2020 in review: AIDSWatch and Road to Resiliency

AIDSWatch is only possible with the support of our community partners and sponsors. Particularly so in 2020, as carefully laid plans were rapidly changed due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building our communities’ capabilities to speak truth to power has become only more important during the ongoing global epidemic and renewed protests of state violence against Black people and many communities of color. The AIDSWatch planning partners responded by not only transitioning our annual spring AIDSWatch event to virtual but also by hosting an AIDSWatch extension event, Road to Resiliency, in the fall.

AIDSWatch 2020 as an in-person event was scheduled for March 30-31. But, as the COVID-19 outbreak grew into a full-fledged pandemic by the early days of March, it became clear that the event at the end of the month was at risk. By March 10, the planning partners made the decision that as leading public health organizations, we had to act quickly and out of an abundance of caution, with the health of our staff and the well-being of our constituents, partners, and communities as our number one priority. 

We were proud to model safe practices as the first national conference in the field to transition to virtual. And, our team pulled it off 20 days before the event. Jumping into high gear, the AIDS United staff shifted the plans for the in-person event to be online, coordinating with more than 50 external partners, not to mention the over 350 people planning to travel to Washington, D.C., to collaborate on and attend the event. The planning partners were so grateful (but not surprised) by the response from our attendees, sponsors and partners — you knew that our communities’ health was the most important aspect of AIDSWatch, and accepted these necessary shifts with the unwavering support of the AIDSWatch goals. 

Despite the numerous logistical hurdles presented by the switch to virtual, we were all committed to making sure legislators were still able to hear about our communities’ needs and to strengthening our collective advocacy. In all, AIDSWatch 2020 was able to have an even bigger impact as a virtual event, in some ways. The accessibility of being virtual combined with Facebook livestreaming our morning plenary allowed even more advocates to be a part; we had over 2,500 advocates join us throughout the day on various platforms. 

Seeing the need to gather again as a community later in the year, the AIDSWatch planning partners later decided to host AIDSWatch: Road to Resiliency on Sept. 29-30.

The event brought together folks from throughout the HIV field to share best practices from across the movement, as we have all adapted to the impacts of COVID-19; to discuss the opportunities to advance racial justice and remove the systemic disparities faced by Black and Brown people; to collaborate on solutions to sustain the field in these unprecedented economic times.

AIDS United was proud to once again be in the role of convener and creating spaces for our communities to join together and work toward our desired future. The fall AIDSWatch consisted of four plenary sessions that focused on what has been learned about HIV and COVID-19 in the last six months, racial justice in the HIV movement, voting as HIV advocacy and what’s on the horizon for the HIV movement.

With panelists and attendees from every corner of the United States coming together not once, but twice, these events were a fantastic showing of what the HIV community has been, can and will continue to fight for.