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 Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Economic Justice

Colorado Voters Could Get a Chance to Boost the State’s Minimum Wage

Jason Salzman

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees "far above" the required minimum wage in their location.

Colorado’s minimum wage would increase from $8.31 to $12 by 2020 if Colorado voters approve a ballot initiative that could be headed to the November ballot.

Patty Kupfer, campaign manager for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage told reporters Monday that Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition of groups, submitted more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state, more than double the number required to make the ballot.

Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of organizations collected signatures, Kupfer said.

“Raising the minimum wage is fair and it’s smart,” Kupfer said. “It’s fair because people working full time should earn enough to support their families. It’s smart because when working people have more money in their pockets, they spend it here in Colorado, boosting our economy and helping our community thrive.”

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Speaking at the news conference staged in front of stacked boxes of petitions, Marrisa Guerrero, identified as a certified nursing assistant, said she works seven days a week and still relies on subsidized housing.

“Making $300 a week is not enough to pay rent and buy groceries for a family like mine,” said Guerrero, adding that she’d “really like” to see an increase in the minimum immediately, but “2020 would work wonders.”

After 2020, the state’s minimum wage would be adjusted annually for cost-of-living increases under the initiative.

Tyler Sandberg, a spokesperson for Keep Colorado Working, an organization opposing the initiative, appeared at the news conference and told reporters that he was “especially” worried about the initiative’s impact on small businesses.

“The big corporations, the wealthy areas of Denver and Boulder, might be able to afford [it], but small businesses, rural and poor communities, cannot afford this,” Sandberg told reporters. “So you are going to put people out of work with this. You’re going to harm the same people you’re trying to help.”

“It’s one size that doesn’t fit all. It’s the same for a small business as it is for Pepsi Cola,” said Sandberg, whose organization includes the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the National Association of Independent Business.

Asked by Rewire to respond to Sandberg’s argument against a higher wage, Kupfer said, “Research shows small businesses support increasing the minimum wage. The truth is, when workers make more, that means more customers in local Colorado businesses. Both in rural and urban parts of the state, when working people do well, our communities thrive.”

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees “far above” the required minimum wage in their location.

“In my company, we have customer service representatives being paid $15 per hour,” Yoav Lurie, founder of Simple Energy, told reporters at the news conference. “While others might choose to pay customer service reps minimum wage, we have found that higher pay leads to improved performance and better retention and better customer satisfaction.”

Workers who rely on tips would see their minimum hourly wage increase by about 70 percent, from $5.29 to $8.98, while other workers would get a 44 percent increase by 2020. The initiative states that “no more than $3.02 in tip income may be used to offset the minimum wage of employees who regularly receive tips.”

Colorado passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that bumped the minimum wage to $6.85. It’s been raised according to inflation since then.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has not been increased since 2009.

Colorado’s Republican legislators killed legislation this year to allow cities to raise the minimum wage.