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AIDS Treatment News
"AIDS Coffee Klatch" Grassroots Political Organizing
John S. James
December 23, 1994
AIDS TREATMENT NEWS Issue #213, December 23, 1994

December 20: The new Congress convenes in January, and most of its members have little background or involvement with AIDS. What happens to AIDS research, care, prevention, and human rights depends on whether members of Congress hear from VOTERS IN THEIR DISTRICTS that AIDS is important to them.

But so far the AIDS community has done poorly in grassroots organizing -- in helping the millions of people who care about AIDS to make their voices heard, by Congress, by city, state, and other officials, and in the media. Most Congressional offices almost never hear from their voters on AIDS. This must improve -- quickly.

We need communication groups -- relaxed, friendly, non- competitive, personally rewarding -- that also send dozens of letters and calls from every meeting.

"Action alerts" from national organizations must be made easier for non-specialists to use. Organizations should test their alerts through informal focus groups -- asking people to actually write or call, and report where the obstacles are, while the organizer watches and listens without giving assistance.

The "AIDS Coffee Klatch" -- now being started by this writer and others -- is a model for combining political defense with social groups. The following explanation is from the voicemail we set up this week for outreach. Feel free to use this material (including the name AIDS Coffee Klatch) for your own efforts to support AIDS funding and human rights.

Note that this kind of organizing costs almost no money; funding is not required.

Voicemail Text: Hello, welcome to AIDS Coffee Klatch. We are developing small, personal social groups which also write and call Congress, local officials, media, and others, to support AIDS funding and the human rights of people with AIDS and HIV. After the November elections, our community needs this kind of strength more than ever before.

To bypass this introduction and go directly to our action alerts and schedule of San Francisco meetings, press '1' on your telephone. To leave us a message, press '2'.

The central goal of AIDS Coffee Klatch is to create a kind of organizing which is MASS MOVEMENT READY -- graceful and workable enough to become part of everyday life, so it can spread to many thousands of people, not just to political specialists. A successful model could contribute decisively to a more livable future, a more livable world.

We base this work on four principles. These groups must: (1) Combine POLITICAL work with PERSONAL AND SOCIAL needs. The same groups that send dozens of letters and calls from every meeting will also be relaxed, low-key social gatherings, places to meet people and develop friendships, to be aware of each other and ready to help in adversity.

(2) Be easy-going, low stress, non-competitive, without pressure to do more or guilt for not doing it. People write letters or make calls as individuals, when it feels right, not otherwise. There is no need to fight over policy, since the group does not take positions on issues. Instead, individuals support the issues they feel comfortable with -- and pass when they don't. Anyone can bring their own AIDS issues to the group.

(3) Work with high-quality action alerts -- and insist that AIDS policy organizations deliver high quality. Action alerts must speak to everyone, not just Washington insiders. They must reflect solid research, strategic thinking, a sense of timing, and widespread community consensus. They must accurately portray the thinking of both sides, including our opponents -- and show why our position benefits the public as a whole, as well as people with AIDS. And action alerts must be clear, explicit, and complete about whom you can write or call, how to do it, and what points are most important to communicate.

(4) Work in coalition -- with other organizations, other causes and interests, and other communities.

For More Information Call our voicemail at 415/241-1568.