A few weeks ago, I attended the inaugural iteration of the SkepTech conference, put on by a bunch of really awesome people up in Minneapolis. While I mostly went because I wanted to see old friends from far-flung places, and meet new ones (including that lovable scamp Jason Thibeault), I was also on a panel with JT Eberhard, Brianne Bilyeu, Miri Mogilevsky, and Olivia James on activism. You can see it below:
There’s a lot more to be said about activism as an enterprise than we managed to get to. Me, I’m definitely the most radically-minded of the people on that panel; as readers of mine will know, I don’t exactly hold much “typical” activism, like American Atheists billboards, in very high regard. But, rather than wax social justicey on what I think activism should be, I want to share this campaign from the Crunk Feminist Collective [emphasis mine]:
There are some places where people are warned never to go, known for violence, drug traffic, and poverty. For those who have not grown up in these environments we are taught to fear and/or condemn people who live there. This is not true of everyone. There are some s/heroes who “see the faces at the bottom of the well,” and offer a rope AND a bucket of food and water. Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) is the rescue organization where prevention is key and care is unconditional. This week the CFC will spotlight AHRC because they need our support to keep their doors open.
Atlanta Harm Reduction offers the only consistent syringe exchange program in the southeast region. According to Mona Phillips, a founding member, their early advocacy work began with people living with HIV/AIDS. During direct action campaigns to raise awareness about Atlantans needing access to affordable pharmaceutical drugs in 1996 they started seeing syringes on the ground. Recognizing this marker to mean resurgence in heroin use they literally followed the syringes and the word on the street to English Avenue and set up shop there.
AHR has been in English Avenue since 1998 providing: FREE HIV testing, counseling, and connection with additional resources; FREE meals and hot showers a few days a week; FREE access computers and internet; FREE clothes closet access; FREE counseling for people with addictions; FREE Hepatitis A and B vaccines; FREE drug paraphernalia to stop the spread of AIDS, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C; FREE condoms and counseling for sex workers everyday. The syringe exchange program, assumed to target people who use recreational drugs only, is also important for people with diabetes to inject insulin as well as transgender people for hormone injections.
Where others choose to avoid the basic needs of so many people in this area because they don’t approve of their choices…Atlanta Harm Reduction rushed in.
In my mind, AHRC is an example of the absolute best kind of activism. People are volunteering their time to help those for whom there is no other help, working to empower the people with the least amount of power in our society. It’s not some blue-chip non-profit empire with flashy commercials and feel-good messages, but an actual sustained campaign to do good by providing direct assistance to those who need it most.
This is the kind of thing there needs to be more of. If you can, please shoot them a few dollars by going to their website, or if you live in or around Atlanta, volunteer with their program. It’s the things like this that make the biggest difference.