by Christa Orth
Sarah wrote about the trip in her “Final Report from Russia,” specifically about the needs of Russians infected with and affected by HIV:
“The prevention problems are basically that there is no sex education and no methadone. VERY SIGNIFICANT problems…
…I was really impressed with the straight Harm Reduction, former addict activists. They are focused on winnable goals, seem to have wisdom about how to go about getting the drugs they need, and I feel that they will succeed in improving treatments. Although getting those treatments to more than 10% of the million infected Russians is another matter.“
(Read all of Sarah’s report here.)
What ACT UP did in the United States and in Europe was to bring thousands of people to the streets in massive protest. Jim Hubbard told me he learned the issue of protest is complicated in Russia because of what’s legal and illegal. Even a small gathering of activists can risk massive police harassment and anti-gay violence. One person can legally protest with a sign, but otherwise there are real limitations around how protesters can resist homophobic, AIDSphobic, and racist policies.
Jim said some AIDS activists are hopeful because they experienced a recent unexpected victory. They have been concentrating their efforts protesting the lack of access to HIV/AIDS drugs — there are grinding bureaucratic problems getting drugs for people with HIV. After repeated protests at the Health Ministry, they weren’t seeing any movement in their favor. So they decided to do something no one else had ever done, and they staged a protest at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office. A few days later, they actually got a response, a small win in a much larger war.
Jim hopes that learning about ACT UP will help motivate even more people to get involved with social movements in Russia, and around the world. He said Russians are experiencing targeted political violence, it’s not merely gay bashing, and it’s not random. It’s critical for activists around the world to find ways to help the oppression in Russia — boycotting vodka and the Olympics is not an effective method. Jim says it’s most important to work with Russian advocates, and to “be supportive of Russians in ways that are helpful to them.”
A group of people working collectively translated the film into Russian to give Russian-speakers access to these ideas. It has been a labor of love to bring the film’s message to the people. I asked Genia Odesser, one of the Russian translators, why he thinks it’s important to share the legacy of ACT UP with activists in Russia.
“I think the most important effect that United in Anger can have is not just about LGBT people and people with AIDS, but about human rights and about the dignity of any one person in Russia. There are many more discriminated groups and parts of the population who are discriminated against besides LGBT people and people with AIDS. It’s about the whole country and its whole people.
The reason is that people don’t really believe that they can fight for their rights that the Constitution gives them, and they can get success. They don’t trust themselves. It’s about everything: health care, electoral frauds, ethnic and gender discrimination and racism, about corruption. United in Anger can show the people there are some possibilities to change things, even if you are not many and you have nothing except yourself and a couple of friends with the same problem. It can teach the technology of protest and fighting for rights, whatever the problem is.
Traditionally Russians are very patient with their government and leaders, and they have to learn to fight for themselves like people in other countries have learned and are still learning. American and Western European people are maybe a little more advanced in this and can share their experiences. ACT UP was a very powerful part of them. It was for me also the biggest reason why I did the translation.I wanted to share thе skills of protest and the skills of fighting with the Russian people, and with the Russian opposition.”
Read more about Jim and Sarah’s trip in the Moscow Times.
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