Live to Tell (Again)
by David Waggoner
Jeopardizing the promise I made to myself to never repeat the title of a Frontdesk (the one I called “Live to Tell” was written shortly after attending the historic International AIDS Conference in Vancouver in July of 1996. This was the conference that unveiled a whole new class of antivirals called protease inhibitors to the entire scientific and advocacy community. Protease inhibitors went on to save millions of lives here in America and elsewhere, and they were the result of researchers who would not give up and activists who would not give up.
Whereas we used to live in a world where Congress and others, via Ryan White/CARES Act, provided funds so those individuals living with HIV/AIDS could benefit from the lifesaving drugs, now we have an administration that champions inaction when it comes to battling health crises. Just the other day President Donald J. Trump hinted that we might have to “Live With It”, a reference, no doubt, to the scourge of COVID-19. It’s one thing to live with it when there’s promising therapeutics on the horizon, and another when some of the preventatives are limited to soap and water (and hard-to-find face masks)! Now, as leading scientists are petitioning the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare that the virus might be airborne, and thus more quickly transmitted than many viruses, what allows our sitting president to do anything but walk away from the pandemic with his hands up in the air? Talk about apathy. Or negligence. Talk about inaction.
And all he has to ask is what did Obama do about the Ebola outbreak. Ludicrous question. Ebola killed two Americans. COVID-19 has taken 130,000 precious lives. And mounting. We need medical doctors, not spin doctors. Death is a matter you can’t spin, Mr. President, even though Kayleigh McEnany, the White House Press Secratary is trying her best to make her boss look good. Every president has had to handle a crisis—Jimmy Carter was running out of gas (the 1973/74 oil embargo) and Ronald Reagan (Iran-Contra Affair) and Lyndon Baines Johnson (the Vietnam War) and in the early days of the AIDS Crisis (Reagan again, even though he couldn’t mention the disease of AIDS for five years after it first came to light)—and the spin quickly followed. But now is the time to face facts and take responsibility. Poor Kayleigh is going through great efforts to shield the President: might as well turn the facemask he refuses to wear into a blindfold. At least that’s a way to repurpose protection!
Wearing a mask has less to do with protecting yourself and more to do with protecting others. It is a statement, but not a political one. It is saying, “I care about you, neighbor. We are in this together.” In short, community—the act of caring for others on a grand scale. In this issue, we are honored to highlight advocates and artists who are practicing this type of care. First up, Senior Editor Hank Trout interviews Ted Allen, spokesperson for Dining Out For Life and its NYC iteration organized by The Alliance for Positive Change, for our cover story. He is intent on raising funds during this “dining in” lockdown, but also reminding people that the fight is not over: “As the face of AIDS has changed over the years, it’s important that we keep awareness of the disease alive.” Senior Editor Dann Dulin interviews Esther Kim, who, as a person living with HIV, finds ways to support others as she was supported, whether that means volunteering in Tanzania or bicycling for AIDS funds. And Managing Editor Chael Needle spotlights an HIV prevention campaign in the San Antonio area that builds upon empowerment and community care: How Low Can You Go? That question refers to viral loads, by the way, not a new reality show about government leaders doing the bare minimum in a crisis.
My wish is that COVID-19 reminds everyone that community is important and that there are things everyone can do to contribute to our collective well-being. We don’t need our summer action heroes at the local multiplex—we have ourselves!
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.