More than 2,000 HIV/AIDS activists from around the world took part in the “Make the Promise” march through downtown Washington on Sunday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, journalist Tavis Smiley, Dr. Cornel West and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young were among those who urged President Obama and other elected officials to do more to combat the domestic epidemic during an earlier rally near the Washington Monument.
“We believe today will be the start of a turning point in the battle against AIDS,” said AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein during a pre-rally press conference.
“Today is not just about a march on Washington to end AIDS; this is about a rebirth of AIDS activism across this country. Our message today is the war against AIDS has not been won. Our message today is that the world must keep its promise. Now is not the time to withdraw and also today that the voices of people living with HIV in this organization will be heard.”
The gathering took place hours before Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others spoke at the International AIDS Conference’s opening plenary at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Obama is scheduled to address the gathering later this week in a short video message, but the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and some HIV/AIDS activists have criticized him for not attending the conference in person. (Comedian Margaret Cho, who emceed the “Keep the Promise” rally, noted that the president actually flew over the Mall during the event on his way to meet with victims of the Aurora, Colo, movie theater massacre and their families.)
“[AIDS] is such an important issue — it is a global issue,” Cho told the Blade before the rally as she responded to a question about Obama’s absence from the International AIDS Conference.
“It is something that we really need to talk about and deal with and so it’s disappointing to think that he wouldn’t be there, but at the same time the fact we’re all here — we are American. We’re the world and that’s all that matters. This is really for us and it will inspire I think the government to get more involved when they see all these people out here dealing with this, talking about this, celebrating ourselves,” Cho said.