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by Amy Wooten

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AIDS advocates lined up along the Magnificent Mile for the largest action of its kind on Michigan Avenue on Saturday, Oct. 1, in hopes of spreading awareness to the countless tourists and shoppers.

As part of the Campaign to End AIDS ( C2EA ) , a national awareness movement, around 100 AIDS activists took to the streets to call for an end to the epidemic. The street action was followed by a rally in Water Tower Park, where speakers focused on the upcoming reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act and the Bush administration's plan to shift dollars for HIV/AIDS-related services from urban centers to rural areas. According to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the shift would result in a 25-percent loss of Ryan White CARE Act funding for Illinois.

'Most of it is positive,' Illinois C2EA coordinator Jim Pickett said of reactions to the street action. According to Pickett, some advocates experienced negative reactions. 'But that's an opportunity,' he continued. 'These are all opportunities to engage with people, chat with people, and put something on their conscience that they might not have already had.'

After the Chicago Spirit Brigade pumped up the crowd at the park, Pickett began the rally by stressing the effectiveness of HIV prevention and the need to 'stir things up.' He also focused on the need to demand more prevention options from the government.

'Our government wants to pretend that [ prevention programs ] don't work,' Pickett said. 'They want us to focus on [ abstinence ] . Well, that is crazy!'

'I am not going away,' HIV-positive activist Debra Fleming told the crowd. Fleming reminded advocates that elections are approaching, and that the community needs to get out and vote.

'There is not a congressman in the United States who cannot get kicked out of office by the HIV/AIDS community.'

National C2EA leader Charles King thanked the Chicago advocates for kicking off C2EA's fall campaign. There will be marches, rallies and demonstrations all over the U.S., 'telling the world that we can end AIDS,' King said.

King added that ending AIDS is possible in the U.S. by giving people the care that they need; focusing on prevention; and putting more dollars into research for a cure, treatment and prevention.

If the government can spend millions on a war, they can spend it on HIV/AIDS, King said. 'It's not even just a lack of political will, it's a lack of heart, it's a lack of compassion, it's a lack of commitment,' he said.

'AIDS is a natural disaster that over the last 25 years turned into a man-made catastrophe,' King said, stressing that the epidemic in Chicago and across the globe is one of race and poverty. 'It's all about demanding of ourselves, of our AIDS-service organizations, of our churches and synagogues, of our Senate leaders, [ and ] of our political leaders compassion, commitment and caring to end this epidemic.'

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