In the days right after the election, I wanted connection and conversation with other longtime HIV/AIDS activists. But I didn’t know what I wanted to say, or hear.
We talked about being stunned by the present, fearful for the future, and suddenly snapped back to a painful but powerful past in the earlier days of the epidemic — in which we were so acutely alive and so many of our comrades did not emerge.
And time and again, in these conversations, we did what we don’t often do.
We said, “I love you.”
This is a love letter to the weary-hearted, for I am among you.
This is a call for us to live into our legacy.
In 1989, ACT UP New York protested at Trump Tower on Halloween.
“One protester, dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, waved a sign demanding, ‘Surrender Donald,’” noted Stephen Vider in Slate. “ACT UP was in a fight for the lives of people with HIV and AIDS, striking out against government indifference and corporate greed. And they saw Trump for what he was: a monster in the making.”
And 27 years later, on World AIDS Day 2016, 11 HIV activists were arrested at the door of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, backed by a rally of hundreds bearing a banner reading “Ryan and Price’s Healthcare Dream is a Nightmare for People with HIV.”
The shoes we fill are big. But, fill them we do and will.
In 1988, Vito Russo addressed those assembled at a protest at the state capitol in Albany, NY. in words that remain my compass:
“Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes, when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this Earth, gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free. And then, after we kick the shit out of this disease, we’re all going to be alive to kick the shit out of this system, so that this never happens again.”
Nothing has ever been given to queers and people with HIV. The changes we have seen came from our power to resist, to create, to transform and survive.
We’ve done and won incredible things. Our lifesaving victories have spawned a system of research, prevention, treatment and care and shown us that we could end the entire epidemic. And in so many ways, it is all at risk right now.
But the ancestral roots of our resistance run deep and they are alive, vibrant with the brilliance and passion of those who came before us, even if they are no longer walking among us. The wisdom and essential insolence of those in my movement family tree flow in my veins, my bloodline of choice.
I’m still stunned, and I’m still sad. But I’m back, and I’m ready. We’ve got a lot to do. We’ve got a system to kick. I love you.
JD Davids is the managing editor of TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com, the most comprehensive web platforms on HIV/AIDS. He is also a board member for Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) and co-producer of #ActivistBasics, a skills-sharing platform for new and experienced activists