September 11 shocked us out of our sense of isolation, but for me, if there’s another defining issue for our generation, it’s HIV and AIDS. The fact that 40 million people worldwide are infected, that more people in Africa die every day from AIDS than ever died in the World Trade Center, is monumental. And, by the way, AIDS was the first issue to make us realize that we weren’t safe, and in the same way, because people were doing so much international travel and so on. And so 9/11 was a seminal moment, a time to say “I have to do something more.” It wasn’t like I felt like my actions had to be directly related to the problems that caused 9/11, but that there were equal problems and challenges that we had to face worldwide and on a national basis.
Sadly, it made people here more afraid, and I feared that they would move more toward isolationism at a time when we need to engage more in the world — though not in the way this administration has, which was to invade Iraq. The difference between pre-9/11 and now — I just got back from the international AIDS conference in Toronto — is that the US is no longer seen as the great savior in the world, or even as a reasonable partner at times. This administration has used fear, not just in response to terrorism, but in response to HIV and AIDS. The fear of immigrants — “don’t let them come into the country, they have AIDS, they’ll take away jobs.” It’s much easier for this administration to go over there and deal with AIDS orphans than to look at this country and to realize that there are communities more ravaged by HIV and AIDS here than in African countries.
Even though I’m a big liberal and I work in nonprofits right now, I’m actually a big believer in capitalism, and at the end of the day I think that’s what’s really transformational. When you see what’s happened in the Soviet Union, the changes in China . . . I believe people in general want to better their lives, to feed their children, that that energy and effort is enough for some people and what capitalism can offer in some places. And that’s why the radical right, outside this country and in the US, is so concerned: they can’t stop progress. I think that has been the great harm of this administration: we’re falling right into their strategy — that you have to stop this progress — everything is based on morality, not on practicality. We see this in HIV and AIDS research: science-based, prevention, well-tested, evidenced-based stuff is not allowed to be funded by this administration. Instead they go after abstinence-only policies that haven’t proved to be successful. And so we’re being just as moralistic as some of these radical-right people in other places. And I think that 9/11 was the moment in which that division really became so apparent.
Carol Rose, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
In the last five years, I have come to believe that our country is on the verge of losing our system of checks and balances that for more than 200 years has been the key to preserving our freedom and our Republic. I no longer believe that this is politics as usual. To the contrary, our very system of government and our most basic freedoms are now at stake.