AIDS United released a resource outlining the principle of meaningful involvement as it applies to people who use drugs (PWUD) –- what it means and how it can be accomplished. The fact sheet highlights non-discriminatory hiring and funding practices, training, and education as key to accomplishing meaningful involvement of PWUD in policy and program planning. The fact sheet outlines both “dos” and “don’ts” for meaningful involvement –- social justice organizations and coalitions need to start paying attention to the “don’ts” by interrogating the ways in which they interact with the communities they seek to serve.
Oftentimes in social justice movements, the phrase “bring them to the table” is used as the catch-all for meaningful involvement of affected populations. The applications of this phrase are often limited and problematic –- success is measured by having one person whose identity, health status, or trauma is called on over and over again. It is critical not to use personal identity or disclosure of health status as a point of tokenization, and this balance can be struck in multiple ways. When possible, compensate people for their time and create safe spaces so multiple PWUD feel able to attend a meeting. Viral hepatitis, HIV, and criminalization intersect at this community, and it’s important to educate your own networks and reduce stigma against PWUD. Rather than saying “bring them to the table,” it may be time to start asking “how can I go to their table?”