Last night’s World AIDS Day Rally took both a commemorative and a political tone as more than 100 people gathered in the Boston Common gazebo to honor the millions of lives that have been lost to the disease and to advocate for further funding and support for health care across the globe.
“It took a combined effort to make this work tonight,” said Rumbidzai C. Mushavi ’12 of the Harvard African Student Association. “Obviously the weatherman didn’t cooperate, but the idea is that HIV/AIDS continues regardless of the weather, and so will we.”
Mushavi added that members of many student organizations—including HASA, the Harvard College Global Health and AIDS Coalition (HAC), the Black Students Association, the Chinese Students Association, Harvard Queer Students and Allies, and several campus religious groups—as well as students from local universities, had gathered to remember those who have died and to take a stand for further action.
“Let us not forget how far we’ve come and let us not forget how far we need to go,” Mushavi said. “We can eliminate HIV/AIDS in the next generation but we need to act now.”
Patrick T. Lee, who directs the Global Primary Care Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital and serves as medical director for the social justice and health organization Tiyatien Health, also encouraged attendees to take action, emphasizing putting global solidarity into practice by delivering health care across the globe.
“Health workers must be trained, equipped, and paid so they can accompany patients on their road to recovery,” Lee said. “All of you, especially students and young professionals, see the difference between the world as it is and the world as it could be and should be—you are in a position to speak truth to power.”
Members of HAC have been striving to reach out to political powers by communicating with political leaders, hoping to elicit a public move in favor of HIV/AIDS funding. Of communications with Senator John Kerry, HAC member Lulu R. Tsao ’12 said that HAC members have been “dogging him to keep his promise to fight for funding,” but have not received a response.
“We’re not here just to commemorate the victims of the epidemic, but also to call on Senators Kerry and Brown to be public advocates for global AIDS funding,” Tsao said.
At the end of the rally, attendees marched to Kerry and Brown’s offices, chanting and armed with personalized note cards asking the senators to hold Obama accountable to his promises to fund the fight against AIDS at home and around the world.
Marguerite Thorp ’11, another member of HAC involved in the political side of the group’s work, said that their meetings with Kerry’s staff had been “full of rhetoric, but no action yet.” She added that today’s rally occurs at a key moment, as Obama is soon to finalize the budget for the next fiscal year. HAC and other global health and AIDS advocates hope for an increase of at least $1.8 billion for global health and AIDS funding.
The rally featured several speakers, a spoken word piece, and a performance of “Waterfalls” and “There’s Hope” by KeyChange, a Harvard a capella group featuring music of the African diaspora and committed to serving the community.
KeyChange music director Keith B. Doelling ’11 said that music can bring people together and inspire them to action.
“Sometimes we need to focus on the future and work toward not just making words or music, but making change,” Doelling said. “Even with all our daily troubles—whether our busy schedules or addressing issues in global health—we still can have hope for the next day.”
—Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood can be reached at email@example.com.