Speaker Nancy Pelosi

U.S. House of Representatives

Speaker Pelosi Remarks at Special Announcement on the Future of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and Archive Collection

November 20, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the NAMES Project Foundation, the National AIDS Memorial and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress for a press event announcing the agreement to return the AIDS Memorial Quilt from Atlanta to San Francisco.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  John Lewis.

Thank you, John Lewis, for being here, being there for all of us, over and over again.  And may I say, that as John pays tribute to the NAMES Project and the Quilt and extending hospitality to the Quilt in Atlanta for all this time.  Let me say – that what you know – but I will reinforce, that John Lewis was there when we introduced the Equality Act last year.  It was a bill to open up the Civil Rights Act to include LGBTQ community and ending discrimination in their way.

[Applause]

John is very proprietary about the Civil Rights Act, very careful about how we amend it.  We don’t – except with John’s blessing, standing right there, we made that announcement.  The Equality Act.  Thank you, John Lewis, for this, for your kind words, for being you and for being here.  Thank you, John Lewis. 

[Applause]

He is a master of words.  But he always acts upon those words and his beliefs as he expresses them. What an honor for all of us that he was here.

When I was looking forward to this day, I knew it was going to be an emotional day.  But I didn’t realize though, John [Cunningham], that we would have lost Jack Porter just a few days before this momentous occasion.  He was a dear, dear friend.  I loved him dearly.  He made me think I was his best friend, did he make you think that too?

[Laughs]

He had a way about him.  I don’t think I would ever have a birthday, a holiday of any kind, or anything that I have ever done that I would not hear from him or see him.  For 30 years we have been going, for a long time we have been going to the Grove and he was always, always there.  He was just remarkable and we will miss him, will miss him terribly.

So, that made it more emotional.  And then to be introduced by John Lewis – oh my, too much.

In any event, Julie Rhoad, thank you.  Thank your mother.  Thank you for your leadership of the NAMES Project.  John Cunningham.  Getting ready – Barbara, I know it’s in San Leandro – but getting ready to welcome it in a few years back to San Francisco.  But the Bay Area feels very, very welcoming to the NAME – to the Quilt coming home.

Cleve Jones, I am going to talk about in a moment.  But Cleve and Mike Smith and Gert [McMullin], thank you, thank you, thank you for being so masterful in making all of this happen over time. 

Dr. Hayden spoke so beautifully about having the Library of Congress receive, not the Quilt, but all of the memorabilia associated with it.  And in doing so, it raises the profile of it, the opportunity for others to see it, the visibility of it.  But in return, all of this information about the NAMES Project brings luster to the Library of Congress as well, this is a beautiful gift to our nation.  A beautiful gift to our nation.

[Applause]

The Gay Men’s Chorus – I love numbers, I love to count. Votes and other things, days, whatever.  Thank you so much for making this such a joyous occasion, springing from our grief but giving us hope.  Thank you so much.  You made it lovely for all of us. 

Here we are – let me just tell you this, first, this is in some ways self-deprecating and in other ways self-serving, so I will put up those.  So, a long time ago, 1987, Cleve Jones comes to my home and says – tells me in advance what it’s going to be about, but he comes there and wants to take some pictures to announce a new project – the NAMES Project. 

Now, I am a mother of five children, and I am just newly-elected, a Member of Congress.  And I say to Cleve, ‘Cleve, a quilt?  Nobody sews.’

[Laughter]

Is that not right, Cleve?  I have five children, I went to school in a convent from my earliest days.  I know how to sew.  I know how to darn.  I know how to knit.  I know how to crochet.  I know how to taper.  I know it all.  I don’t sew.  I have a sewing machine.  I don’t sew.

So, if I don’t sew, a mother of five, with a sewing machine and all of that knowledge, nobody sews.  That was my wisdom at the time.

[Laughter]

I guess as a mother of five you don’t have time to sew, but nonetheless.

So, I said, ‘Cleve, I just don’t know about this project.  Can’t we do something else?  I don’t know what.’

And he said, ‘No, this is it; we’re sticking with this.’

And of course, look at this.  

But, a couple years later, Cleve says, ‘We want to bring the Quilt’ – now, it’s almost 2,000 panels – ‘to Washington, D.C.’

Now, I am in Washington, and it wasn’t that long later – a matter of months it seems to me.  So, he comes to me and says, ‘We want to display it on the Mall.  We’re getting some resistance.’

So, I say, ‘How can that be?’  So, I go to see the – the National Parks Service.

They say, ‘Oh, yeah, we can give you a corner – a little space on the corner some place.’

I said, ‘You’re not hearing this correctly.’

[Laughter]

‘That’s not the ask; we have a big ask.’

So – and I, earlier than maybe I should have, spoke for all the Democrats in Congress –

[Laughter]

– To say, ‘This was our request.  ‘No’ was not a possibility.  How are we going to get from here to there?’

One thing and another – much resistance – and as I said, this was self-promoting so –

[Laughter]

So they said, ‘Well, we can’t do it, because you’re going to kill the grass.’

I said, ‘Well, we can handle that; we’re not going to kill the grass.  The way we can handle this is we’re going to have to get the Quilt lifted up every 20 minutes.  The Quilt has to be lifted up every 20 minutes.’

And I said, ‘Well, you understand, I have volunteers from all over the country.  That’s the easiest thing in the world.’

[Laughter]

‘We will lift up the Quilt every 20 minutes, and you can check on us after.’

[Laughter]

So, I said, ‘You don’t understand.  We have all these volunteers, because people in America are sewing their hearts out.  They’re just sewing.  Everybody loves to sew.’

[Laughter]

‘This is to the heart of who we are – sewing, sewing flags, sewing quits and the rest!  Don’t you understand what sewing means to us?’

[Laughter]

So, anyway, with the promise that we would lift the Quilt every twenty minutes.  You remember all of this, Cleve.  Cleve is my hero.  I just, I – every time I see him I think what a miracle he is, and Mike and Gert.

So, I have my Susie Peracci Roggio, flower girl in my wedding – so many others, but every, every quilt a story, every panel from the heart.  It was so beautiful.

So, that Friday night, after that week of the Quilt being there, who is the newsmaker of the week?  Cleve Jones.

And they had helicopters all over the Mall, showing – it was a triumph. Thanks to you, thanks to Mike, thanks to Gert.  Thanks to Gert.

It might not have been every twenty minutes –

[Laughter]

– and it might not have been every panel, but whatever –

[Laughter]

They can come see me, if they have a problem with it now.  

[Laughter]

In any event, it is this beautiful manifestation of love, this beautiful manifestation of love.

So, Barbara Lee is welcoming this to San Leandro.  Barbara Lee has – from day one; she came to Congress, she has an amendment on the Floor, successfully on the Floor, right the first day, it seemed to me, and then she got on a plane to go to Durban, South Africa to be part of the AIDS Con.

She has been relentless, persistent, smart and I was honored to be with her when we announced – I don’t know if that was an announcement, but a tribute to the conference coming to the Bay Area, the AIDS Conference coming to the Bay Area.

This is a very resilient, resilient virus – it keeps mutating.  Every time we think we have it in [our] grasp, it does something different.  So, we have to be resilient in the fight, as well – but, our spirit about it, our love, our memory of it all.

So, when we were going – when we were doing the AIDS Memorial Grove, and Jack, Jack Porter, so many, that – his partner, Steve Marcus, this was, again, a labor of love.  When we were doing that, I had some resistance from my friends and colleagues in the Congress saying, ‘We shouldn’t be just having a memorial to one disease, the AIDS Memorial Grove.’

I said, ‘Well, we are.’

[Laughter]

No. No, you have to hear the rest of it: ‘We shouldn’t be having it, but if we have it, it should be in my city.’  ‘Their’ city.

They didn’t want it, except if we had it, it was going to be in their city.

But, we thought we were proprietary about it.  And so, when John talk about his leadership there, and he’s been such a tremendous leader, thank you, John, he doesn’t talk about – well, it’s – it’s grand design, it’s renewal, nature, community, all the rest, but most – a lot of the time we spend weeding, all right?  We spend weeding and planting and all the rest to make it so beautiful, and now they will have a physical structure to house some of the history of it all and eventually, the NAMES Project. 

So, this is, this is something, something really spectacular in this fight, all these years and later we’ll be reading the names of some of the folks that we – whom we have lost, but in the meantime, we will continue our efforts to find a cure and achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Again, I thank all of you.  I do want to say, when everyone stood up to – who’s living with HIV or AIDS, he didn’t stand up because he was already standing, but Dan Bernal, my district representative in San Francisco was included in that.

[Applause]

So, this is very personal with all of us.  Thank you, Julie.  Thank you, John.  Thank you, Cleve.  Thank you, Mike.  Thank you Gert.  Thank you, all.

And, again, this Library of Congress is a better place for what is going to be coming – it’s a fabulous place, Carla Hayden is wonderful.  She came from Baltimore, Baltimore and I’m from Baltimore.

[Laughter]

– so, I take special pride in her and praise her for the wisdom of enhancing this magnificent historic connection, already present in the Library of Congress, greatly enhanced by the NAMES Project memorabilia. 

Thank you all, for what you have done.  Thank you.