AIDS Activism: The Personal & the Collective


by David Waggoner

The Beat Goes On

Just as I promised in last month’s Frontdesk, I attended my 35th Class Reunion…and danced my butt off to one of my favorite bands from 1984: The English Beat (Remember them? The seminal New Wave band that brought us such instant classics as “Mirror in the Bathoom,” “I Confess,” and “Save It for Later”—they were pure escapism at the dawn of the age of AIDS). As far as those on the dancefloor and those who could not not make it, I did a little research and am proud to report that hundreds of Brown graduates are intimately involved in the fight against AIDS…from experimental filmmakers, HIV docs and healthcare workers, to scientific researchers and drug developers, to executive directors at leading ASOs around the country.

AIDS activism takes many men and women to get the job done! And that job is not yet complete. Until there are zero new transmissions in America or elsewhere, the good fight isn’t over; the virus has met its match and will be good and gone from planet Earth. I am proud to say one of the most engaging AIDS activists, Avram Finkelstein, graces our cover. In the cover story (text and photos by our wonderful Arts Editor, Alina Oswald), Finkelstein recounts his work on the seminal Silence = Death campaign and his recent art projects and writings, and he shares an important insight about balancing our individual and collective intentions: “Self-care or mourning or memory is an essential part of humankind. But when we confuse the personal side of loss with our communal idea of loss, we lose the ability to act. It’s important to leave room for the personal, but also bear in mind that we’re not only responsible for ourselves, but also for one another.”

What being responsible for one another means for me is that we cannot retreat into an insular emphasis on the personal but always strive to connect to the wider movements to create positive change in the world. We often tell personal stories in A&U, but I hope we also underscore how individuals understand their lives and work as part of the greater whole. In this very issue, we feature advocates like Joe Ede, who cycles to raise funds for people like himself who are living with HIV/AIDS and also those at risk for acquiring HIV. Similarly, JoJo DeRodrigo takes his skills as a somatic sex coach and educator and goes out into the community to help individuals traumatized by HIV and other conditions get in touch with their bodies and begin the journey of healing. Art educator Diane Sciarretta, featured in this month’s Gallery, also helps people living with HIV/AIDS and others become more empowered about their healing through a form of art therapy she developed. Other activists committed to representing the needs and desires of people living with HIV/AIDS—VIVA GLAM, Craig Stott, Carly Jacobs, the UK’s National HIV Story Trust—also appear in this issue.

I am most impressed about the diversity of activism. Some people advocate for access to healthcare; some people help create healing pathways. Some people take to the streets and some people create art. Some do both. Each adds their voice to the unity of the collective and yet that voice maintains its singularity. I think of Brown alum Todd Haynes, who graduated a year after I did and went on to become a groundbreaking filmmaker, and one of the first queer filmmakers to incorporate AIDS as a metaphor in movies, such as Poison and Safe. Next he is set to dive into Dry Run, a film about corporate whistleblowing and environmental activism. Though his films celebrate individual creativity, they always remind me of the importance of community. None of us are in this fight alone, and, as long as we remember we are responsible for one another, the beat will go on.

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.