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Last week the AIDemocracy team braved the freezing rain to increase awareness around World AIDS Day. First Priti and I joined up with AIDS activists in front of the Wilson Building Offices of the mayor and city council of DC. The rally focused on AIDS in the district and was sponsored by DC Fights Back. We gathered to protest on behalf of the one thousand HIV+ individuals on the affordable housing wait list. Dozens joined in chants demanding that new Mayor Vincent Gray and City Council Chairman Kwame Brown commit to meeting the housing needs of HIV+ individuals in DC.

Activists were carrying a large red house representing the basic right to housing and Priti and I handed out red ribbons to the crowd. As we marched from Freedom Plaza to the Wilson building, we flooded the street, stopping traffic and getting a few honks and waves in solidarity. We left the red house on the steps of the Wilson Building as a little present for the Mayor, and began to march to the capital.

As we headed to the second part of the rally we kept ourselves amped despite the cold by chanting and singing. The second part of the rally took place at the White House gates and had a global focus. We headed over and met up with Patrick, Lisa, and Ashleigh. Health GAP and ACT Up Philadelphia organized a funeral for the 1.8 million who have died globally in the past year without access to AIDS treatment. Activists from Philadelphia had traveled by bus to join local activists in asking President Obama to keep his promise to increase foreign aid for AIDS.

“President Obama, you can be the president to start the end of the AIDS crisis if you just do what you promised when you ran for office,” implored Jose DeMarco of ACT Philadelphia. Despite promises and commitments to increase overseas support for AIDS, US funding has flat-lined and funding for AIDS treatment has decreased.

Media gathered to capture the rally interview the energetic crowd. Local theater groups performed a sketch about the shortage of AIDS treatment in Africa. We all grew solemn as two reverends led a service to commemorate those lost to AIDS without access to treatment. Activists and community members who have lost loved ones placed flowers on a casket to honor those who have died from AIDS without treatment.

Meanwhile, chapters were commemorating World AIDS. Here’s a snap shot of what was going on across the country.

  • The Fresno State chapter organized a film screening with guest speaker and women’s studies professor, Melissa Knight. Following the film they discussed HIV/AIDS in local communities and abroad. They also tabled on campus and collected petition signatures to ask for more foreign aid for AIDS funding.

  • The Global Health Network at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services passed out fliers and ribbons to class mates to increase awareness.

  • Over 50 students and community members in south Bronx hosted their second annual World AIDS Day carnival. They screened the film SASA! and high school students played games that increased AIDS and STI awareness.

  • The Swarthmore College chapter tabled outside of the campus dining hall to increase awareness. Students handed out ribbons and information sheets and let people know that it was World AIDS Day.  They stopped everyone who walked in and out of the dining hall and got them to participate!

Overall, it was a great day in terms of increases awareness and acknowledging that there is still so much more to do to combat AIDS. Thanks to everyone here in DC and across the US for making it a success!

The G20 meetings are publicly recognized for being the arena of two repeating themes: citizen protest against unfair trade policies that affect communities across the world, and world leaders flexing their muscles to see who walks away as top dog.

The G20 meeting in Seoul, South Korea was burdened with a third theme– that of finding solutions to the ongoing global economic crisis and the fast approaching threat of protectionism. Why is protectionism an issue? In the context of the US economy, it could mean lower foreign investment, which would lower the value of the dollar. In the context of social justice, this could have far-reaching adverse effects on local and international unemployment and worker rights as well as on US government spending on social services.

The US came under pressure for the Quantitative Easing (QE2) decision taken by the Federal Reserve Board. What’s all the noise about, and did the rest of the G20’s argument against the US decision make any sense? Nice analysis of the situation (and some groovy Economics 101!) here.

But really, the only thing we’re asking each other right now is, why should we care about what is discussed or decided on at the G20?

Simple answer? International Aid Reform. The G20 meetings are a significant platform for world leaders to discuss global approaches to the issue of misdirected foreign aid and unmet aid targets.

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Normally I can’t stand being stuck in traffic. At around 10:30 am Saturday morning I was already an hour late for a pre-rally breakfast, and I was getting nowhere fast. But as my car inched down Constitution Ave., I couldn’t keep a smile off my face.  A steady stream of people coming from all directions was converging on the mall for the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear. I had silently hoped that the rally would have a great turn out and it looked like those hopes were about to be realized.

Half an hour and ten blocks later, I ended up at the breakfast, just in time to leave for the rally. I left as part of a group of around twenty but lost most of our group in the crowd, and arrived on the mall in a group of four. As soon as we hit the rally we were diluted into the massive crowd of energetic rally goers.  One minute I was talking to my friend and the next I was next to a group of Canadians in banana suits.

I had been looking forward to the rally since it was announced, but I didn’t know what to expect. And I was not alone. Leading up to the rally the media had attempted to predict exactly what the rally was going to be. Many assumed Stewart would use it as an opportunity to energize liberal voters just a few days out from the election. What we actually found at the rally was a medley of music, comedy, politics, and Halloween. For the most part, Colbert and Stewart stuck to their opposing characters, playing a conservative fear monger and the voice of reason.

One of the most amazing parts of the experience was the crowd, which was estimated to be around 250,000 people. I’ve been to several rallies in my life but I have never been to one that was so cheerful and pleasant. We were packed onto the mall like sardines, but people squeezed past each other with smiles on their faces, apologizing as they stepped on each other’s feet. There was a great feeling of solidarity and cooperation amongst the group. Taller people used their vantage point in the crowd to fill in the shorter ones about what was happening on stage. Strangers took pictures with each other to commemorate the event. One sign I saw pretty much summed up this spirit: “I’m pretty sure I’d like you if I got to know you.”

The signs were just as much a part of the rally as the people. Most of the signs were a reaction to polarization and hysteria. Some were political, some were witty, some called for open-mindedness and some were downright silly. For those of you who missed out, here are some highlights:

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“So what was this?” asked Stewart toward the end of the rally. He asked permission to be serious for a bit in what turned out to be the highlight of the rally. Read the rest of this entry »

We have an exciting announcement! AIDemocracy is going out on tour in about a week to campuses in Ohio, Massachusetts and Maine to build the grassroots student movement for a world without nuclear weapons!

We’re gonna be screening the film Countdown to Zero, a film from the same Academy-Award winning makers of “An Inconvenient Truth” that does a fantastic job explaining the nuclear threat and why it is so critical that we eliminate nuclear weapons everywhere. You can check out the trailer and find out more about the film at its website.

We’re also going to be encouraging students to speak out about nuclear weapons – either by signing a declaration, taking their photo with a sign saying they don’t want nuclear weapons, write and/or call their Senators, etc. Basically we’re looking for a commitment to a world without nuclear weapons.

However, to pull all of this off, we need some help. We need to find spaces for us to screen the film on the campuses we want to visit in these states, like Ohio State, Boston University, Harvard, University of New England, etc. If you can help us book a space on a campus in any or all of these states, let Patrick, our Global Peace and Security Fellow know ASAP. The tour will take place between Saturday, Nov. 13th to Tuesday, Nov. 23rd, so time is of the essence!

And as an added bonus, we’re able to offer a $100 incentive to any student who can help us organize the event and do some canvassing on campus the day of the screening (5-7 hours work).

Remember, all we need at the moment is help finding a space on campus. We will take care of the rest. Contact us to help get this tour on the road so we can put nuclear weapons where they belong!

What a night! It doesn’t get any more exciting. Republicans made huge gains in the House – picking up at least 60 seats – although the Democrats retained control of the Senate. The election suggested overwhelming dissatisfaction, primarily over the state of the economy and healthcare reform. It is clear that there will be some tough battles ahead – over the Bush-era tax cuts, and how to create jobs and cut spending. We will be lucky if there’s anything more than gridlock in Washington for the remainder of Obama’s term.

What did the youth vote look like this time around? We turned out in historic numbers in 2008 – representing 18% of total voters. An estimated 22 to 24 million young people voted, overwhelmingly for Obama. One exit poll suggested that in 2010 youth turnout was as low as 9%. That’s a big drop, with huge implications for the democrats in particular.

What happened? Did you and your friends vote? Why or why not? What issues were important to you?

By Richard Lim, Peace and Security Issue Analyst

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.”
– Thomas Jefferson

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the
average voter.” – Winston Churchill

Every two years the American people are barraged ad nauseum with ads, fliers, mailers, phone calls, and bumper stickers reminding them to get out the vote. Vote because this election is the most important in history! Vote because your children depend on it!

Indeed, voting is an indispensible element of a republic. For those who have emigrated from nations where sham elections are the rule rather than the exception, voting means much more. It could mean a family member or a friend who went to prison because they demanded their basic rights. Too often we forget the blood, sweat, and tears that made our suffrage possible.
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By Hannah Nemer, Peace & Security Issue Analyst

Just as insanity commences with the ever-nearing Halloween, John Stewart will be fighting insanity of a different kind – political madness. With a call to the rational, tomorrow’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” promises to draw attention to truth in an increasingly convoluted world of politics.

And attendees certainly hope to draw attention to critical, personal issues.

A response to Glenn Beck’s cries to take America back, the rally’s rational attendees hope to reverse much of the bias the media has perpetuated against Islam. Many Muslim rally-goers will sport signs reading, “Boo! I am a Muslim – and not just for Halloween!”

Embracing the satirical nature of the rally, such activists will be able to bring their message to a new and greater audience. Humor is a necessary step to overcome the notion that Muslims are distant – to be feared. Humor captures attention, breaking down social barriers.

I look forward to attending tomorrow’s rally. I come prepared for laughs, social change, and above all – rationality.

By Sara Hooker, Global Development Issue Analyst

There is a joke in Southern Africa that vegetarians don’t exist, at least not by choice. There is even a Zimbabwean rap group dedicated solely to eulogizing chicken in their songs. Another inside joke is that you can tell who a government worker is by the girth of their waist, as people tend to literally show their power in kilos. While this may tend towards hyperbole, meat has always been an indicator of wealth in Africa. Unfortunately this may no longer be the case. Grain, long a diet staple, is taking over as a luxury.

Last week in Rome, from October 11th to the 16th, some of the world’s most accomplished academics on food security convened for the annual committee on World Food Security. While the verdict is still out on their performance (the CFS chairperson described it as a ‘rich and lively session’ which in UN speak means there were probably not any sweeping reforms) it is clear it is a necessary dialogue to maintain.
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Source: United Nations

The Washington D.C chapter of Society for International Development hosted a panel discussion on the Millennium Development Goals last week. The discussion addressed the progress, or lack of, in achieving the Millennium Development Goals to date—and what could realistically be achieved before 2015 deadline.

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The latest installment in our free webinar program was a session on ‘Building your network to do good’. The discussion focused on basic community-building strategies and best practices. It centered around Marty Kearns’ approach to building networks, highlighting the importance of shared vision, story, social ties, communications, resource sharing, feedback and clear roles for all actors. Some highlights:

  • Know and reinforce your story and your vision at all times. People join a vision, not the tasks or details of a campaign.
  • Respect the importance of building social ties. Always structure in time for people to get to know each other. People join and stay with causes where they have friends.
  • Push power to the edges as much as you can. Structure leadership and responsibilities to support members in their functions. A successful network distributes power.
  • You probably already have most of the resources you need to put on events.
  • Use new technologies like blogs, wikis and Facebook to communicate. They can be really effective, they’re free, and they often combine social elements (see above for why this is important!).

    Shout out to everyone who joined the training, including those from the University of North Carolina, the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Bradley University.

    Stay tuned to our blog for announcements of upcoming trainings!

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