Access Champions

Meet Izzy and Mahima

This week, we’d like to introduce you to two more members of our wonderful Free The Vaccine community: Izzy Levine and Mahima Arya, who are both from New Jersey! Izzy and Mahima are members of the Fox Lab, which is comprised of activists mostly from the Eastern part of the United States. They’ve been working to target the University of Pittsburgh!

Meet Izzy

Izzy Levine: McGill University student, artist, and activist

A psychology student at McGill University, Izzy has helped to build up the McGill chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, and has years of experience in the access to medicines movement; she was instrumental in getting McGill to adopt UAEM’s Global Access Licensing Framework. Izzy is a musician and artist, and has traveled as far as Guatemala to work on public health issues!

Meet Mahima

Mahima Arya: Carnegie Mellon University graduate, technologist, and designer

A recent graduate who studied Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, Mahima is passionate about accessible and inclusive technology. She loves to travel, and she once traveled solo in Cambodia for a week and visited Angkor Wat!

Now that you’ve met Izzy and Mahima, read on for what they’ve learned so far and what they’d like to share with fellow activists! This portion of their interviews have been condensed slightly for ease of reading.

What made you decide to join the Free The Vaccine campaign?

Izzy: The obvious answer is that because I was involved in UAEM, and haven’t been at school for a while, this was a great way to continue to do UAEM-related stuff. But I think it felt like a really important moment–UAEM’s been working on drug pricing and access to publicly-funded research for years, but all of a sudden it feels like a time where [the issue] wouldn’t be as niche. So many people recognize how important it is that COVID drugs be accessible and affordable, so it felt like a great time to hop on board!

Mahima: A close friend of mine is really into public health, and since I have no experience in this space, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get familiar with the area. I also think that the accessibility and affordability of medicines ties so directly into inclusivity as a whole, and I feel like that’s work that I’ve done, and so it makes sense that this would be work that I also feel strongly about.

What’s your most unique skill that’s come in handy during this campaign?

Izzy: Because a lot of this work includes spreading messages about access to medicines to the general public, sometimes the messages can be really wordy and seemingly complicated, which scares people off and makes people think at first glance that this is not a social justice cause. Being able to write about access to medicines issues in a way that is clear and makes it—like Mahima said—clearly about inclusivity and equity in general has been a useful skill.

Mahima: Knowing some design tools has come in handy when we’re putting those words into graphics!

What’s the most useful lesson you’ve learned from your work so far?

Mahima: The importance of making the message relatable. For us, since we’re doing work in Pittsburgh, that’s the place where Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine and made it accessible for everyone. So we’ve been reaching out to Pittburgh residents and relating the campaign back to that message. We’re trying to make it more digestible and easy to relate to.

Izzy: It’s easy to forget, when we’re in the middle of it, that not everyone recognizes how important this is. So… being okay with using very odd methods of getting people’s attention, that might feel too bizarre or extreme at first glance. Kooky ways to stand out and get your message across are never a bad thing! That is a useful lesson, I will say.

What’s the coolest idea you’ve gotten or skill you’ve learned from another participant?

Mahima: I’ll say two things. First, reading what Izzy had written was very helpful for getting me up to speed on what the whole movement is! Second, Elin and I worked on postcards to Pittsburgh together, and for those postcards, Elin came up with the idea to make our slogan “bridge the gap,” which was a play on how Pittsburgh has so many bridges. And I think that was a really cool idea, especially coming from her, since her knowledge of Pittsburgh is minimal.

Izzy: Since then that’s become our brand. “Bridge the gap.” The coolest skill I’ve learned has been from Mahima—design stuff. My tech skills lack in certain areas, so especially in a time when we’re all at home and a lot of digital activism is happening, which I have always thought was super powerful but it’s always made me stressed because I didn’t know how to do it very well, learning how to use sites like Figma helps a ton with the messaging of access to medicines.

Mahima: I couldn’t be more proud!

Thanks for reading the last spotlight of our campaign’s first phase! Make sure to check out the other spotlights on our website. We hope to continue introducing you to even more incredible activists and sharing their insights in the second phase of the campaign!
Access Champions

Free The Vaccine Gets A Shoutout From I-MAK

Our friends at I-MAK, which seeks to “increase global access to affordable life-saving medicines by restoring integrity to the patent system,” have launched a newsletter. In their first “something hopeful” segment, they’ve kindly chosen to highlight:

The excellent #FreeTheVaccine campaign, a global movement started by students and creatives demanding that publicly funded medicines for COVID are made accessible to everyone.

We’re so inspired by the work that I-MAK does, and flattered by the shoutout! Head to this link to subscribe to their newsletter and stay up-to-date on their cutting edge work!

Access Champions

Meet Elin

As the first phase of our campaign nears its end, we’d like to introduce you to Elin Chee, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and a member of our Fox Lab!

Meet Elin

Elin Chee, Data Scientist and Health Activist

A data scientist, artist, and activist who hopes to go into the medical field, Elin has worked on everything from designing postcards to researching the University of Pittsburgh tech transfer office over the course of the campaign. She’s proven to be an incredible force when it comes to organizing her teammates, helping to recap meetings and track action items. Here’s how she describes her experience with the first phase of Free The Vaccine…

What’s your most unique skill that’s come in handy during this campaign?

General creativity and design skills! I worked with some designers to make postcards that were sent to University of Pittsburgh researchers and administration. It was a lot of fun to work side by side with other designers to create impactful imagery and meaningful symbols on our postcards that would hopefully get these researchers and administration to engage in our message, and want to have conversations with us.

What’s the most useful lesson you’ve learned from your work so far?

The importance of having fun and keeping it light! Every week, I work with my team, and it’s so much fun to just reinvigorate ourselves, tell jokes, celebrate our small victories. And I think it helps us have the energy to go forward on this larger goal, because it can be so easy to be discouraged otherwise.

What’s the coolest idea you’ve gotten or skill you’ve learned from another participant?

The coolest idea I’ve learned from my entire team is how many diverse backgrounds there are [in the campaign] and how many walks of life people come from. It is very cool to meet weekly over Zoom with people from many different states, from very different disciplines, who have worked multiple jobs and study different things in school, but we all have this overarching passion. I think that’s been really cool, to see how everyone can end up here, from many different places.

We’re so grateful for Elin’s contributions to the campaign and her wonderful insights! Stay tuned to meet even more of our participants (and hear more of their lessons learned) over the next phase of the campaign.
Access Champions Take Action

How To: Make a Monument Mask

Remember this stunning action that the Ligers put together?

Turns out it’s pretty easy for you to do on your own, and we hope you will! To make the process as simple as possible, the Liger Lab has made this great how-to video for you:

Once you’ve made your masks, all that’s left to do is find an iconic statue in your area! Slip the mask on the statue (while wearing one of your own, of course), snap a photo, and then take the mask off the statue. In a recent Wednesday webinar, Steve (our Free The Vaccine project manager and veteran creative activist) offered some tips for documenting actions:

  1. Move your body as you take photos! Don’t be afraid of looking silly: you need the right angles for a good shot.
  2. Take a TON of photos. Expect to have one good photo for every twenty-four that you take!
  3. Capture the context and the detail. For example, take pictures of the area around the monument, and take close-up pictures of the mask you’ve made. You want to have all the information you need to tell a story in photos.
  4. Capture a before and after. (Mask on, mask off.)
  5. Use the best camera you can! You may have a really great camera or iPhone. You may need to borrow a friend’s.
  6. Ask questions and answer them. This can mean taking pictures and videos that tell a story, but it can also mean literally asking questions. Can you interview passersby to ask them what they think of the action?
  7. Think of one iconic photo that captures as much of the story as possible. This helps get your message out effectively in the media and on social media!

Don’t forget to tag us if you use these tips in your own mask action, or in another creative demonstration to free the vaccine.

Access Champions News

Highlight from the Dolphin Lab: Peter Singer Supports Free The Vaccine

Last week, famous Australian bioethicist Peter Singer tweeted his support for Free The Vaccine.

It wasn’t a random gesture of support; Dolphin Lab members had reached out asking for him to show his support on social media and for permission to use his support as leverage in meetings with the University of Melbourne–and he was happy to do both! The campaign around Melbourne continues to gain traction, as our activists make progress on the biggest version of the syringe sculpture yet (that means photos to come soon), and squad members plan how to make the most of this demonstration with posters and documentation.

Access Champions News

Highlights from Week 13: Meet Vivian and Kaity

This week, we’d like to introduce you to two more members of our wonderful Free The Vaccine community: Vivian Peng and Kaity Licina, both from Los Angeles, California! Vivian and Kaity are members of the Otter Lab, which is comprised of activists from California and mostly SoCal.

Meet Vivian

Vivian Peng, Design and Public Health Activist

A data scientist, artist, and activist with years of experience in the access to medicines movement, Vivian is a mentor in the Otter Lab who has traveled as far as Lashio and Rakhine state in Myanmar while on assignment with MSF with Doctors Without Borders!

Meet Kaity

Kaity Licina, Hairstylist for Film and TV

After the city shut down and filming on the television show she works on was postponed, Kaity—a hairstylist for film and television—decided to dedicate her talent for creative problem-solving to our campaign!

Now that you’ve met Vivian and Kaity, read on for what they’ve learned so far and what they’d like to share with fellow activists! This portion of their interviews have been condensed slightly for ease of reading.

What made you decide to join the Free The Vaccine campaign?

Vivian: One of the coolest things about participating in this campaign is seeing how many of the same access to medicines activists are still in this work, still in this fight, and also being able to share that information with a whole broader audience which we really wouldn’t have been able to reach previously. It’s exciting to see that kind of transformation.

Kaity: I saw this as an opportunity to be helpful for the greater good, and work in activism is something that normally, my schedule doesn’t really have a lot of time available for, so it was kind of a perfect storm. As it has worked out, the longer I’ve participated in Free The Vaccine, the longer it seems it will be before we’ll be able to go back to work in any sort of full-time capacity. So the timing is pretty perfect!

What’s your most unique skill that’s come in handy during this campaign?

Vivian: Probably my design skills! We printed these baseball cards of the research scientists we wanted to highlight as heroes of the campaign, and on the back of the card we have their “stats,” and we encourage them to sign the Open COVID Pledge. So we’ll be shipping these out to the researchers! I love having things in physical space, things you can touch. It’s harder to ignore than an email or something digital.

Vivian’s trading cards!

Kaity: Generally, people with a theatrical background and people who have trained to work in theater, whether at an academic or professional level, have a very [laughs] well-rounded skill set in terms of the idea that the show must go on. I can’t even count the number of times in my career I’ve been forced to solve a problem in the moment, creatively and quickly, to deliver projects under budget, to deal with all sorts of different personalities and all different levels of stress. Those “soft” skills that people talk about, in terms of teamwork and relating to groups, I think are where theater people kind of excel, because we’re just really used to big personalities, tight deadlines, long hours, and managing to get through it all. I’m used to making art on very small budgets, I started my career in the mid-2000s, so I was a starving artist for many years. And I’ve always sort of made stuff out of nothing. I’ve been making a lot of cut paper designs of posters, just because I have time, [laughs] I have paper, I have very little computer skills. I think the craftivism aspect is where my strength is.

What’s the most useful lesson you’ve learned from your work so far?

Vivian: To get to know people beyond their work, or whatever label we place on ourselves and on each other. When we were first getting to know each other as a group, we just went around and asked what everyone’s profession was. Some were students, some were artists, some worked in research, which is great! But I think the most interesting part was when midway through the campaign, we went around and shared what our hidden talents were, and I feel like that’s when it really opened up our brainstorming process, and opened up our possibilities. Because we were no longer just thinking about how we contribute as a “worker,” but thinking in terms of our interests and how we blend those mediums together. So a lot of people were talking about how they’re good at arts and crafts, or baking, or styling. My secret talent is that I’m really good at Photoshopping things. Not in a design sense, but for example, Photoshopping a cat’s head onto a human body and making it look seamless. Being able to break out of our molds was really inspiring and allowed a lot more ideas to flourish.

Kaity: Just how much there is to still learn about the way the world works, and the fact that profit is so much more of an incentive to a large part of the population. Being rich or having a lot of money has never been that interesting to me, or at least not a huge priority, and so the rude awakening of how the pharmaceutical industry is reducing access to medicines for people… has changed my outlook on the world forever. Because it’s such a sad idea to be hurting or to die just because you’re poor, or to become poor just because you’re unfortunately unwell. It hits really close to home. There were some incidents when I was younger and didn’t have health insurance where I had to be hospitalized, and I was too scared to ride in an ambulance because I knew I couldn’t afford it. And that’s unfortunately the case for a lot of people in this country. So now that I’m in a more comfortable position and I have the time to devote to helping other people, it feels important to me. I think it will be a cause I champion for the rest of my life.

What’s the coolest idea you’ve gotten or skill you’ve learned from another participant?

Vivian: The coolest piece I’ve seen in this whole campaign is the “Jolene” song. I’ve seen so many times when public health people try to make music or songs about public health messages, and it just comes out really cheesy, and this time I thought it was very clever, really well written. I was blown away by the talent of the people singing. Also, it felt like an effortless initiative to infuse pop culture rather than trying to force pop culture onto something that wasn’t a good fit. That’s been really cool to witness and it’s definitely inspired a lot of our own ideas.

Kaity: I will say that this time away from people, being home alone with only technology, has forced me to learn very quickly a lot of technology I was not familiar with. Zoom was brand new to me, sharing Google Docs was new to me, and watching the skill with which my teammates navigate the internet social media, and graphic design has been really amazing. They’re teaching me things, and I’m picking things up by osmosis.

Thanks for reading the second spotlight on our wonderful team! Make sure to check out the first spotlight if you haven’t read it yet. We hope to continue introducing you to the incredible people from so many different backgrounds doing this work!
Access Champions

Highlights from Week 12 Mission: Engage the Public

This week, our participants’ mission was to engage the public. That means reworking posters using detailed feedback from Avram Finkelstein, posting on social media to increase individual sign-on to the Open COVID Pledge (note: if you’re reading this and haven’t signed on yet, take a minute to go do so!), and directing our energies to one of three new labs specifically focused on public engagement:

  • The Cama Lab (that’s camel + llama, yes), to brainstorm social media tactics
  • The DogOwl Lab, for creating and refining posters and images
  • and The Narluga Lab, which is developing the traveling exhibit for our posters!
DogOwls, pictured in the wild.

Meanwhile, our existing Labs are thinking about how they can incorporate public engagement into their current work. For example…

The Bisons Use Their Partnerships

A couple weeks ago, we told you that the Bisons were developing relationships with the library and the Center for Bioethics at Indiana University. Thanks to their connections with the library, they’re now reaching out to all the researchers in IUPUI’s Open Access Repository COVID-19 collection to ask them to sign the petition supporting the OCP. Bison member Laura Holzmann is now also part of a campus-wide group dedicated to open science, and has asked the faculty governance group focused on research to add “open science and COVID-19” to their fall agenda. Finally, the group is working with the Center for Bioethics on a public-facing article for the Center’s new website on bioethics and the pandemic!

The Dolphins Craft… A Giant Syringe

Yes, you read that right, and this six foot syringe made by Greg Giannis is only a prototype! Stay tuned as the team works to scale up this sculpture to place on the grounds of the University of Melbourne and hopefully drum up some great press for the campaign. The team is also trying to incorporate lessons learned from Avram and the DogOwl Lab as they think about text and creative messaging to use on the side of the sculpture!

Looking Forward to Phase Two

As we near the end of the first phase of the Free The Vaccine campaign, with three weeks left, we’re having our participants reflect on what they’ve learned and how we can make Phase Two even more effective. We will not lose momentum between phases one and two. We’ll be taking everything we’ve created over the sixteen weeks of this incredible campaign and using it to increase our momentum and our impact in the fall! For now, we have the following internal goals as we ramp our efforts up in the last few weeks:

Thanks for keeping up with us, and here’s another reminder to sign on to the Open COVID Pledge as an individual if you haven’t had the chance yet!

Access Champions

Highlights from Week 11: Meet Dannie and Stacy

Each week, you’ve gotten to see the work our incredible activists are doing to free the vaccine. This week, we’d like to introduce you to two of them: Dannie Snyder of Austin, Texas, and Stacy Early of Memphis, Tennessee! Dannie and Stacy are members of the Coyote-5 squad, which is comprised of activists across the American South.

Meet Dannie

Dannie Snyder on Access to Medicines

A musician, theater practitioner, filmmaker, and poet, Dannie is also the recipient of Free The Vaccine’s very prestigious “Best Costume on Video Call” award. (We like to be goofy on calls, what can I say?)

Meet Stacy

An animal activist and artist with five rescue dogs, Stacy brings equal parts compassion and creativity to her work with the Free The Vaccine campaign! (One of our most active threads in the forum, by the way, is for participants to post pictures of their pets… as it should be.)

Now that you’ve met Dannie and Stacy, read on for what they’ve learned so far and what they’d like to share with fellow activists! This portion of their interviews have been condensed slightly for ease of reading.

What made you decide to join the Free The Vaccine campaign?

Dannie: When I got the email to join the Free The Vaccine campaign, it was kind of a no-brainer. I mean I was alone, in quarantine, freaking out a little bit, and then I got this email that was like, Hey, instead of freaking out, why don’t you do this thing that’s really productive, and you could be helping yourself and the whole world? Like I mentioned before, I was really intimidated by access to medicines, it was very outside of my comfort zone, so I just knew—yes, this is your calling… And one thing that’s great about the campaign is they’re really flexible. They totally understand that life is life, and because we’re [organized into] different squads and different Labs, we can designate responsibilities based off of our skill sets. It’s always very clear what the expectations are, what our deadlines are, and there’s no judgment when we have to ask for help.

What’s your most unique skill that’s come in handy during this campaign?

Stacy: I think one of the most useful skills I have put to use in this is my persistence. You can do all the research you want and spend time planning and do all these projects and then the people that you’re trying to approach or target might still not get back to you… but if you can just be persistent and have fun with it, it’s all completely worthwhile.

What’s the most useful lesson you’ve learned from your work so far?

Stacy: The most useful lesson I’ve learned in all of this is to really research the people you want to approach, or your targets. I didn’t realize that getting a sense of their interests and personality would make such a difference, but it really can when you’re trying to approach them creatively and not just with a normal letter or normal email.

Dannie: I would say the most useful lesson in this campaign has been understanding the pipeline from scientific research to medication and the vaccine. Understanding that pipeline, and then having the vocabulary for that pipeline. I think there are a lot of liberal and left campaigns where it’s cool and hip to support them, and people jump on these bandwagons before really doing the research and thinking critically… With access to medicines, I had to give myself a few weeks to just research, and I was able to take all of that [material provided by the campaign], and figure out: with my background, within this pipeline, where can I be the most effective?

What’s the coolest idea you’ve gotten or skill you’ve learned from another participant?

Dannie: As far as ideas about how to target people, how to really inspire them to change, the idea that I’ve been most drawn to is the idea of craftivism. I’m totally about artivism—art and activism—in fact, I’ve just spent two years getting a master’s in theories about art and activism, and now I’m finally getting to apply those theories. But I had kind of underestimated the idea of crafting, the idea of making something unique and precious for a target specifically. So instead of making a banner for the whole world to see, making a scarf for one person, and embroidering on it a message. I’m using an example from Sarah Corbett, I think she’s the one who coined this term. I think of all the times people made me a gift and how special it made me feel, and now I’m doing it for [our targets]. I think of my work in restorative justice, and this is totally tapping into that, tapping into empathy, and how to take the anger that we feel in activism and how to transform it and make it fuel. Right now I’m making a gift box for my targets, it’s going to be gift-wrapped, it’s going to have bows and color, it’s going to have things in it which I’ve made personally, which I can show you…

At this point in the video, Dannie showed off a beautiful mask she’s made. Here’s a picture of her wearing it!

Stacy: Way too hard to choose! This is an amazing group of 300 creatives, activists, scientists from around the world. Just the fact that all these people have come together for one project is pretty amazing. The willingness to brainstorm and help each other out, contribute, and hop into one group when they have a skill that that group can use… I’m pretty impressed with absolutely everyone and feel really honored to be able to work with them. For a specific project though, if I had to pick one I think it would be the “Jolene” song parody. I live in Tennessee, so a little partial. But also, I liked how that came together. People in so many different states are working on that, and again, no one knew each other before. So that’s pretty amazing!

Thanks for reading the first spotlight on our wonderful team! We hope to continue sharing individual experiences and insights with you in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
Access Champions

Highlights from the Week 10 Mission: Spheres of Influence

This week, our participants thought about the spheres of influence for our campaign and how they might give people in each sphere the opportunity to get involved with their actions. As part of this mission, they also refined the posters they’ve been working on for the past couple weeks! Here’s a graphic that illustrates what we mean by spheres of influence:

Let’s take a look at how some of our squads interpreted this week’s mission!

The Narlugas Are Born

First off, we have a brand new lab: the Narlugas, who are working to create a physical and virtual exhibition of the posters our participants are making, which will help to increase our engagement with the public! In lab founder Laura Holzman’s words:

We’re creating a Free the Vaccine exhibition to tell a story about artistic activism and access to medicines in a way that invites new audiences to harness their own power to promote equity.

We’re envisioning a virtual traveling exhibition with optional physical components that many venues can host at once. Our primary audience is university communities. We want to create space for serious, difficult conversations about how universities can make a big difference in making medicine more affordable and accessible. We’re also providing a more immediate resource: reliable, substantive content that campus galleries can host for free as they navigate new policies related to in-person and virtual programming.

As we try to increase public support for our campaign, the virtual exhibition will help us reach a wider audience and tap into university students and faculty, who have a stake in and leverage over institutional licensing policies.

The Boars Get Animated

The Boars are almost finished with this great video targeting CureVac, which they hope to edit and use for other targets as well! While you won’t understand the video unless you know German, I think you’ll agree that the animation is super adorable and high quality:

I love this action because not only does it have the potential to capture the attention of targets, but it’s a great video to disseminate to the public as well. The team is currently thinking of the best way to share the video with employees at CureVac and other research institutes!

The Bisons Make Connections

We’d like to share the really interesting approach that the Bisons have taken at Indiana University. While many of our squads have made researchers their primary targets, the Bisons have focused on building relationships with the Indiana University library, because they’re already involved with open access efforts, and with the university’s Public Relations department, which is working to promote its COVID-19 research. By building a coalition of support within various branches of the university, they’re thinking more broadly about their circles of influence and the types of groups that can give them leverage in the campaign.

And Now, Posters…

We shared some last week, but we’re excited to share these new visuals coming out of our Labs! We look forward to showing these posters and more to a broad audience once our traveling gallery is established.

This one is so simple, but really tugs at the heartstrings and gets our message across so effectively.
We love how the visuals created for the Otter lab’s playing cards can be repurposed and used as posters!
Access Champions

Highlights from the Week 9 Mission: Turn Up The Pressure

This week, our participants continued to work on poster designs and powerful visuals to use in their actions! At the same time, they helped each other turn up the pressure on their targets, brainstorming responses to reluctant targets and sharing approaches that work. We have exciting updates coming for you soon on that front, but for now, here’s what some of our teams have been up to this week:

The Dolphins Light A Fire

While the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne declined to sign the Open COVID Pledge, that’s not the end of this story for the Dolphins. The team wrote an excellent response a) highlighting the $17 million in public funding the university has received, according to UAEM’s mapping project, b) asking the university to explain what it has done (if anything) to ensure access, so that we can report this to our global network, and c) reminding the university of our high-profile allies, like Doctors Without Borders, and other universities which have adopted our recommendations, like McGill. Their response will serve as a great model for our other squads to use if conversations with university leadership stall.

The Seals Weave A Story

Meanwhile, our Seal team has seen major progress on their “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Scientists” project, drafting a letter to the researcher Hanneke Schuitemaker and commissioning the artist Onke Truijen to paint her portrait. Their letter to Hanneke includes the beginning of her tale, asking her to complete the story by supporting Free The Vaccine and the Open COVID Pledge! It’s a beautiful way to combine their creative tactic with their strategy for convincing their target. And speaking of beautiful, check out the portrait and book cover in progress.

The Labs Play With Images

Our activists are constantly looking for creative ways to communicate a rather technical issue and connect with people. This project from the Seals makes our argument extremely clear: in the fight against the pandemic, IP and patents “protect” the virus from our prevention and treatment efforts, allowing the pandemic to continue.

Here are some more poster ideas, from across the Salk Labs:

1. Take Action for People's Vaccine

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