Turning Online Awareness to Real-World Activism on World AIDS Day

Every December 1st the world recognizes World AIDS Day, a day to remember those we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS and those currently infected and affected by this terrible disease.  The HIV virus, while perhaps not as visible and in-your-face as it was just two decades ago, still affects millions across the United States alone, including me.  As a young gay male, I’ve grown up understanding the disease in myself and others, though incredible stigma and shame still exist to this day for those of us infected with the virus.  So as my little corner of the web embraces this day in remembrance and advocacy, does anyone offline really care, or even know, of today’s importance?

From my digital perch, people within my social reach obviously care about this issue.  My facebook news feed has been overwhelmed with a sea of red ribbons. Much like when the gay and lesbian community came together last month to celebrate “Spirit Day” by wearing purple and changing their avatars to show-case their purple-goodness in solidarity with bullied LGBT teens, today that same concept has taken hold with cascading shades of red.

This awareness has also spread to twitter, with Global AIDS remaining a trending topic throughout the day.  Remarkably, my own sphere of the twitterverse has reacted positively to my tweets on the topic, with just one of my updates receiving 62 retweets as of this writing!  To put that into context, I’m normally off-the-wall excited when just one of my tweets is retweeted 3-4 times, let ALONE 62, and counting.

So people do care, but the question becomes whether after the ribbons disappear, and the retweets slowly end, will these netizens take their obvious passion for HIV/AIDS into the real-world through volunteerism or activism.  Many working in the non-profit and political technology industry speak often on the topic of “slacktivism:” when a would-be real-world activist instead fulfills his or her need for volunteerism with relatively simple and ineffective forms of online activities, like simply switching out an avatar to the cause-de-joure. I have my own thoughts on that particular subject, but for this post I instead want to focus on what we, as individuals or those working for social change organizations, can focus upon when an issue takes the web by storm.

Our goal as change-makers should always be to convert those who care about an issue into someone who acts upon those passions.  So you’ve found dozens of people retweeting your cultivated message on HIV/AIDS?  Great– contact those people and engage them with some of your other efforts-whether it’s penning letters to elected officials, signing petitions, writing an op-ed for their local paper, or volunteering at their local AIDS service organization.

Instead of lamenting these “slacktivists,” lets instead work to cultivate them into activists. At both an individual and organizational level, there exists massive opportunities online to reach new supporters, or re-engage those already passionate about your issues, especially HIV/AIDS.

So today, on Worlds AIDS Day, take that next step. Stand up and be counted.  Don’t stop with simply adding a red ribbon to your avatar, but proactively work to see this crisis end, and the virus curtailed.

First and formost, know your status. Get Tested!

For my HIV-negative brothers and sisters, join a clinical trial. We’ll never find a vaccine or cure without your participation.

Volunteer with your local AIDS-service organization (I’ve linked to several for those living in the Philadelphia region), or find organizations online doing spectacular work.

Regardless or how you want to take your passion further, the important thing is acting upon your hopes and dreams. Together we can eradicate this horrible disease, but only if we create real-world activism from raising awareness online.

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