The Guinness World Record for the largest mobilization of human beings was recently broken when 173 million people demanded that their governments eradicate extreme poverty around the world. But U.S. media barely noted the call and San Francisco's event had low attendance, suggesting an uphill struggle for the cause in the world's richest nation.
Millions gathered at more than 3,000 Stand Up, Take Action events in 120 countries Oct. 16-18 in an attempt to put pressure on governments to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, but less than 30 people gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to support the movement.
Sup. John Avalos was one of the speakers at the event, organized by a coalition of local activist groups and student volunteers. Admitting that he was "expecting it to be a little bigger," Avalos said the event was just the start of what needed to be a much larger movement by the American people.
"There is a strange phenomenon occurring at the moment. It's as if people are a little bit asleep about the need to be active," Avalos told the Guardian. "Because we have an administration they view as being more supportive of human rights and economic and social justice, people are being lulled into thinking things will just get better."
Standing just a short walk away from the birth place of the United Nations, Avalos bought attention in his speech to the rich history San Francisco has in mobilizing social change. "We do the best to live up to it, but we have a long way to go. Around the world this is the time to uproot poverty we try to provide a safety net, but it could be stronger."
The Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now! campaign is in its fourth year and is organized by the UN Millennium Campaign in an attempt to raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of benchmarks designed to eradicate global poverty.
At the United Nations Millennium Development Summit in 2000, 189 world leaders promised to "end poverty by 2015." The eight goals include eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) has authored or coauthored every major piece of legislation dealing with global HIV/AIDS issues since she was elected to Congress. She told the Guardian that MDGs must be placed in context with poverty in America. "Sometimes people argue that we must look after our own first, but my position is that if you look at the eight Millennium goals, they all apply to our own country too," Lee said. "Look at the plight of people who are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS in our country especially in African American and Latino communities.
"With the economic downturn, poverty rates in America are soaring, putting more people into circumstances the MDGs focus on outside of America," she continued. "I think it really is important to make those connections."
Lee compared the foreclosure crisis and lack of regulation in the financial markets over the last eight to 10 years to the "wild West" and calls America's 47 million uninsured a "moral disgrace."
"It is about priorities and political will, and this will be determined by the voices of people saying it must be done," she said. "People have to push for these changes and remember that it didn't just stop with the election. We have to raise awareness while at the same time working on changing policy. Otherwise we can get stuck debating issues and not doing the work that has to be done to change these very deplorable conditions."
Sup. David Campos was the only other supervisor to speak at the Civic Center event.