Last Sunday, I participated in my first AIDS Walk. I bummed a ride of a friend, and on the way to the site, wondered what to expect. My friend and I had both attended the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. two years ago, but I had a hunch that marching to cure AIDS would be a bit different than marching to protect Roe v. Wade. My friend’s dad, in a voice heavy with dry humor, amused us through the heavy traffic. “You think AIDS is bad? Try the 405. How about a march to cure traffic?” he suggested as we inched along Melrose Avenue. When we arrived at the site, we hopped out of the car, walked past a police blockade, and found ourselves in the midst of a delicious chaos. Shouts and laughter rose up from the masses of people. Brightly colored banners waved about. Teams gathered together under posters: Sororities, fraternities, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Starbucks Coffee, the Armed Forces, school clubs…it seemed as if the entire world had showed up to walk. Corporations must see the walk as one big advertising goldmine, because I couldn’t walk two steps without having a sport drink shoved into one hand and a bag of chips into another. Signs for everything from Holiday Inn to Wet® lubricant plastered the walk’s route. My friend put it perfectly: “Yeah, it’s corporate greed…but it’s corporate greed that helps a good cause.” We traipsed over 10 km, past overpriced vintage clothing boutiques, sketchy-looking sushi restaurants, and giant, imposing office buildings. Radio stations had set up booths and were blasting music that inspired me and several others to hold a dance party in the middle of the street. The entire atmosphere was happy and high energy, underscored with determination and pride. The only dark moment occurred early on the route, when three middle-aged Caucasian men waved signs and shouted through a megaphone that we were sinners. “Gays marching to cure AIDS is like smokers marching to cure lung cancer!” read one sign. Another showed a picture of two men sharing a passionate kiss, with a red X across their faces. “This is sin!” shouted the man waving the sign. Their third companion merely repeated: “Repent! Repent before Jesus! Repent!” like a broken answering machine. Most marchers ignored the men, but the woman in front of us couldn’t walk past in silence, and told the three men exactly where they could go and what they could do with themselves. “Oooh, a counter-protest of three, I’m so intimidated!” joked my friend. Then she turned serious. “But how ignorant are they? AIDS was never confined to just the gay population. It affects everyone.” We agreed that if we came across any more homophobic protesters, we would immediately start holding hands and kissing. When I finally staggered across the finish line, a man dressed up as a sexy nun playfully whacked my shoulder with a ruler. “Congratulations, sweetie,” he called. “You did it!” And he/she was right, I had done it! I had joined together with every possible type of Angeleno and done my part to help cure what is arguably the world’s most devastating disease. With passing cars honking and waving, fellow marchers chanting around me, and my friend grinning and squeezing my hand, I felt powerful, invincible. Thank you, Los Angeles, for showing me that we don’t live in a world of apathy, for proving to me that change is possible, and for turning out by the thousands (26,000 to be exact) to make a difference.Ed. Note. Alice Ollstein is a senior at Santa Monica High School.
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