By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage Caravan rider
November 10, 2005
After eight hours flying back over the route that our caravan traveled for fifteen days I am back home to Portland, Oregon. The crisp, clean fall air of home is a tonic, as was when Delta flight passed over Mt. Hood and the Columbia river that both flank Portland.
The last day of action for C2EA was yesterday, starting with an early photo-opportunity in front of the Capitol Dome so cental and imposing both on the hill and the land. Machine gun bearing Praetorian guard suited in black body armor were stationed about the grounds and recesses of the Capitol dome. There was a constant construction din of jack-hammer on concrete as rows of homeland security blast walls are erected as visible barriers of the 'War on Terror."
About 75-100 C2EA caravaners and their supporters showed, and we held up the state flags of the United States and it's territories, the flags from states where no one traveled from were held by stand-ins.
Several congressional supporters gave rousing speeches as this was the day we were to speak with our elected members of the House and Senate about the platform and concerns of the Campaign To End AIDS.
1. Fully fund quality treatment and support services for all people living with HIV everywhere in the world.
2. ramp up HIV prevention at home and abroad, guided by silence rather than ideology.
3.Increase research to find a cure,more effective treatments and better prevention tools.
4. Fight AIDS stigma and protect the civil rights of all people with HIV/AIDS everywhere.
We were to talk with our representatives or their representatives about these core issues, and score them from their responses.
So away from the flags and up the hill we walked to enter through the security gates to be totally revealed through X-rays before entering the marble labyrinthine catacombs of the hive that is the House and Senate office warren.
First was a meeting with Matthew Canedy, a Professional Staff Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee On Aging, representing the Committee Chair Senator Gordon Smith.
Each of us talked about the different platforms of C2EA trying to give them a personal spin.
My story is that I Got my diagnosis back in 1986, yet have never progressed into AIDS or suffered any opportunistic infections. Low normal T-cells, undetectable viral load, and have never had to take any medications. Even in flu season my immune system usually is able to fight off the current range of whatever gets coughed around each season. I was told in 1989 that if I did not take full doses of AZT that I would be dead in 6 months. Knowing the side-effects of drugs such as AZT upon our bodies, I saw no reason to take any potentially immune-compromising drug into my system. When and if I get sick, I will open that door and consider what's the best course of medications to pursue. Today if I would get sick, I would not be able to afford to open that door. I'm mostly self employed these days often balancing several jobs, none of which has any health insurance.
I was fortunate to be able to buy a house years back when the housing market here was depressed, yet one bad illness would cost me my home and throw me into a tattered and ripped social service safety net, potentially costing more money than if I had been able to afford health insurance.
There once was an Oregon Health Plan, but after a ghastly period of paring away vital services this State health plan stopped accepting new clients.
Some months I end up sharing meals at Portland's HIV Day Center as after paying all the bills we must pay to live as Americans there is little money left and I have to cut back on food.
The HIV Day Center faces closure if it's Ryan White Care ACT funds get cut.
I also told of living in San Francisco in 1981 when AIDS first virulently exploded in the Gay Community, often killing people brutally in epic personal battles with there own bodies,battles against both their own bodies and cultural hysteria. lives often snuffed out in a mere score of months. This virus mutates and adapts, and already has bred the largest pandemic in recorded human history. How odd to see all this "Bird Flu" scare with HIV/AIDS there at our doorsteps.
I talked of whole villages in Africa with most parents dead from this pandemic, such ripe fields to harvest for future terrorist interests.
For Senator Smith's Aide I also appealed to the Senator's strong support for the value of human life.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon met us next, personally in his meeting lounge, then we told our stories and platforms to Stephanie Kennan, Senior Health Policy Advisor. For this talk I added a thank-you and acknowledgment to the Senator's strong history of supporting health care, and his strong support in senior citizen lobbies for doing so. It is important to support AIDS drug assistance programs through Medicare/Medicaid.
Our next stop was at Congressman Earl Blumenhauer,s office, where an Aide rushed through our platforms while we were kept crowded in the lobby. Someone poked their head in who looked like the Congressperson, yet took one look at us and beat a hasty retreat as if opening an occupied bathroom stall.
All we spoke with acknowledged our concerns, but also spoke of the challenge of this age from the latest political wars on Capitol Hill.
I left to sit in the mist of a lovely rain-forest a block away in the National Botanical Gardens. In a multi-storied greenhouse rimmed with a catwalk where you can stroll among tree orchids and bromeliads high up in giant palm trees. Not to many people visiting this flowered sanctuary today, construction of blast walls without. Yes, you have to go through security and X-rays even to visit this urban piece of sanctuary.
The expectation of invasion goes back to when this swamp town laid out it's streets spiking out in all directions, yet leading to the blast of strategically placed cannons. These circles today have grown old-growth tributes to Gods and Generals.
This city of monuments such as the glass-black stone wall of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, inscribed with the names of Americans killed while darkly reflecting back the reflection of this wall's visitors.
The unborn monuments and memorials to honor the war-dead yet born haunt this place.
I'm reminded of Bob Fosse's "Cabaret" where people tried to live their lives and ignore the growing power and danger of the Nazis, till it was too late. "Tomorrow belongs to me....."
And today we live this life of quiet desperation.
For the last three weeks I have seen such as vast grass lands where antelopes dance, slept on All-Souls night in a church Sanctuary next to my boyfriend, and heard many stories of the lives caught up with and lost to this global pandmic, and the brave fight of many who believe America can and should be a better place. It is wrong to allow people to die on the streets just because of their fate or position in life.
What ever this whole C2EA thingie was, it was an opportunity or way-station along a long and hard road to the end of this pandemic.
I have walked this road for years, and that sea of empty shoes used at these demonstrations to signify those lost to this pandemic are filled with too many ghosts now walking behind me.
What do we walk away with?