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Conscience Magazine

Journey for Justice

By Amanda Ussak November 30, 2018

Waging JusticeWaging Justice, the story of one man’s personal and professional journey to bring about global equity, details how Dr. Paul Zeitz drove a powerful agenda to the forefront of global policy making in the fight against HIV & AIDS. Simultaneously a personal memoir and documentary, Waging Justice is a guide for current and future activists, rich with lessons learned and take-away strategies that can be applied to any cause.

Waging Justice weaves a unified thread of motivation through nearly an entire life’s work. From his earliest memories growing up in Philadelphia, Dr. Zeitz had a calling to help others, and a defiant streak to do so in the way he believed was best, often going against the established norms. First as a medical student pursuing non-traditional osteopathic medicine, through his vocal advocacy for a bigger financial commitment from the global community to the HIV & AIDS crisis, to his refusal to quit when challenged by politicos that disagreed with his methods, Dr. Zeitz has made a life’s work of being bold and speaking truth to power. As an epidemiologist with more than a decade of field experience in Africa, Dr. Zeitz combined his topical knowledge with mentorship from civil rights and social change leaders to become a tireless advocate for global justice and human rights. He has received the Global Health and Development Achievement Award from The George Washington University for his many accomplishments.

Dr. Zeitz’ work on HIV & AIDS began in 1994 while serving with USAID in the Republic of Zambia. Witnessing the mass devastation caused by the epidemic in Zambia first hand, including the loss of neighbors and close colleagues, motivated Dr. Zeitz to found the Global AIDS Alliance (GAA) upon his return to the US in 2000. German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, quoted in the book, said, “the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” This was the case for Dr. Zeitz.

“Complacency and comfort with status quo are the problems,” Dr. Zeitz writes. In this single line is his central critique of, and motivation to change, the global fight against epidemics like HIV & AIDS. Dr. Zeitz wanted to take a stand for the “conscience of compassionate Americans”, and make sure that was reflected in US foreign assistance to the HIV & AIDS crisis in Africa. The GAA served as this voice, calling for compassionate debt relief in countries afflicted by AIDS and a commitment by the US to contribute its fair share to a $10 billion fund to combat AIDS in Africa. These efforts led to a successful push for President Bush to adopt the highest funding option for his Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Waging Justice is a front seat for what it’s like to a build a successful movement. In his efforts towards a global HIV & AIDS coalition, Dr. Zeitz grapples with the same challenges we face in the reproductive rights movement: mission drift, limited resources, turf wars, disagreements over approach with advocates and organizations that claim to be fighting the same fight. Dr. Zeitz lets readers follow him as he weaves an expert path towards his goals, balancing resources and timing, finding the right levers to press, and bringing together people who care about an issue with people who have power to influence funding or policy. Even when pushed out of the conversation, organization, or government, Dr. Zeitz used media savvy to garner attention to his causes, holding the Bush Administration and Congress accountable.

Dr. Zeitz walks the reader through not only the big losses and wins but also the daily life of someone fighting poverty, disease, injustice, and violence. The mundane, the frustrations, the joys, the stalls, the one-day successes and the personal life fallouts. He highlights (often by his own failures to do so) the need for self-preservation, healthy habits, and work-life balance, to maintain a life-long career in advocacy. Deeply thoughtful and introspective about every challenge and turn in his life, Dr. Zeitz teaches about the inside work that needs to be done in order to have the type of outward success that he can claim. The reader is given a window into a typically closed off process in which Dr. Zeitz aligns his internal compass with his external goals, making him a more powerful advocate for justice. He is not the typical advocate but this story shows that is exactly why he was able to break through.

An indirect takeaway from this book is the importance of diverse voices to the success of a movement. Although not personally impacted by HIV or AIDS, Dr. Zeitz stands up and fights for the cause. Sharing his experiences in Zambia, he provides a voice for those who have died from AIDS and have no voice to advocate for future generations. By fighting for increased donor commitment to stop AIDS in Africa, he amplifies the voices of those who aren’t heard in decision-making rooms. All causes and social movements benefit from a range of faces and voices to push their agenda through. Women’s movements need men; gay rights movements, straight allies; voter rights efforts, the franchised– and Dr. Zeitz demonstrates how to take on the cause without taking over the movement.

The urgency surrounding the AIDS epidemic we saw in the late 1990s and early 2000s has dissipated and the issue has dropped off the priority list of many global fora. Today, with the advent of many life-saving AIDS treatments and highly effective antiretrovirals, HIV & AIDS is now considered by some to be a “life sentence” instead of a “death sentence.” But access and affordability of these drugs remains limited in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS is still a top killer. In this climate where the fight against AIDS seeming to have taken a back seat or is considered “manageable”, Dr. Zeitz’s book underscores that AIDS response isn’t just about numbers and dollars but about the individual lives and the great potential that is truncated needlessly because of location and economics.

Coming at a time of deep political divide, increased talk of isolationism, and a zero-sum approach to every issue, Dr. Zeitz reminds us that we’re part of a global community and shows us that if we remain focused on the problem, we can achieve solutions that rise above our divisions. He reminds us, in the words of Hebrews 10:23, to “Hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.”

Waging Justice: A Doctor’s Journey to Speak Truth and Be Bold
Dr. Paul Zeitz
(Balboa Press, 370 pp) 978-1982205423, $25.95

Amanda Ussak
Amanda Ussak

is the International Program Director at Catholics for Choice.