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The Red

Monday, 30 March 2015 Written by // Philip J H Dawson Categories // Activism, Gay Men, Newly Diagnosed, Philip J H Dawson, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific

A poem from Philip J H Dawson for the young or newly diagnosed to help them understand the early days of the epidemic

 The Red

I wrote this 'journey' with the hope that this piece may somehow provide a snapshot to the younger and newly diagnosed people living with HIV of what the early years looked like for those of us who were there fighting and volunteering and hoping – whom even today have difficulty in comprehending the actions of those who were elected to office when AIDS was destroying everything in sight.

The Red 

You say you want to be there.




Living as though

Your wings were

Made of velveted air.

You take all that comes.

And all that goes from us.

With such rash control.

You hardly have the time to see.

Or notice.

Or care?

Seems you don't!


Canada's Fight against AIDS failing miserably. “We don't have an AIDS plan yet.” Terry Murray, Health Minister, Canada - The Medical Post May 9, 1989 

Seems your agenda is backward.

That you've sent out your Dark Angels

To battle already crushed spirits.

In it you look away from the Red.

In it you look away from the same bleed that cries a woman, man, child.

Of the Ribbon worn.

Of the cherished love.

Of the blood that bonds.

The Ribbon tied and secured to our working hands…

…to our hope!


Brian Mulroney opens the world's largest AIDS conference in Montreal June 4, 1989. It will be the first time the Prime Minister has ever discussed the epidemic in public. Thousands of Canadians have died of AIDS. He has been in office since 1984.

You're our elected one yet you're not there

To share to help to build to inspire.

From those devastating days

Which wiped out the hearts we loved.

Which wiped out the pillars of a community.

And knew.

And followed.

Spillage of the Ribbon.

The cauldron of love and pain fell off balance.

The Red blood which sewn us as one

Flowed in places

Where rivers connected.

When all had the pain.

Of the same.

Of the Red.

Of the Ribbon.

Became threads of colours stitched by mothers, fathers, partners

Into needles to create Panels reflecting a Life. The Quilt.


“It's surprising that President Ronald Reagan could remain silent as 6,000 Americans have died, that he could fail to acknowledge the epidemic’s existence.”  Representative Henry Waxman, 1985

A reminder!

Where some protested legislation.

Where some acted vigilant and made powerful gains.

Where we had no other way to live than to gather the carnage of this war.

Clocks became our lives.

Ticking as one died.

Tick by Tock.

The enormous Bell of Life

Tipping in the absurdity of less and less and less caring health dollars.

Crashing from its tower - US! - society once built high.


Created a system to navigate and to appreciate the ill.

And then the Red covered more than anyone could foresee.

As sunlight for some drew to it's close

Streets emptied of joy and friendships.

The commonality of picturing peers in beds of waste shaped our minds now.

Manning phone lines to support.

Folding, cutting, mailing, speaking of information was our doctrine.

And we...

...Yes we, turned and gathered some evenings like we were kin

To a new strength which released exhilarating pure tribal energy.

We became steadfast in the public’s eye.

We became disdained in places where one sat in pews with choirs.

We lived through the ignorance and judgement of gloves to touch us.

And the masked faces facing and deeming us lepers anew.

But we remained strong!


Toronto's response to the 1980's AIDS crisis was fast and fierce compared to other places. Those years turned average people into activists who courageously worked to change Ontario's health policies and save countless lives.

Through days where the pelting rain of “No!” to our askings of you...

...only made us ask louder in those many tomorrows ahead!

Reminders back in history helped to forge new ways of thinking.

New and inventive ways of raising funds needed for what was already spent.

New ways of a ground-breaking emergence in solidarity.

Walking and taking a strangers hand we were...

...the first human tsunami of Love, Pride and Courage!

 Flames fuelled by mothers who lost a son.

Matches struck by fathers in memory of a daughter.

Hands of partners embracing the embers for their halves gone forever.

The held lit glow of wax.

The held lit love reaching the stars.

Burned upward.

In unified candles.

In unified movement.

The sight of such was glorious and the Angels above took notice.

Fore the vision of light walking down those streets is testament to God's Love.

Fore the days before were not

So silently taken.

They were hard with the force of you listening.

Waiting for something.

Anything from you.



Would do.


“Silence equals death”, ACT UP

 Yet you chose to walk away.

Yet remain

Within the public news as a false-protector

Of country pride.

Some -  many  - several bought it.

Most believed it. All.

Believed the lies out of the Office to be the truth.

How could it not?

It was the Office of the country!

Canada’s voice.


Droves and Droves of Silence to our...


Simple worded.

All to deaf ears we asked.

All to locked hearts we spoke.

All to…


The pounding of office doors.

And doors

Where the office

Failed the fallen.


May 31, 1987 – Ronald Reagan finally speaks of AIDS. At this time 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died.

Elected became vain and cold.

They forgot us.

How does one miss seeing a plague?

Certainly never knew nor cared nor listened…

…to us!

Those years ago in the days of high death rates.

Where the Autumn had competition with humans falling each day.

We will remember their names.

As much as we remember our lost!

The promised sword of hope we wanted to trust

Turned outward and slayed innocent instead.

For the why?

We still ponder with the Ticking.

Clock ticking.

Tock Tick.

Broken Bell of Life now an ancient ruin amongst the graves

Of the great tower one believed to stand for all.

And as the elected move on to different future pursuits.

In this life they still walk.


And the families of the fallen,

The lovers of partnered love,

Have one single thing to hold close at heart.

The Red...



“The Canadian AIDS movement should be extraordinarily proud that it really broke the mould for patient advocacy. It broke down doors that were closed, making HIV-positive people part of the discussion with a seat at the table. It was about empowerment.” Richard Elliott, Executive Director, Canadian HIV-AIDS Legal Network

Perhaps seen as short

In payment or stature

For a life it replaces in pillage.

It holds such respect too numerous to dare doubt.

It's beauty is not the same as what the elected seek.

Like the power or the titles or the now moneyed positions.


The Red Ribbon is what these who sit four years their terms will never understand.

And as they did in fact depart sure enough those days ago.

Perhaps then and not til then as sorry’d faces leave permanently for inaction of a plague.

 When they had the single chance.

The one single moment to help.

The one single hour to amend the pain with release of funds.

The one single day they could stand and say they did impact the sea of blood.

 To be something other than the elected member who followed ranks.

And proudly wear this single piece of Ribbon'd Red

It stands firm as does the Maple Leaf which adorns our flag.

It stands firm as does the Stars and Stripes of another flag.

And with swords lashing

You didn't look!

You turned away without eyes!

You failed to even find the key!

All this with the Door paved by us laying the bricks…

...Laying the panels of The Quilt on the lawn where you work!

This was the Door with answers and doctors creating medicines.

Hope was knocked down like trash as you worded silence.

Huge numbers fell In those very early beginnings.


As America remembers the life of Ronald Reagan, it must never forget his shameful abdication of leadership in the fight against AIDS. History may ultimately judge his presidency  by the thousands who have and will die of AIDS.

It’s not that we’re angry.

It’s not that we are not.

It’s just that…

…some are still sweeping the streets of our loves’ ending.

Of the unsaid plague.

Of the vigils every year on World AIDS Day.

Of the pinned symbol over our heart for those gone and for those living.

We ask for your voice!

We ask for your acknowledgement!


"If the silence continues nobody

Will notice our inaction"

Says you.

Who strangely

And arrogantly

Remember your own name then.

And not the




Who began

The Red…

…of the Ribbon.


Written by Philip J. H. Dawson