In case you weren't sure that grassroots AIDS activism really worked, I can no promise you it does. This year, Congress lifted their ban on funding needle exchange programs. Here's how it went down, as far as I know:
1) Grassroots AIDS activists worked to get a President, Senators, and Representatives elected who would lift the ban.
2) They got into office and we immediately started writing, calling, protesting, opining in the media, and more, reminding them of their promises.
3) They balked.
4) We pressured. We talked to our Congresspeople, we wrote letters to the editor, we shined the media spotlight on those who were going back on their promises.
5) They balked some more.
6) We pressured some more. 26+ AIDS activists shut down the capitol building, getting arrested in the process. The media covered us.
7) Speaker Pelosi and Representative Obey had a little chat... the result: A House appropriations bill that lifted the ban on funding syringe exchange, sort of, but with a restriction that made it impossible to actually get funding.
8) We pressured some more. Phone calls, lobby visits, demonstrations, more letters to the editor... We made maps and calculated that syringe exchanges in Philly could only operate in the Schuylkill River, and in DC could only operate in Congress!
9) The Senate and the House missed their deadlines and needed to repackage their appropriations bill into one big bundle (the omnibus spending bill) and, knowing that they needed to lift the ban and do it right, managed to do it.
You can tell from the way they lifted the ban, by saying that exchanges could be located anywhere, but that public health and local law enforcements could ask them to relocate if needed, that they actually heard the voices of people who run needle exchanges and people who use them. We got those voices into their offices, in their faces, saying, "look, we know how this works and you better not mess it up." And we won. They listened. That's how activism and democracy are supposed to work.