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I have been discussing with some of my HIV positive friends and fellow activists: how do you become an activist? What motivates you, what inspires you?

One of the answers was: you are self appointed, you make yourself one. And maybe it is partly true.

Sometimes I feel I am doing what I am doing, because nobody else (or just a few others) want or are able to do it. Who wants to be known for having a sexually transmitted disease? What will be the consequences of being so open about my status? I do fear sometimes that some enraged old lover may find this blog and come looking for me with a machete, but I hope that my cat Caspar will defend me fearlessly.

I would like to know more about the moment, or the process that pushes you and makes you step up.  What sparkles that? For me personally it was seeing so much unnecessary suffering in the women I supported. Witnessing women being beaten and abandoned by husbands, young women thrown out of their homes by their parents, gifted and talented girls gripped and paralyzed by the shame and low self esteem caused by internalized stigma. I felt that if I didn’t do something to stop this, if I didn’t try to act on the cause of such violence, I was almost an accomplice, how could I not do something?However, I also soon realized that you can not talk about HIV without talking about power, how it is distributed in our society, and how those who have less, or none, are so much more vulnerable to this small bug called HIV. You can not talk about HIV without talking of gender, poverty, the educational system, the relationship between rich and poor countries, homophobia, racism and a lot more. HIV and social justice are tightly interconnected. It is not just a limited struggle about this virus that affects me. It is about something much bigger: it is about justice.

Also I would have never taken this big step with all the risks involved if it wasn’t for the inspiration I had from other women living with HIV who had already started. We follow on the steps of those who walked before us and we hope that others will follow on our steps. A West African proverb states: we stand on shoulders of our ancestors.

My ancestors are many:  people who dared in face of incredible difficulties to do something to change the minds and hearts of those around them and thus initiate a much bigger change.

One of the ancestors on whose shoulders I stand is Rosa Parks, the civil rights movement leader, and this is how she commented on her decision not to give up her bus seat to a white person, and thus initiate the historical bus boycott:

The only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move.

Rosa Parks

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13 thoughts on “How do you become an activist?

  1. It is so great to hear things these things given voice. Particularly your thoughts on the importance of not divorcing HIV/AIDS from power issues. People are very often surprise when I try to explain that. Keep up your blog and the great work.

  2. Siamo nani sulle spalle di giganti si dice non solo in Africa, e quando ci frequentavamo eravamo davvero due nane (ma sulle spalle di giganti, non saprei)… Ora m’imbatto nel tuo blog per caso, e nella tua battaglia, e ti voglio almeno lasciare un saluto…
    Con remotissimi ricordi, però affettuosi!
    eva (che ha due gatte agguerritissime, se Caspar avesse bisogno di sostegno)

  3. Wow Eva, quanto tempo! Grazie di esserti fermata al mio blog e del commento…. cerchero’ di raggiungere via email. Sono felice di saperti gattata… Sx

  4. I too hope that my cat or rather my 4 cats – and my husband and daughter !! will defend me fearlessly too, should the need arise. Not sure they will but I am determined also to speak up and be open about living with HIV.

    You have been here a lot longer than me and you give me courage.

  5. My cat is so fat that I don’t think he will be able to move from the sofa! But let’s hope! You give me courage too. I think that collective action is crucial. We can not do this by ourselves love and light Sx

  6. Yes she is! I believe those who fought for civil rights, like Rosa Parks, were ultimately struggling for human rights to be respected, and for justice and equality. Those are the same values I believe in…so in this way she is my ancestor and I honor what she has done for us all (humans) 🙂

  7. TO WHOM EVER IT MAY CONCERN MY NAME IS KEN AND I WOULD LIKE TO BE GUIDED ON HOW TO BECOME AN ACTIVIST IN NEW YORK STATE PRESENTLY I CAN RELATE ALOT TO THIS BECAUSE I AM SADLY ONE OF THOSE MILLION OF PEOPLE WHO ARE SUFFERING FROM HIV I WAS JUST DIAGNOSED POSTIVE ABOUT TWO WEEKS AGO AND I KNOW SOMEDAY THEIR WILL BE A STOP AND OR A CURE TO THIS SILENT DEADLY DISEASE I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE THE MOST TYPE OF INFORMATION IN OREDER TO BETTER MYSELF AS A FUTURE ACTIVIST ASWELL AS AN HIV POSITIVE PATIENT I WILL GREATLY APPRECIATE IF ANYONE CAN HELO ME GET A START OFF IN SOME SHAPE OR WAY. THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN AND LET US ALL GET HAND TO HAND TO FIGHT THIS DEADLY DISEASE..

  8. Dear Ken,

    Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog. I am really sad to hear that you have just been diagnosed with HIV. My advice is to give yourself a little time to process this huge change in life. It can be very hard. It is important that you learn as much as you can about this virus and also that you get emotional support about your feelings. I am based in the UK so I do not know a lot about activism or support organisations in the US. I suggest you to use the http://www.poz.com website to get some information about support available in the US.

    I give you a big virtual hug and I wish you the best in your journey living with HIV.

    LOVE. x

    Silvia

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