Advocating for an AIDS-Free Generation During AIDS 2012

By jschneidewind on August 2, 2012 in 2012 International AIDS Conference, Policy/Advocacy

By Peggy Hughes Weil
Advocacy Coordinator

Western North Carolina AIDS Project

The International AIDS 2012 Conference was an exhaustive and inspiring experience. I am always so humbled by the people I meet who have spent a good part of their lives battling against this epidemic and the stigma that fuels it. It is estimated that there were 24,000 of these dedicated individuals in attendance.  How can we all make the work and the lives of people affected by HIV/AIDS easier? Just follow the AIDS United Do-It-Yourself Guide to Influencing Policy on Capitol Hill!

Leading up to my visit to Washington, D.C., I decided to focus my efforts on my state of North Carolina’s two U.S. senators. They each had recently publicly addressed the AIDS epidemic. Senator Hagan co-hosted the Congressional Roundtable discussing the HIV/AIDS crisis in the South at the urging of our AIDS United public policy team (go team!). Senator Burr wrote an opinion piece on the global efforts to fight AIDS and the need to increase funding domestically for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. This was suggested at a meeting in Asheville with the Senator. I knew I had a great conversation starter for both. “Thank you and here’s what we need from you now.”

My concern whenever I have these meetings is how to be most effective. As advocates for the HIV/AIDS cause in the South, we will be more successful if we speak with one voice. That’s why I love the AIDS United Do-It-Yourself Guide. It not only gives you a road map to getting in the door, it also lays out a unified message that can be repeated in every state illustrated by your own personal story.

I started by taking the AIDS United pledge to meet with my federal legislators.  Then, I skimmed through the Prezi presentation, which is a multi-media illustration on how to prepare for and meet with your legislators. You can do this at your own pace. There are useful tips for all levels whether this is your first time or you’re an old pro. Most importantly, it provides a timely list of “Asks” with the fact sheets to back them up. All of which are right there for you to download.  Make folders for your legislators with the fact sheets, your card, and information about your organization. You are ready for your meeting!

I contacted each senator’s local office in Asheville, NC a few weeks ahead. I explained that I would be in DC for the IAC and wished to meet with the senators while there. I ended up scheduling appointments with the staff members handling Health Care Policy. This is a perfectly acceptable response. I set the meetings back to back, allowing myself enough time to get from one building to another. I started at 10:30 a.m. and finished by noon. Both meetings were relaxed exchanges of information. The assistants talked about the work that their respective senator have been doing and I stressed the need for them to work together. I talked about how the policies passed in D.C. affect our clients at Western North Carolina AIDS Project. I wrapped up our discussion by asking both senators’  for their support of the three “Asks” plus one “bonus ask,” outlined in the AIDS United legislative visit DIY guide.

1. Protect and Implement the Affordable Care Act & Medicaid Expansion

2. Increase Funding for Domestic HIV/AIDS Programs

3. HIV Policies Based on Science, Not Politics

Bonus!  Join the HIV/AIDS Caucus

While you’re in your meeting, take note of the responses you get and whether they make a note of your requests. In your follow-up thank you letter, reiterate the “Asks” and take advantage of any information they might have shared to strengthen your case.

We are in the midst of an election year. It is now more important than ever to step up. We cannot allow HIV/AIDS policies to be made without the voices of those affected by HIV/AIDS and the people who have worked to improve their lives.  Our elected officials need to hear from us over and over again. If we all speak with one voice, our message will be heard. We can get to an AIDS-free generation.


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