WASHINGTON--Vice President Al Gore called on Americans to demand that their senators and representatives provide increased funding for cancer research. "We want to be the generation that wins the war against cancer," he told thousands gathered here as part of "The March," a nationwide effort to make cancer the number one medical research and health care priority.
"Imagine a day when America is cancer free. Imagine waking up in a world where not a single child hears the word chemotherapy," the Vice President told a cheering crowd. "This dream can happen in our lifetime. But to get there, we have to make cancer research a priority today. And it is time, because this disease has haunted this land and hurt American families way too long."
Speaker after speaker urged political action, from encouraging phone calls and letters to members of Congress to voting out of office those senators and representatives who fail to back more spending for the cancer effort. Ellen L. Stovall, executive director of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, who conceived the idea of The March and served as its president, said emphatically, "Today, we defy the politics that deliberately divide us, all the politics that put a price tag on cancer, on the millions of lives touched by this horrid disease.
"Today we say: No more cancer. No more waiting. No more pain. No more excuses. No more silence."
Sidney Kimmel, co-founder of the Jones Apparel Group and chairman of The March, whose Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research provided much of the funding for the event, called on President Clinton and Vice President Gore to make their legacy the designation of cancer as the nations top health care priority. "Members of Congress, I say to you: Join with the President in this effort," Mr. Kimmel thundered to loud applause. "On behalf of those 8 million cancer survivors, on behalf of all of us, I say to you: Good God, what the hell are you waiting for?"
The March organizers sought to garner support and community participation nationwide, holding events not only in the nations capital but elsewhere as well. From California to New England, and in most states in between, people gathered in some 150 cities to hold candlelight vigils, rallies, cancer screenings, health fairs, and even a blood and bone marrow drive.
But the focus of intensity was on the National Mall, on a stage less than four blocks from Capitol Hill During the 4-hour-plus afternoon rally, hosted by ABC news personalities Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, military metaphors and calls for action abounded.
Several speakers noted that then-President Nixon initiated the War on Cancer in 1971, but that victories had been limited. "Weve certainly hit the beachhead. Weve sort of established a front. But the war isnt over," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). "We are a massive army, and now is the time to take the hill. And the hill we have to take is that hill right there," he said, pointing to the Capitol.
The rally attracted several influential members of the House and Senate, from both parties. Besides Sen. Harkin, speakers included Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla) and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn), and John Edward Porter (R-Ill), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that handles the Department of Health and Humans Services budget.
Former senator and GOP presidential nominee Robert Dole discussed his own cancer and quipped that after he was diagnosed in 1991, "I became the prostate pin-up boy in Washington."
By the time Rep. Porter spoke and listed the budget increases given the National Institutes of Health in the last three fiscal years--5.7%, 6.9%, and 7.1%, respectively--some of the crowd had accepted the challenge to rise to a more militant mood. When he promised an increase of at least 9.1% for the fiscal year 1999, he was greeted with cries of "more, more," and then a chant: "We need more. We need more."
Schwarzkopf Gets Last Word
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, war hero, prostate cancer survivor, and The Marchs honorary chairman, gave the crowd its final marching orders--to the voting booths. Noting the upcoming November elections, Gen. Schwarzkopf urged Americans to call their Senate and House candidates and ask if they will give their unqualified commitment to the war on cancer.
"If their answer is yes, elect them to office," the leader of the Allied Forces in the Gulf War said. "If their answer is no, kick their butts out and get somebody else. Demand that our government commit itself to the War on Cancer."