The ongoing AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) crisis has spurred many across the country to become engaged in AIDS advocacy. Shocking headlines and tragic statistics have raised the profile and intensity of AIDS advocacy efforts to the highest levels in years. However, we as advocates know that avoiding the next ADAP crisis will require sustained and determined movement building and the long-term engagement of grassroots advocates.
The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) recently engaged its community on the ADAP crisis, using increased public attention to greatly boost its grassroots advocacy network. This was accomplished through a simple and effective postcard campaign.
Bill Keeton, Director of Government Relations at ARCW, was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about their campaign:
Dose of Change: You’ve recently grown your grassroots network by 800 members through an ADAP crisis postcard campaign. What led you to decide to use this (postcard campaign) approach?
Bill Keeton: We wanted an easy-to-manage and low-tech way for people at PrideFest in Milwaukee to be able to reach out to their elected officials about the ADAP crisis. We knew we only had their interest for a few brief moments, so I decided to go with the old fashioned post-card campaign. It’s easy to describe and a ‘tangible’ form of activism. Plus, as a former legislative staffer, I know getting a stack of postcards is still a pretty effective way to show power in numbers.
DOC: Wisconsin hasn’t had to institute the wait lists or cost containment measures we’ve seen crippling other state’s ability to ensure access to HIV medication – how do you energize advocates around this emergency when your state’s program is on better footing relative to other state’s programs?
BK: ADAP utilization is being driven upward by the downturn in the economy, cuts in health care benefits for those who have health care insurance and the increasing number of new diagnoses – especially among people in tough socioeconomic situations. Milwaukee and the rest of Wisconsin are not immune to these factors and recent budget forecasts have shown that our ADAP here is on shaky financial footing.
I made the decision to start this work now because waiting for the crisis to hit Wisconsin as hard as it has hit other states seemed reactionary. Hopefully, our work here can help stave-off a waiting list, formulary cuts or eligibility changes that make it harder to access ADAP. Also, it makes sure we have a built in base of supporters who should things get worse are already knowledgeable about this issue and are more likely to re-engage.
DOC: Do you have plans to transition this issue-specific mobilization into longer term grassroots engagement? How do you keep people engaged after the crisis is over?
BK: Everyone who signed a post card is being added to our Wisconsin AIDS Advocates advocacy group. With our state budget forecast looking horrible for the next two year planning cycle (which will start in January 2011) we are going to rely on constituent calls and advocacy to make sure the budget isn’t balanced by cutting HIV prevention, care and treatment funding.
We plan on utilizing e-mail and online advocacy tools to communicate on a regular basis with our membership on not only issues related to current public policy debates, but also on the fight against AIDS in general.