For Whom the Bell Tolls: Looking Ahead to World AIDS Day

Healy Thompson

Healy Thompson is a policy analyst and outreach coordinator for the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).

On December 1, a church bell in downtown Washington, DC will toll every 5 seconds as people head to work. For most of the people who hear that bell and see people gathered outside of the church with signs and banners, it will be their first exposure to World AIDS Day. Even though World AIDS Day was first declared by the World Health Organization and the UN General Assembly in 1988, most people around the world have no idea that it exists, much less what day it is - and this is despite the fact that 4.1 million people were newly infected with HIV and 3 million people died of AIDS in 2005 according to UNAIDS.

The fact that most people have no idea that World AIDS Day exists makes it particularly difficult to live up to the theme of this World AIDS Day: Accountability. In order to hold the U.S. accountable for its promises to treat 2 million people, prevent 7 million new HIV infections, and provide care to 10 million in fifteen focus countries by 2008 (promises made as a part of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief--PEPFAR), we need people around the country to demand that the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress implement the best prevention, treatment, and care strategies possible and make changes to the policy and legislation that stand in the way of this.

Healy Thompson is a policy analyst and outreach coordinator for the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).

On December 1, a church bell in downtown Washington, DC will toll every 5 seconds as people head to work. For most of the people who hear that bell and see people gathered outside of the church with signs and banners, it will be their first exposure to World AIDS Day. Even though World AIDS Day was first declared by the World Health Organization and the UN General Assembly in 1988, most people around the world have no idea that it exists, much less what day it is – and this is despite the fact that 4.1 million people were newly infected with HIV and 3 million people died of AIDS in 2005 according to UNAIDS.

The fact that most people have no idea that World AIDS Day exists makes it particularly difficult to live up to the theme of this World AIDS Day: Accountability. In order to hold the U.S. accountable for its promises to treat 2 million people, prevent 7 million new HIV infections, and provide care to 10 million in fifteen focus countries by 2008 (promises made as a part of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief–PEPFAR), we need people around the country to demand that the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress implement the best prevention, treatment, and care strategies possible and make changes to the policy and legislation that stand in the way of this.

So, on December 1, advocates from the religious and secular community will gather in front of Foundry United Methodist Church to publicly (and loudly) call attention to the fact that there is much work to be done to hold the U.S. government accountable to its promises on HIV and AIDS. We will toll the church's bell every 5 seconds because, on average, every 5 seconds someone is infected with HIV or dies of AIDS. That's right, every 5 seconds of every hour of every day of the year. In fact, if you read at approximately the same speed that I do, 9 people were newly infected with HIV and 7 people died of AIDS in the time it took you to get to this point in the blog (and that's if you didn't click on any links).

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People participating in this event – named For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Resounding Vigil – will be calling for the passage of the Protection Against Transmission of HIV for Women and Youth (PATHWAY) Act, which would remove the requirement that the U.S. spend 1/3 of its international HIV prevention dollars on abstinence-until-marriage programs. It would also require the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (which coordinates PEPFAR) to establish a comprehensive and integrated HIV prevention strategy to address the vulnerabilities of women and girls in each country receiving U.S. assistance to combat HIV/AIDS, including efforts to address such factors as sexual violence and coercion and early marriage as an integral component of prevention efforts.

The event in Washington, DC, which is also being replicated across the country, is titled For Whom the Bell Tolls because the fact of the matter is that when the U.S. government pursues bad HIV policy (usually the result of corporate influence – take for example the undermining of generic drugs in PEPFAR treatment regimens, religiously driven ideology, or the requirement that 1/3 of all U.S. international HIV prevention dollars be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs), real people are affected. Every time the bell tolls in Washington, DC on Dec. 1, it is representing an actual person who dies of AIDS or is newly infected with HIV. And that's what World AIDS Day is really about – having at least one day a year when people actually pay attention to what misguided policy and inaction allow to happen every day.

This World AIDS Day there will also be a treatment-focused demonstration in front of the White House, calling on the U.S. to take the steps necessary to guarantee universal access to treatment by 2010 – consistent with the promise made by the heads of state of United Nations countries to reach universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care by 2010.

To learn more about the For Whom the Bell Tolls event in Washington, DC or events around the country or to learn more about the PATHWAY Act and what needs to be done to hold the U.S. accountable for its promises on HIV and AIDS, visit www.pepfarwatch.org. The Washington, DC event is being co-sponsored by Advocates for Youth, Catholics for a Free Choice, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church, Health GAP (Global Access Project), National Council of Jewish Women, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), and Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

News Economic Justice

Fight for $15 Campaign to Intensify This Fall

Michelle D. Anderson

Fight for $15, which contends that 64 million Americans work for less than a living wage, committed to engage in rallies at state capitols nationwide on September 12.

U.S. presidential candidates and their supporters will encounter sustained protests from supporters of the Fight for $15 movement and labor unions during this fall’s presidential and vice presidential debates.

Thousands of Americans who work for low wages on Saturday joined forces during the first-ever Fight for $15 convention in Richmond, Virginia, and signed the Richmond Resolution, a vow to intensify the fight for a living wage.

The Richmond Resolution vows that its signees will hold elected officials accountable on Election Day and every day thereafter.

“The work we do generates billions of dollars in profits and makes our country stronger. But we are paid so little that far too many of us are living on the edge and cannot afford our basic needs, trapping us in poverty,” the resolution reads.

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The name of the two-page document not only acknowledges the place where it originated, but the former capitol of the Confederacy. Organizers said they convened in Richmond to highlight racist policies that still hold back families of color in 2016.

Fight for $15, which contends that 64 million Americans work for less than a living wage, committed to engage in rallies at state capitols nationwide on September 12. Those rallies, which will be part of the Moral Revival Movement for a National Day of Action, will call on lawmakers to “advance moral policies like a living wage, voting rights and criminal justice reform,” Fight for $15 said.

“This year, underpaid Americans will show elected leaders in every state in America that they are a voting bloc that cannot be ignored and will not be denied,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union, a supporter of Fight for $15.

The Rev. William Barber II, an architect of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and the founder of the social justice group Repairers of the Breach, said in a statement that advancement has always been the result of unity.

“Every step forward in our nation’s history—every stride toward a more perfect union—has been the result of people coming together, pushed by a moral movement towards higher ground,” Barber said. “It took us 400 years from slavery to the present to reach $7.25, but that was far too long, and we can’t wait. We have to stand together and fight together now for $15 and union rights.”

The Richmond Resolution vows to support legislative actions to raise the minimum wage in Alabama and other states that were once part of the Confederacy.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) Action Fund, a project of The Advocacy Fund that researches issues affecting people who are unemployed or work for low wages, this month highlighted how the fight for a living wage has permeated U.S. political races.

NELP Action said U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty, for example, is “edging out” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) by focusing her campaign on boosting the minimum wage and other economic issues that would help people who work low-paying jobs.

Likewise, former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold—an outspoken advocate for higher wages—continues to lead incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the polls. Feingold leads Johnson by 11.3 points, according to polling data from Real Clear Politics.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities fellow Jared Bernstein noted in the Washington Post that Seattle’s minimum wage increase has helped grow the city’s economy. That follows warnings from business lobbies across the country that increasing the minimum wage would devastate local economies.

Bernstein cited a study published by the Seattle Minimum Wage Study Team at the University of Washington showing that the city’s minimum wage ordinance has effectively raised the wages of low-income workers by “seven percentage points more than might otherwise have occurred.”

News Family Planning

Judge Thwarts Ohio GOP’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funding

Michelle D. Anderson

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” said Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

An effort to defund Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates by Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican-held legislature has come to an end.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio on Friday ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, granting a permanent injunction on an anti-choice state law.

The court ruling will keep Richard Hodges, the Ohio Department of Health director, from enforcing HB 294.

The 2015 law, sponsored by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) and Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Butler County), would have redirected $1.3 million in state and federal taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood’s 28 clinics in Ohio.

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The law would have required the state department to keep federal funds and materials that the health department receives from being distributed to entities that perform or promote non-therapeutic abortions, or maintain affiliation with any entity that does.

Funding that would’ve been cut off from the state health department went to the Violence Against Women and Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention acts, the Infertility Prevention Project, Minority HIV/AIDS and Infant Mortality Reduction initiatives, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program.

Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit argued that the Republican legislation violated the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Barrett had temporarily blocked the law after Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the lawsuit and requested a preliminary injunction. The judge had issued an opinion contending that some legislators passed the law to make it difficult for people to access abortion care, as Rewire reported.

Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, praised the judge’s temporary order.

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” Harvey said in a statement.

Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s executive director, said in a statement that the Ohio legislature passed the anti-choice measure in an effort to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states during Kasich’s presidential campaign.

Copeland said that while the legislation made no effort to reduce the number of abortions performed, “it actively blocked critical health care for low-income women and families.”

Planned Parenthood said those services included 70,000 free STD screenings, thousands of HIV tests for at-risk community residents, and the largest infant mortality prevention program in the state.

In the 23-page court order and opinion, Barrett, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acknowledged that the law would have deterred “patients from seeking these potentially life-saving services.”

Planned Parenthood noted that the recent ruling in Ohio makes it among the ten states where courts have blocked anti-choice laws following June’s landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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