it feels like an eternity, considering that so much could change in our country in three weeks based on recent events.

But I do know that it’s important for us to be able to be vocal and to demonstrate and voice our opinions freely in our society, as long as they are not calling for “blood and soil.” 

I’ve taken part in demonstrations before, but it was fascinating to see how they have it down to a science.

I arrived in Paris in late July the day before the International AIDS Society’s HIV Cure and Cancer Forum two-day pre-conference workshop, so I was able to enjoy a couple of hours strolling the streets of the Marais district before going into full conference swing for the next five days. If you’ve never been to one of these confabs, the days are very full and start early in the morning and go late into the evening hours, for five consecutive days. For members of the media, there are also a number of press conferences each day, leaving little time to eat and barely enough time for bathroom breaks. Add in the innumerable side meetings that undoubtedly take place when advocates, researchers, and funders from all over the world are in one place at one time, and it can be mind-boggling when you are being pulled in several different directions at the same time, and you often will have to make a split-second decision as to what you are going to attend or participate in.

So this is where I found myself on the Monday of the conference, when I stopped in for the U=U community reception that evening, my last stop of the day before heading back to the hotel (see Michelle Simek’s article on the U=U prevention campaign). The next thing I knew we were planning a demonstration for Wednesday morning, led by the one and only Charles King of Housing Works, with help from Canadian treatment activist Ron Rosenes, and an entire team of dedicated U=U supporters. When Charles asked if anyone had a boom box, I raised my hand and said I have a Bluetooth speaker, and that was it. I was in, and there was no going back.

I’ve taken part in demonstrations before, but it was fascinating to see how they have it down to a science. Speeches were well prepared, and we worked with the International AIDS Society communications office staff (who were amazing, by the way) down to the number of slides that the current presenter had left at the morning plenary, before we were to start descending the stairs to interrupt the session and seize control of the stage.

Granted, it may take away some of the seeming “spontaneity” of a demonstration knowing there is all this planning involved, but it’s done for obvious safety and security reasons, and the conference organizers generally don’t prevent you from demonstrating, but just want to keep it safe and secure for everyone.

I was proud to be a part of the U=U demonstration at IAS 2017, to let people know about this great campaign started by Bruce Richman and now endorsed by hundreds of leading organizations around the world, which gets the information out to everyone that being undetectable, on treatment, and virally suppressed means you don’t transmit the virus to others. It frees you from the chains and bondage of being seen as a vector of transmission, and into a human being with needs, wants, and desires just like anyone else.

Take care of yourself, and each other.