Marge Sutinen, a longtime AIDS activist and educator UW-Madison Department of Medical Genetics, noted that young people are taking a stand. “This generation is not as stigmatized and is confident to walk in front of peers and offer a condom,” said Sutinen. She believes it is up to the young people to lead the way toward a solution. Marge’s AIDS activism began while volunteering to stuff envelopes at the AIDS Network in Madison in 1987. She is recognized throughout the state for her effectiveness in increasing community awareness, enhancing collaboration among those working in AIDS education and treatment, and expressing compassion toward people with HIV/AIDS. But most importantly, every year she educates many students at the UW about HIV/AIDS. Her determination and support has inspired students to bring AIDS activists to speak on campus, host dance marathons benefiting patients, educate students in local high schools about HIV/AIDS and participate in many other outreach programs.
A teaching assistant for Sutinen’s HIV/AIDS awareness and education course at UW-Madison reminds us of the huge stigma still surrounding AIDS in the United States. Through a discussion about the disease with students in her class, Lindsay Trust learned that although these students are well-educated about HIV/AIDS, some of their family members are not as knowledgeable about the disease. “As surprising as it sounds, many people they know still get nervous when they are aware that someone with HIV/AIDS is near them, especially when handling food or in a swimming pool. They forgot that people with HIV/AIDS are harmless and there is nothing to worry about,” Trust said. College students today are fearlessly approaching the disease, becoming involved on many different levels. For the first twenty years of the disease, there was progressively more activism on college campuses, but today we are reaching an unprecedented peak, especially at UW-Madison.
We must understand that activism is not only speaking out about something you are passionate about, but actually doing something about it. Bob Power, former executive director of the AIDS Network in Madison, said, “I want to make sure there is action behind my words.” Today, some people are definitely more aware and cautious in their sexual encounters, but at the same time others in the United States have recently become complacent about the disease. Sutinen reminds us some people think since science and research have led to so many new drugs to prolong life and slow the disease, HIV isn’t as bad as we thought.
The next step in activism, experts agree, is to recreate the passion of the early activists in the mid-to-late 1980s. Education is the solution and we must encourage people to tell their stories to others. According to amfAR, there are a variety of ways to become an AIDS activist:
· Volunteer with your local AIDS service organization.
· Talk with the young people you know about HIV/AIDS.
· Sponsor an HIV/AIDS education event or fund-raiser with your local school, community group, or religious organization.
· Urge government officials to provide adequate funding for AIDS research, prevention education, medical care, and support services.
· Speak out against AIDS-related discrimination.
· Support continued research to develop better treatments and a safe and effective AIDS vaccine by fundraising
Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, said, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he will never be hungry.” Our society is quick to take the easy way out and write a check for a cause, believing this can solve the problem. Money may be an indicator of activism, but being an activist requires a lot more than donating money to a cause. In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Bowers said, "I'm the Mother Teresa of HIV. I'm spreading the word but not making any money." The only way to solve the AIDS problem is to literally stop it – through awareness, education and outreach.
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