By Nancy Asha Molock, Regional Co-Chair, PWN-USA-Philadelphia
I attended AIDSWatch 2014 for the first time April 27-29. I had heard so much about it from other PWN-USA members, so I was elated to be awarded a scholarship for my hotel accommodations. I wanted to lobby on Capitol Hill and make it personal by putting a face to HIV/AIDS, so when the legislators are making decisions about HIV/AIDS funding they won’t just see black numbers on white paper. They will also see my face and the faces of many others who live with HIV/AIDS, and hopefully they will see how programs like the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS) are important in improving the quality of lives of those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
The AIDSWatch training session was thorough and gave us the skills and confidence needed to lobby on Capitol Hill. I had never been in a room with so many other HIV-positive people at one time. Something shifted inside of me when I turned around and saw a sea of people, most of whom were HIV positive. Watching activists proudly stand and represent their states during roll call was awesome. I thought: no shame, no guilt = power. My eyes watered as I told someone that I always felt alone living with HIV until being at AIDSWatch. A man sitting nearby overheard me; he stood up, hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and said: “No dear, you are not alone.” I will always hold that memory close to my heart.
The visits on Capitol Hill to speak with our Senators and Congressmen and -women were a little unnerving at first, but by the second visit it became a little more comfortable. Our team was very professional; we told our personal stories and articulated HIV policy and the support we needed from them. It’s important for the legislators to see that people living with HIV can be proactive in their health care, and that we are more than just stereotypes of chanting protesters or people sitting on their bottoms collecting benefits.
The legislators also need to understand that people living with HIV do have the power of the vote, and we want to have people in office who are sensitive to our needs and who will pass laws and provide funding that will benefit us. I wanted to get that message across while in Rep. Chaka Fattah’s office. I mentioned to his Congressional aide that I live in Fattah’s district and have voted for him in the past and would like to continue voting for him. I feel that we were heard and hopefully our voices made a difference.
My total experience at AIDSWatch was life altering. I arrived in D.C. a little unsure of myself and not knowing what to expect; I returned home a more empowered and confident person. The trainings were enlightening and the Capitol Hill visits help to sharpen my advocacy skills. Meeting and bonding with other HIV-positive people was also very special for me.
Being at AIDSWatch has confirmed for me that I must continue in the struggle even if I get a little weary and want to quit, I shouldn’t. There are some people who can’t advocate for themselves, but their voices still need to be heard. It’s important for people living with HIV to have a collective voice to build collective power to ensure that our needs are being met, so that we all can live the best life that we deserve. I’m so looking forward to AIDSWatch 2015!
Nancy Asha Molock serves as Regional Co-Chair of PWN-USA-Philadelphia.