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On a dark May morning, I arrived at work before the sun was up fighting off nerves ahead of my first large Springfield Advocacy Day here at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). Our mission: deliver over 100 advocates to the state capitol to advocate for a positive budget with their state legislators. Our message was clear: they need to fully fund HIV programs and services at the proposed $25 million mark, and fight to stop Governor Rauner’s $150 million proposed cut to Medicaid, the health care resource that covers more than half of people living with HIV in Illinois.
After a long bus trip from Chicago to Illinois’ capitol three hours away, some colleagues and I led a training to help our advocates — many of whom had never been to Springfield, much less met with and asked for something from their legislators. Before the advocates headed inside the capitol to advocate, we held a rally on the Capitol steps and were joined by Rep. Greg Harris (D - Chicago), who spoke about how important our advocates’ work was by just making the trip down and speaking up. It was especially nice to have Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), Rep. Juliana Stratton (D-Chicago) and Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) take time to snap photos with and discuss the need to adequately fund HIV services and programs and protect Medicaid.
I spoke with a couple of advocates to see if they were able to connect with their legislators; some got the chance and others didn’t. Many were surprised their lawmakers actually took the time to have real conversations that left them feeling heard and appreciated. I got the surprise of the day with a one-on-one conversation with Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D – Chicago) about how important it was to make sure that HIV programs are fully funded in the budget. I also made it clear that the community we serve cannot handle the devastating cuts to Medicaid that Governor Rauner is pushing. Even more surprising was that a couple of our advocates were able to talk with Governor Bruce Rauner (R-IL) and deliver the same message. (Good news: our advocacy contributed to the passage of a budget that included a much-needed $25 million for HIV services in the next year! Learn more here.)
What I will take away from the day were some of the powerful testimonies the advocates gave in a luncheon and wrap-up session at the end of the day before returning to Chicago. One woman spoke about how this was the first time she “came out” as HIV-positive in over 30 years and how empowered she felt doing it. That’s what advocacy is about: empowering people by giving their voice a stage to be heard on. Another advocate shared that she made the trip down to Springfield because her uncle is living with HIV and she wanted to be his voice.
This incredible day of advocacy was just one of many engagement opportunities we have planned for 2018, including in-district legislator visits, AFC’s campaign to review and possibly revise laws that criminalize transmission of HIV, Getting to Zero Illinois and the IL ASAP program. This is the just the start of more amazing work to come! Sign up for our Online Action Bulletin to stay in touch with us.