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Dear Melbourne: How about a Conference For the People, By the People?

Posted by Sunny Bjerk , July 31, 2012

Dear Melbourne: How about a Conference For the People, By the People?

Dear Melbourne,

Long time no see! Since ever, really. But I have heard so many wonderful things about you and am really looking forward to meeting you.

Things are good here; we just wrapped up six-plus days at the 2012 International AIDS Conference and everyone is already thinking about the next one in 2014!

For one, everyone is excited that there will be no travel bans leveled against sex workers, allowing the 2014 conference to have people from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds truly represented and will be able to have their voices heard.

But Mel, (can I call you Mel?), we are concerned. Concerned about accessibility, respect, and representation. You see, the 2012 conference, while important, left a lot of us with a bad taste in our mouth. For instance, did you know that the cost of a regular [delegate] registration for people from “high-income” countries was $785? Or that the cost of a regular delegate registration for people from so-called “low-income” countries—as defined by the codficiation of the World Bank—was $575? Or, that the cost of registration increased by nearly two-hundred dollars if someone registered after February 23th, which, by the way, is still five months before the actual start of the conference?

That’s a lot of money. And that’s a lot of money to be asking from people without taking into account a plethora of other relevant information. I mean, sure, some of us that attended the conference certainly do live in the U.S., which is heralded as the richest country in the world, but that doesn’t mean that we as individuals are rich. In fact, many of us who attended the conference spent a lot of time advocating for a more just and logical redistribution of the country’s weath and a lower price-point for HIV/AIDS medications at the We Can End AIDS march. You see, Mel, when many of us are struggling to make ends meet in order to pay for our HIV/AIDS medication and our rent and our food, to be asked to pay hundreds of dollars to attend a conference that is about a disease that we are living, eating, and breathing, it makes us wonder, does IAC know the phrase, Nothing about us, without us?

But you know what, in the end it worked out because a lot of the sessions didn’t seem meant for us that are living with HIV/AIDS anyway. In fact, a lot of the sessions seemed geared toward global economists or statisticians, or at least those who have a degree in PowerPointology or who learn best by numbers and prefer to share information via USB drives. Noticably absent were sessions led and paneled by women of color and and people living with HIV/AIDS, leaving many of us to wonder, Who is the International AIDS Conference for? Is the conference for corporations looking for a marketing opportunity, or is the conference meant for those who are most invested and most passionate about ending AIDS, who have continued to be advocates and activists from the very beginning?

Mel, what we would really love to see are sessions and discussions about AIDS issues that we can sink our teeth into. As my friend Mark noted, what about a serious discussion about eliminating poverty? We know that communities with high levels of poverty also have lower levels of health care and are less likely to get tested regularly, so why, save a few of us, aren’t masses of us talking about the reverberating affects that HIV/AIDS has not only as a virus, but also as an indicator of social and economic injustices?

Or what about more ways to become active as activists in the fight against AIDS? You know, even though there were hundreds and hundreds of sessions at the IAC, I only recall seeing one session [Reigniting the Spark: AIDS Activism Today], that truly paid homage to our ACT-UP roots and ways to move forward in order to move our issues and creating a truly AIDS free generation.

Sure, we were razzled by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s appearance, and dazzled by the largest Global Village ever, but you know what would really floor us? A conference for the people, by the people.

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