On April 8 2020 Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 held it’s first online meeting. Since then we’ve had over 700 people participate in our campaign. We’ve don’e actions all over the world, had some pretty special folks stop by, and kept our eyes on the goal of achieving safe, effective, affordable vaccines for everyone across the globe. We asked a few of our participants to share some reflections of their time with Free the Vaccine over the past year, and here’s what they had to give…
Bringing together her art and her activism
Rachel Gita Karp shares:
When I joined Free the Vaccine in April 2020, I was an artist and an activist that was trying to tie the two aspects of my life together, but I wasn’t too sure if I was being particularly affective or effective in any of it.
But then in just the first few weeks, I took part in things I would never have considered possible.
Throughout that first season, Free the Vaccine was such a central part of my life. So I decided to try to make it more formally a part of my life–and more things I would never have considered possible happened: I became the Lead Project Manager for the campaign, and I also started working for one of its co-founders, the Center for Artistic Activism.
In the months that have followed, I’ve seen and supported hundreds of people like me–with a similar passion for bringing vital, systemic change to our world–join the campaign. Together we’ve learned about artistic activism and access to medicines and created immensely affective and effective actions that are making COVID-19 healthcare more equitable and accessible around the world.
Inspiration through tools and tactics of creative activism
Dannie Snyder, one of the minds behind the Dolly Parton Jolene parody video reflect on her evolution from artist to activist during her time with Free the Vaccine. See Dannie’s projects in our exhibit.
Hope and purpose through Free the Vaccine
From Sernah Essien – A little over one year ago, I hung up after an hour-long phone call with Merith, the executive director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and a woman I’m proud to call a friend. We discussed with incredulity the speed in which life was changing in response to the pandemic. I probably sounded scared and unhinged (honestly, who didn’t then), but she didn’t comment on it. Instead, she told me about an idea she’d begun to work on, a virtual advocacy group that would advocate proactively to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine. We both knew the decades-long history of global inequity in access to medicines, so we seized the rare opportunity to organize for vaccine equity even before a vaccine was approved. Our goal was three-pronged: any COVID health technology should be made available to all, sustainably priced, and free at the point of delivery. With this goal in mind, we, as students and organizers in UAEM, launched the
Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 campaign on April 8, 2020, in conjunction with our creative collaborators, the Center for Artistic Activism.
In the year that I’ve been involved with Free the Vaccine, I’ve had my outlook on activism and organizing transformed. The campaign emphasizes the use of creative, culturally-informed tactics towards achieving our goals. As a fairly traditional “let’s-write-4-op-eds-and-organize-a-protest” activist, this emphasis was foreign to me and seemed like a waste of time. However, it is precisely our creative tactics that have allowed us to have the success and virality— no pun intended— we have had. Through music videos, collector cards, inflatable syringes, and more, we’ve brought visibility to the urgent issue of equitable access to COVID-19 health technologies and stoked conversation around man-made barriers to medicines and vaccines. Interestingly, encouraging creativity
in our actions enabled us to think creatively about our goals as well. During season 2, a participant suggested we target a group other than a university; though I was initially hesitant, I asked myself, “Why not?” I’ve learned there is no one way to build power or reach advocacy goals. That realization was liberating, and has enabled us to welcome hundreds of people from various backgrounds into our campaign.
Our work in this campaign has been as informed by powerful non-governmental bodies such as the World Health Organization as much as it has been by our community of participants spanning 6 continents.
Our global community has provided crucial context on how people within their countries perceive vaccines, have responded to the pandemic, and how the actions of particular countries influence many others.
Most importantly, this community has provided a practical example of global solidarity at work. In banding together to build power and convince institutions and governments alike to prioritize global solidarity in their response, we have literally and figuratively provided the blueprint for making it happen.
In a time where hope has not been constant and the distance between friendly faces feels infinitely large, Free the Vaccine has been crucial for my own sense of purpose and connectedness. From being a Wednesday night DJ to productive squad meetings, I have sourced an unexpected amount of joy and belonging from the former strangers involved in this campaign. These strangers turned comrades have pushed me forward, and I am confident we will continue to build our community and push each other forward until our vision is realized.
A few words from our wise counselors…
Members of the Free the Vaccine advisory group shared a few words too!
The question I’m asked with increasing frequency by journalists, historians, archivists and activists is, “Are there any similarities between HIV/AIDS and COVID-19, and are you aware of any activism surrounding this current pandemic?” I have a lot to say about the subject, and one of them is to brag about the fantastic global work being done by every one of you! Thank you for your amazing work this year, and for giving me such a clear direction to point them in. –Avram Finkelstein
Declan Sakuls gave it everything he had to be able to get the message of vaccine equity to the world! Don’t worry, he finally got there.