U.S. Congressman Ron Dellums (Retired) Global Hero
During his nearly three decades as a member of United States House of Representatives, one of Ron Dellums’s proudest achievements was helping to bring down apartheid in South Africa by acting as the visionary leader of congressional efforts to end American support for the racist regime. Still, even in “retirement,” his advocacy on behalf of Africa is far from over.
“Stop and think about 40 million orphans on the continent,” is his poignant message to the current leaders in Washington. Even though he no longer holds office, Dellums continues to be a voice to be reckoned with. “I’m just a loudmouthed political activist, educated in Berkeley. But perhaps that is what this issue needs at this critical moment. AIDS is the greatest threat to national security and world peace.”
After a 27 year stint in Congress, where he garnered a reputation as one of the Capitol’s leading opponents of arms proliferation, Dellums’s activism has taken him in an entirely new direction: preventing the proliferation of AIDS, which takes far more lives annually than any armed conflict anywhere on the planet. In 1999, his AIDS Marshall Plan for Africa called for a six billion dollar collaboration between the public and private sector worldwide, all in the name of facing head-on what he calls “one of the great moral imperatives of our generation.”
The Plan is similar in scope to the original Post World War II Marshall Plan, suggested by then-Secretary of State George C. Marshall. That initiative resulted in the US pumping an estimated $13 billion into war-ravaged Europe between 1948 and 1951. Dellums firmly believes Africa deserves the same kind of compassion and commitment from the global community, from governments to scientists to doctors to pharmaceuticals.
“If you don’t get serious about treating AIDS in Africa, some new strain will emerge that will threaten us all. We have to stop looking at Africa in romantic terms and start looking at it as an integral part of our planet.”
His activism abroad has made Dellums an important voice in fighting HIV/AIDS in the US as well. President Bill Clinton appointed him as the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 1999. Dellums is also on the board of directors for AIDS Action and serves as the chairman of Constituency for Africa, a lobbying and education group with high-profile board members such as Andrew Young, David Dinkins and Jack Kemp.
First elected as a California representative to Congress in 1970, Dellums quickly became a leading voice for peace and disarmament against the backdrop of the Indochina War. He became a recognized expert in both military and foreign policy, and perfected his craft as the acclaimed chairman of the Armed Services Committee. His leadership in the field led to the abandonment of plans to deploy the MX-mobile missile; the curtailment of production of the B-2 bomber; and the requirement that the first President Bush secure congressional approval before launching offensive military action in the first Gulf War.
In early 1985, Dellums challenged the House of Representatives to conduct a full-scale inquiry into the “full implications” of the Reagan-era military buildup. When it failed to do so, he conducted hearings, which led to the 1983 publication of his book Defense Sense: The Search for a Rational Military Policy.
Dellums also distinguished himself with domestic legislative initiatives. The most prominent of these was his National Health Service Act, a proposal that has long been considered the most comprehensive and progressive health care proposal since it was first introduced in 1977. In addition, Dellums initiatives in the fields of civil rights and liberties, the environment and affirmative action have been widely applauded. His political battles and triumphs are chronicled in his second book, Lying Down With the Lions: A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power. In it, he delivers a candid look at over thirty years of public service, with lessons learned about leadership, politics, and the importance of building coalitions to affect change.
A California native, Dellums served as an enlisted member of the Marine Corps before receiving an associate of arts degree from Oakland City College. He later received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State College and a Master of Arts degree in social work from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to his congressional service, Dellums headed-up community-based anti-poverty programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, enjoyed a distinguished career as a psychiatric social worker, and became one of the nationally preeminent manpower development and training consultants. In addition, Dellums served on the Berkeley City Council from 1967 to 1971. All of which sounds like exquisite training for a leader in the fight against AIDS.
“I try to live my life by the principals that knowledge brings responsibility, and what I now know about our ability to prevent and treat AIDS compels me to say, ‘We cannot let these people die like this!’ You don’t start by asking, ‘How do I do it?’ You start with a commitment to do it and then figure it out.”