Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mister Duerkes goes to Washington

Pardon my giddiness, for I am still riding the high from my first time lobbying beyond the state level.

Topher Duerkes takes us there - AIDSWatch 2009

I just returned from AIDSwatch '09 in Washington DC…Pardon my giddiness, for I am still riding the high from my first time lobbying beyond the state level. If you have ever attended an AIDSwatch, I am sure you know of the next few events…if not, here’s some insight for your adventures in DC when you attend the next AIDSwatch.

Opening day we met for a day of training that helped inform each of us of the topics we were lobbying for: National Aids strategy, Healthcare reform, improved medicare/medicaid, ETHA, Needle exchange, Promoting evidence-based prevention, increased appropriations for HIV programs, Ryan White, etc.. The morning was filled with a host of introductions and a panel of speakers from all over that helped to empower us to be ready for the day of advocating that we were about to endeavor upon.

Immediately following the morning introductions we were separated into our respective state groups and outlined the next day’s meetings and events. Jessica Terlikowski, of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, was our team captain that would help guide us through the next few days of advocating (through out the conference Jessica and AFC's David Munar intermittently exchanged places and helped channel us in whatever direction necessary). Each of us had our own stories to tell, each story representing a different issue/bill we were advocating for. Jessica allowed each of us to shine and speak about the topics closest to our hearts while still having a directive guiding hand while answering any questions that would come up. Shortly after the morning training we met off Pennsylvania for an emotional rally to further empowered us for the next days events.

The next two days were hour by hour meetings with our fellow delegate/team mates from the surrounding cities in Illinois as we met with members of Congress (each of the other state’s teams meeting with their members of Congress that had direct affiliation with their states). At any given moment you could find our different teams scurrying from building to building, going through tunnels and/or security, to meet each member of Congress slated to meet with us as they gave us their undivided attention to elaborate our concerns and issues we represented.

In my group I had several powerful individuals: Terre who elegantly spoke about Health Care Reform, and the National AIDS Strategy; Monica who delivered a powerful speech on improved care for persons living with HIV/AIDS; Louis and Jeff who delivered a potent reason for promoting evidence based HIV prevention; and Clarence and I who spoke from the heart about increased appropriations for HIV programs, Ryan White/HOPWA, needle exchange, and SAMHSA funding.

From the beginning to the end of AIDSwatch ’09, I met some beneficial, interesting and wonderful people, learned a lot about the people I already new, gained valuable information about our legislature, programs and service funding at the federal level, and felt a great attachment to something worthwhile that directly affected me and the community in which I serve as a member of. It was an eye-opening meaningful experience meeting members of Congress, telling them our personal stories, advocating for issues/bills that affect those of us who are HIV+.

I can only hope and surmise that our enthusiasm and time was well received….Who knows if we made a difference but I for surely am a richer man from the experience.

I strongly urge anyone with a story, and a commitment for change, attend next year's AIDSwatch - it is a worthwhile encounter!

[Also by Topher, read As of today... meth and the boy next door gone wrong]

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