For No Good Reason
by David Waggoner

March is sadness for the Waggoner family. My recently deceased mother, my father who passed away in 2013, and my beloved sister Cindy all died in March. It’s a rough month for me, but it is also a time when I think about how unified our family was over the years. As adults, and because we treasured the bonds that made us stronger, we came to this unity of our own volition.

I am thinking of how unity is created because, as I write, Russia has attacked Ukraine. Why? Putin claims he wants to reunify Russia. But unity forged by force is not unity, and my heart goes out to the people of Ukraine who are losing family members for no good reason.

For no good reason—that’s part of why we fought back against AIDS apathy and government inaction. Our family members, lovers, friends, colleagues, and community members were dying in the eighties and nineties for no good reason. What the current and future generations might not ever understand is how many of these deaths were preventable—if only Reagan and his administration had acted more quickly to address the public health crisis at hand; if only individuals and communities did not revert to homophobia, racism, nationalism, sexism, classism, and so on, as a first response to AIDS; if only people relied on science….

If only we as a country, as global citizens, could have somehow convinced ourselves much, much earlier that disunity equals death.

Human crowd forming a big chain symbol on white background. Image by iStock

Ever since the early days, the AIDS community has voted for unity more than not. And by unity I don’t mean we never disagree or come into conflict with one another. By unity, I mean striving to identify problems together and finding solutions together. I mean practicing inclusion and repairing the ravages of exclusion, within our movement and without. Working on our unity—I have seen this first-hand when I have attended conferences these past three decades of the magazine’s existence.

Conferences bring people together, whether it’s NMAC’s USCHA or CROI or the International AIDS Conference, people from all around the globe gather to fight for a cause to defeat HIV/AIDS. We all converse together—no one power is privileged but the power of the people together. It’s always a time to see old friends and to meet new ones. It’s always a time to remind ourselves we are better and stronger when we are together. No strangers to isolation, we value every chance to commune and collaborate.

This month’s cover story subject, Cea (Constantine Jones), who was interviewed by A&U’s Poetry Editor Philip F. Clark and photographed by A&U’s Art Director Timothy J. Haines, is a champion of collaboration. When speaking of their website, they say: “When I first thought about how to design the site, I imagined it as a very conventional ‘digital CV’ of sorts, with links to all the things I’ve done. Once I started to catalog those projects, though, I realized that almost every single creative project of mine has been done in tandem / in community with others.” As the new liaison for the Visual AIDS Oral History Project, Cea tends to collaboration in a different way: “[The project] pairs HIV-positive artists across a wide range of demographics with each other, and these individuals are acting as both recorder and record. There is no third-party facilitation. These conversations are coming from within the various folds of this community, which I feel is very important. All of us have at least two things in common—we are living with HIV/AIDS and we make art. But there are so many other overlaps and differences beyond that common ground.”

This issue also foregrounds both the differences and the common ground that make our community so vibrant—all for good reasons. David I. Steinberg contributes an incisive piece of nonfiction about loss and grief. Claire Gasamagera discusses how her YouTube channel reaches out to women living with HIV/AIDS. And artist Miguel Cardenas uses collage to create his stunning works. Muwonge Gerald in Kampala, Uganda, explains what they are trying to do to address HIV/AIDS among vulnerable populations.

What is happening in Ukraine is evidence of how topsy-turvy the world has become, but that doesn’t erase all the unity we have achieved in our lives. If anything, it reminds us that the world has become a much smaller place. I always enjoyed going with my grandmother to Disneyland and going on the It’s A Small World ride. Thanks to the genius of Walt Disney and his Magic Kingdom team of designers, painters and set manufacturers, we could take one short ride and the dream that all could be well with the world lived again. Let’s use our own creativity to strengthen our local and global ties and work toward a planet free of disease, deprivation, and hunger, as well as war, human trafficking, drug cartels, and other forms of violence. Don’t fight­—unite!

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