How Pandemic Disease Awareness Campaigns are Helpful for Organizing

by Anastazia Neely, Hampton University



December 1st is World AIDS Day and it has been since 1995. However, I had no clue that such a holiday existed until I started my undergraduate career at Hampton University. Suddenly, the entire Student Center was bleeding with scarlet streamers and crimson balloons. Ribbons from fabric stores within a 5 mile radius had been raided for lapel decorations. The event hosts, with duct-taped mouths, lay non-responsive on the linoleum to illustrate the idea that silence kills. Even the broke college audience came out of their pockets with actual bills instead of the usual copper change and lint. But what does the AIDS movement have that Responsible Investment doesn’t (I mean, besides the signature red ribbon and federally mandated holiday). Why are people so compelled to rally around this issue?

Before I begin my own analysis let me first say that HIV/AIDS is a serious world-wide issue and should not be taken lightly. I am in no way attempting to undermine the urgency of HIV/AIDS awareness. That being said, here are five things that I think weary responsible investment organizers should keep in mind when/if their work ever starts to feel unimportant, unnecessary or increasingly difficult.

1. People feel compelled to fight HIV/AIDS because they don’t want it to happen to them.

Take a moment to reflect on all the change you’ve given to causes like breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer/lymphoma, diabetes, Parkinsons’ or institutions like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, American Red Cross, UNICEF. Why did you give it? It was either a) because you are a caring and generous person or b) because you want to fund research to find a cure, so that if the tables are turned you’ll be okay. Or maybe it was both. Regardless, this is a key point for responsible investment. People should care because a) they are naturally caring and generous or b) they will eventually have to care if it happens to them. Though comparing a life-threatening disease and bank account-altering ploys like predatory lending is like comparing apples and oranges, I’m pretty sure no one wants either of those things to happen to them.

2. HIV/AIDS is a matter of life and death...

...and economic disparity in our country is similarly life-threatening. HIV/AIDS is a big deal because it can kill you, but not having any money can kill you, too. Once a person gets into a cycle of debt, loses access to education, and is pushed into the lower class they lose a lot of life-saving resources. The most common being health care. The 44 million Americans without health care are (surprise, surprise) in the lower half of America’s social classes. However, unlike HIV/AIDS - for which there is no cure - there is a cure for the life or death verdict of living at an economic disadvantage. Responsible investment, more specifically community investment, increases access to resources like free clinics and can award small business loans for things like employment benefits. Now, some may consider this a bit of a stretch, but directly and indirectly responsible investment saves lives.

3. It is not controversial to stand up and support HIV/AIDS.

(To my knowledge) In the past five years, no 87-year-old women have been maced in the face for wearing an AIDS ribbon or being present at a rally for HIV. Now that the stigma of the origins of the disease have started to lose importance, people can support HIV/AIDS awareness with pride and in safety. Sadly, this is not yet the case for responsible investment. But as organizers, we have the responsibility of showing people that it is not controversial to stand up for economic equality and social justice. It’s a big job, but anything worth fighting for is never that easy.

4. HIV/AIDS is “everyone’s disease”.

In the beginning, no one cared about HIV/AIDS because it only affected black people or gay people or people who messed around with monkeys. Basically, people blamed HIV/AIDS on any community they didn’t belong to and considered it the affected community’s responsibility to solve it. Sound familiar? I mean, it’s just like how being poor is poor people’s fault, right? They should just get up and get jobs and then go deposit their minimal wages at reputable check cashing establishments and pawn brokers. The fact that there are families in this country who have been living in the same low economic class for generations is not any responsibility of ours, right? It’s just like how the financial crisis only affected.....oh, wait - that affected all of us. We need to realize that recessions and depressions, like HIV/AIDS, don’t discriminate based on sexuality, race, or social class. Our national and financial health is everyone's issue and everyone’s responsibility to improve. Fun fact: responsible investment is a good place to start.

5. HIV/AIDS is easily understood.

People understand HIV/AIDS. They get that the white blood cells disappear, your body deteriorates and then you die from something as simple as a common cold (unless your name is Magic Johnson, then it’s a little different). I learned it in my 6th grade health class. But when you say responsible investment, eyes glaze over and people start fake coughing. What is the issue? Maybe we’re going too in-depth. Maybe we’re suffering from “Scientist’s Syndrome” and letting our passion flow so freely that we offer paragraph explanations to yes or no questions. Of course, HIV/AIDS is a lot more complex than the three steps-to-death I learned in health class, but that was all I needed to know for basic understanding. As movement facilitators, we should try to simplify our platform to basic understanding so people can talk about responsible investment over dinner, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or where ever else they see fit.

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