I'm the kind of gal who just loves a glow stick. It's true. I once even lifted my shirt to get one. It was one of those big ones, the size of a baton, well worth it. Not that the girls were at all exposed, always strapped in as they are. But, still, these days I'd probably just buy one. You can get them anywhere. But, I was happy to get one at the Ryan White CARE Act demonstration in Houston last week. They were small and red, nobody had to show anything to get one. But, they glowed. I love that.
You've probably heard me say that in 2007 Texas received $147,840,421 of Ryan White CARE Act funding, one of only 12 states in the top funding category. This is important for all Texans whether HIV+ or not. This matters to us.
You may even have heard me quote George W. Bush on the subject:
So, it won't surprise you to know that I invited nearly 40 people from my small town to accompany me to Houston for a small demonstration on behalf of reauthorizing Ryan White CARE Act funding. Forty. What will surprise you is that not one of them came with me. Not one.
I emailed with one just days before the event and asked if he was coming. "I don't really care about AIDS," he said. "And," he tried to reason with me, "you don't go to Texan's games so I'm not going to this."
Well, he wasn't going so I should have left it at that. But, I couldn't resist reminding him that no one would die because of my absence at the Texan games. As you already know, that had no effect on him.
As for me, I rustled up a buddy in Houston and we had a lovely time. For a pre-demonstration dinner we went to one of Houston/'s lovely restaurants and we both got those little pupusas with some vegetable medley. I had spinach and something in my pupusa. All very nice. And we went to the demonstration. I had long-since moved on from it until this afternoon.
I was standing in the que down at the local supermarket, you see, when I ran into one of last week's invitees. We chatted for a few minutes about something meaningless, at least to me. And then I said, "Hey, you should have come out to the thing last week, we had a good time." And, thinking she'd missed something, she wanted to know who all went and where we ate. Those are the two big questions in small towns. So, I had to tell her that it was just me and a friend from Houston, and that we'd had pupusa's which she'd never heard of. She was relieved that she hadn't missed out on a trip to Spaghetti Warehouse. Don't want to miss out on that!
I helpfully added that the rain had let up for the demonstration and that there were about 60 people there. Of course, I told her about the glow sticks too. "Oh," she said. "Well, 60 people isn't enough to make a difference. You have to have thousands of people before anyone pays any attention." Hum... Well, you all know how mild-manned I am, or am I just beaten down, it's hard to tell. Anyway, I just said, "Well, you may be right." And then we talked about the new take-out menu at the deli. No more hot items after 2 pm.
There would be no blog post, I wouldn't have given it another thought, except for this. As she turned to go she said, in that all-knowing way that small town women sometimes have, "I don't know why you go to those demonstration things. They don't do no good. ...I'm glad I didn't go. It was a waste of time." And then she kind of swished away. And, truly, this is not a woman who should be swishing anywhere.
So, I stood there and I thought about that. In some ways she is right. People don't care. It didn't get so much attention. And, in the old days that is why we did things like lay down across Pennsylvania Avenue. For the attention. That's what ACTUP was about. Attention. There was a time when I thought getting attention for HIV/AIDS was so important that I risked arrest, sometimes was arrested, spent endless evenings planning, organizing, and smoking pot with those gals from the Methodist thing. All for the attention. Because my friends were dying and, as my supermarket friend said, people didn't care.
But, you know what? People know now. If they don't care, that's their thing. But, they know. So, why keep demonstrating? Because, it's not for the attention. That's not the reason.
There are only two reasons that I came up with, there at the supermarket, and they are both good ones:
We go because it's the right thing to do. Because it's one way we have of showing solidarity with those who are affected by HIV. And, while that doesn't really help them, it's a powerful kinesthetic reminder to us! We keep going to remind ourselves that this is the kind of people we are, this is what we stand for, glow stick in hand.
And we go because others are watching. The woman I took to the demonstration with me wouldn't have gone otherwise. The pupusas and my charming personality got her there. But she has now had the experience of wearing a red ribbon, holding a glow stick, and standing up for something she is trying to believe is important. I think she wants to be a little bit radical, but she doesn't know how.
And, there are the others. Some who finally took a stand, however tentative, towards saying that they will actually work for justice. Maybe they'll call a congressman, or write a letter, or just talk to someone. Even if they only do one thing, they aren't doing it alone because we all stood there together with our glow sticks.
So, what if we didn't get any attention, if nobody noticed? That's not why we do these things. We have our reasons, all of us. We have our grand reasons, like it being the right thing to do. And we have our individual reasons, the ones we can name: Amy, John, Stephen, Kevin, Brian, Tao... do you really want to get me started? Because I can go on, Dale, Michael, Bruce Juan, Peter, Ken, Dave, Bill... I can't forget the other Michael. It seems unfair not to name them all. Part of me goes to remember, sure. I go for them. But, mainly, I go because there is still AIDS and because the work is not finished, and I need reminding.
If you think that's a waste of time, well then maybe your time would be better spent contemplating the deli menu.