October 12, 2007
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE OBAMA?
Is he with us or against us?
Last week, the Update reported that a handful of enterprising young activists (or “bird-doggers”) had gotten verbal commitments from presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joe Biden (D-DE) to spend $50 billion dollars in five years on global AIDS.
It’s been much harder to pin down Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who has dodged bird-doggers at two recent events.
Last week, advocates were thrilled with the news that Obama had committed to the $50 billion designated by experts as the amount needed to quell the global AIDS crisis. During an October 4 Obama rally at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Luther College student Steph Lim stood near the press and waved a sign that read “Stop AIDS” in hopes of being one of three lucky Luther students permitted to ask Obama a question. To her delight, her efforts paid off, and Obama called on her.
“I was overwhelmed,” Lim said, “This was my first time asking a question in front of a big crowd so it was a little intimidating.” She kept her wits about her long enough to ask Obama about his commitment to fighting global AIDS. According to Lim, Obama answered that he was committed to putting $50 billion dollars into the Global AIDS Fund, though he did not specify that he would do so in five years—nor did he specify any other timeline for payment.
But just two days later, Obama seemed to renege on his pledge. At an October 6 Obama rally in Rock Hill, SC, bird-dogging medical student, Mary Carol Jennings, asked Obama if he was “still on board” with putting $50 billion toward global AIDS, given his commitment to do so at Luther College. According to Jennings, Obama replied, “I said 50 billion for foreign aid,” not AIDS. “We'll see how much of $50 billion that actually works out to be.”
This isn’t the first time Obama has side-stepped bird-doggers. On September 18, at an Obama rally in Washington DC, Stephanie Devita, an outreach Fellow for the University Coalitions for Global Health, and a group of friends chanted “$50 billion for global AIDS, $50 billion for global AIDS” in hopes of goading Obama into a reaction. After repeating the mantra about seven times, according to Devita, Obama let out a laugh and said, “I hear you and I’ve heard you.” Obama later went on to discuss the AIDS crisis in Africa, making a point to look toward Devita’s crew, to which they responded with enthusiastic applause. He also told a story about a woman who had engaged in political chanting to illustrate his belief that “one person can make a difference.”
But at the conclusion of Obama’s remarks, as he exited through the audience, one of Devita’s friends extended her hand and asked Obama if he would support giving $50 billion dollars over five years to global AIDS programs. According to Devita, Obama’s demeanor abruptly shifted. “I've told you all before that I am in favor of increased funding. You're all starting to frustrate me and should be ashamed of yourselves." Another member of the group then attempted to shake Obama’s hand, to which he replied, “Let go of my hand, let go, let go,” tapping the young advocate’s hand as he spoke.
What We Know
While Obama has said he opposes the Bush administration's abstinence-only approach to HIV prevention, he has remained largely silent on how he would address the domestic AIDS epidemic. In a December 1, 2006 Worlds AIDS Day speech, however, Obama called for a $1 billion a year increase in funding to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) over the next five years. The Update was unable to reach Obama’s camp for comment.
To date, John Edwards remains the only 2008 presidential candidate who has released a comprehensive plan that addresses the AIDS crisis at home and abroad. The plan calls for spending $50 billion over five years on HIV/AIDS treatment and using World Health Organization, rather than Food and Drug Administration standards, to hasten the availability of new AIDS drugs.
Keep following the Update for more stories about bird-doggers as they continue encouraging the 2008 presidential candidates to voice their plans for combating global and domestic AIDS.