"Keep the Promise" March: A Rebirth of Global AIDS Activism?
July 24, 2012
Written by Matthew Chase
As AIDS 2012 unfolds this week in Washington, D.C., activist demonstrations will take place both inside and outside of the convention center. On Sunday, July 22, shortly before the opening plenary of AIDS 2012, the “Keep the Promise” march and rally was launched at the Washington Monument with an estimated 1,000 participants. Speakers pressed for stronger political commitment and more financial resources, along with bringing back the “anger of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s” among AIDS activists. “Keep the Promise” was organized by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and was not officially affiliated with the International AIDS Society, secretariat to AIDS 2012.
Speakers at the Sunday rally touched on topics ranging from further eliminating U.S. visa restrictions to targeting alleged homophobia within the faith community but mostly focused their criticism on what they see as the global lack of funding and political will power. Though speakers mentioned the need for political leadership from developing countries and the G-20, most speeches advocated for greater U.S. funding and support. In a video message, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu argued that the world’s “tumultuous financial state” cannot stop the 30 years of progress achieved in the war against AIDS; the United States needs to sustain its commitment to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which Tutu emphasized has had a “tremendous impact” in South Africa. Talk show host Tavis Smiley and the academic/activist Dr. Cornel West urged those at the demonstration to hold President Obama accountable for his promise of creating an AIDS-free generation, and questioned Obama’s expenditures for the war in Afghanistan.
The reduction in PEPFAR funding was a significant rallying point for many in the audience; some participants commented that they were “confused” by President Obama’s proposed cut, which motivated them to join the rally. Some in the audience felt that the rally’s criticism of alleged AIDS activist fatigue in recent years was too harsh given the challenging global financial situation, but most attendees labeled the event a success, noting that the march played an important, yet separate, role from the International AIDS Conference in engaging the general public. One attendee from Cameroon, who is also a delegate at AIDS 2012, commented that a “rebirth” in global AIDS activism is necessary, but that activists must also engage in earnest with policymakers to “turn the tide together” – this year’s conference theme.
For President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Michael Weinstein, Sunday’s event was intended to serve as the “beginning of the rebirth of AIDS activism in the world” and address what he saw as the “laziness” of the activist community in recent years. The event, however, was much more sparsely attended than AHF initially anticipated. The organization’s initial press releases anticipated a crowd of up to 10,000, but press accounts estimate that the event drew out closer to 1,000 participants. Additionally, the march did not appear to receive support from international global health agencies such as UNAIDS and the Global Fund for Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, as some marches have at past AIDS conferences. At the rally, Weinstein criticized President Barack Obama for proposing a reduction to bilateral AIDS funding; and Governor Mitt Romney, presumptive Republican presidential candidate, for remaining silent on the issue of U.S. support for HIV/AIDS programs. (Governor Romney issued a statement on July 20 outlining his position on HIV/AIDS.)
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