Student activists from the Harvard College Global Health and AIDS Coalition elicited a response from President Barack Obama by staging a protest during the president’s speech at a rally for Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 in Boston this past Saturday.
The group used Obama’s appearance at this event in the Hynes Convention Center, which was explicitly held to support Patrick, as an opportunity to draw attention to the president’s promises to increase AIDS funding, made in his 2008 presidential campaign.
Marguerite Thorp ’11, one of the organizers of the protest, expressed concern that Obama had stated he would fund the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief with $50 billion over five years, but had only increased funding by a fraction of this target.
“The goal was really to take Obama off of [the speech’s intended] message to focus just for a second on an issue that is extremely important,” said HAC member Scott T. Gregg ’12.
The students waited until the president got on stage to uncover white t-shirts and hold up banners and posters that stated “Keep the Promise” and “$50 Billion for Global AIDS.”
When the president paused during his speech, the students chanted “Broken Promises Kill! Fund global AIDS!” and “You Promised More: $50 Billion!”
Obama tried to play off these interruptions by commenting that “One of the great things about being a Democrat is we like arguing with each other,” before telling protesters “Take a look at the what the Republican leadership has to say about that, because we increased AIDS funding.”
Harvard students from both the College and the Medical School—who were joined by a group of undergraduates from Dartmouth College—were escorted from the private event by security during Obama’s speech.
They resumed their protest outside the convention center, where the event was being held.
Abigail E. Schiff ’11 said that “although it was exciting because Obama did actually respond,” the funding increases the president referred to were “hardly at all what he had committed to.”
Members of the public who had waited in line for hours to get into the rally were generally unappreciative of the student demonstration.
The audience booed during the protesters’ chants. and attempted to drown them out with shouts of “Yes We Can” and “Four More Years.”
But some attendees reacted differently.
“They were expressing their rights as Americans,” rally attendee John Barruci said of the student protesters and demonstrations.