Fifteen Harvard undergraduates will descend upon Capitol Hill today to lobby for more government funding of space development and AIDS programs.
The trip to Washington by two blocs of Harvard students comes as Congress debates budget appropriations and the White House prepares to send an emergency supplemental funding bill to Congress.
One group of lobbyists is led by Benjamin M. Wikler ’03, co-founder of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), a nationwide network of groups at high schools and universities in 43 states. Wikler also spearheaded the Harvard AIDS Coalition.
The other group, the Society for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) is led by William J. Pomerantz ’02, president of the organization.
Wikler’s effort is part of what his group calls “National Lobby Day,” a day designated by SGAC as a time for advocates of increased AIDS funding to take their case to Washington.
“Today 8,200 people are going to die of AIDS and our government is standing by watching,” Wikler said. “Bush is willing to spend $200 million. There are 40 million people with HIV. If Bush thinks each of those lives is worth $5, we tend to disagree.”
According to Brett Simchowitz ’05, he and 54 other SGAC members from across the country will be in the capitol today, where they will receive lobbying training from professionals from national lobbying organizations.
Students will also meet with prominent legislators, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 (D-Mass.) and House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).
According to a SGAC press release, the group is displeased with what it says is President Bush’s low budget request for global AIDS funding in 2003.
SGAC is requesting a minimum of $1.2 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for 2003 as well as $750 million in emergency spending.
William S. Prichard ’03, an officer of SGAC and of the Harvard AIDS Coalition said he is optimistic that Congress can be pressured into devoting more resources to fighting AIDS.
“AIDS is the greatest threat to human life and is the greatest example of global injustice,” he said. “Confronted with the facts and sufficient lobby Congress will be forced to act.”
While SGAC, in its second year of existence, is a relative newcomer to the lobbying scene, some members of SEDS are veterans.
According to Pomerantz, for the past three years members of the group have paid entirely out of pocket the cost of going to Washington for what they call “March Storm.”
But this year SEDS’ costs are being covered for the first time by the Institute of Politics (IOP)—and the group also found Harvard alumni willing to house them for free.
Pomerantz said that while the group is grateful for IOP funding, students were not discouraged in past years by the costs of paying their own way to Washington.
“This is the way American politics is supposed to work,” Pomerantz said. “If you really care about something you contact your senator or go visit him. When we go to the Hill everyone else is a paid lobbyist and when I tell them I am paying my own way, taking time out from school, I had to convince them this was true.”
Pomerantz and four others join a diverse group of space enthusiasts—including former NASA and Boeing employees and historians—who will be at this year’s March Storm, where they will work with the professional lobbying group Prospace.
March Storm calls for increased incentives for businesses to do research and development in space and for NASA to abandon research that doesn’t require cutting-edge technology—thereby giving the private sector a chance to compete in the space market.