Not a big surprise that the turning of the page in the calendar did not make all our worries go away. The big stories that consumed our thoughts at the end of last year—the election, the pandemic, and racial inequity—carried over and, in the case of the election, boiled over.
On January 6th, many of us watched with shock what was occurring in Washington, DC. Regardless of your political beliefs, I’m sure you were as stunned as I was to see thousands of people storming the hallowed halls of our government. I’m angry, saddened, embarrassed, and appalled at the shameful violence and those who took part in this unacceptable behavior. We have also seen similar displays at state capitols throughout the country.
It also made me think about the history of activism in our community. In the 1990s, after thousands of our community members were ravaged by HIV/AIDS, our community protested —angrily, righteously—but peacefully. In a time when bipartisan divisions were high, our community members worked with both Republicans and Democrats not only on the passage of the Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Act, but to ensure that our blood and blood products would remain safe for all Americans for generations to come. In doing so, we earned the respect of lawmakers, staff, and set a template for other patient advocacy organizations to enact change at the Federal level.
What we witnessed on January 6th was not advocacy. It was a degradation of the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights —to speak without censure from the government, to peacefully assemble. It was an attempt by a small fraction of Americans to subvert the will of the people and our democratic process.
But Congress reassembled in the Capitol that same evening to finish its Constitutional duty to officially certify the Electoral College vote. In one day, we watched a serious threat to our democracy matched by the resilience of our lawmakers and those working to protect it.
We’ve experienced many dark moments together over the past 10 months. All of you have personally experienced disruption and loss but please know that I and the NHF team are here for you, and that you can always reach out directly to me or anyone at NHF if you are feeling stress, especially if it’s affecting your health. We are in this together and are willing to lend support where we can.
Even with all of this, I still have a positive outlook for 2021. I draw inspiration from our history of advocacy, working together to create positive change. That is the spirit that I hope our community will embrace as we prepare to work with a new Administration and Congress in 2021. I hope you will join us at Washington Days in March as we continue to work to ensure access to care for our community.
We will continue to support each other as we journey through 2021.
Leonard A. Valentino, MD