I Was at the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally

In the months preceding the UNITE to Face Addiction rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the promotional trailer stirred emotions and sparked purpose as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler screamed his iconic “Dream On” in the background. Those of us who have seen addiction up-close and personal know what’s at stake. With a nationwide opiate crisis where someone overdoses every 24 minutes, we know there are millions of lives on the line. We’ve longed to capture the attention of the rest of the world and implore “NO MORE. Enough is enough. ”

“I say we make history!” is the final quote of the trailer.

So did it happen? Did the rally deliver on such a bold promise?

You bet it did.

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A Celebration of Recovery

I was unprepared for the swell of emotion I felt when my daughter, son and I entered the gates for the rally yesterday afternoon. I’ve been a drug prevention activist in Oregon and advocate for families ever since the unthinkable happened and my daughter landed on the streets of our community addicted to meth. Now nine years free and clean, our trip to DC for the rally was a celebration of recovery as much as it is an act of activism. Gratitude was wet and soppy on my cheeks as I watched my girl gather among thousands of her “own.” She was absolutely luminescent in the backlit evening sky.

The event had nearly been undone by Hurricane Joaquin. Early forecasts predicted flash floods and high winds for DC, and organizers had at one point contemplated cancellation. Yet most were not intimidated by the threat of such a storm. “Hurricane?” some said. “A hurricane is nothin’ compared to what I’ve been through. We’ll make our own hurricane on the Mall that day. Bring it on.” And the storm veered into the Atlantic, as if cowering at the brave resistance ashore.

It’s hard to assess the exact size of the crowd that grew steadily throughout the afternoon. There were many thousands for sure. Colorful signs dotted the landscape of the massive crowd: “Rehabilitation, Not Incarceration,” “Addiction is Not a Moral Failing,” “Families Recover Together” and “People in Recovery Vote.” Chants spread as waves: “We vote! We vote! We vote!”

Everybody was there, including President Obama via a special recorded message. Speakers included our country’s “drug czar,” Michael Botticelli, who is himself in long-term recovery from addiction. The U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, MD, promised to release in 2016 a first-ever Surgeon General report on substance abuse, addiction and health. And dozens of representatives from partner organizations across the country conveyed messages of hope and of solidarity. Senators and Congressmen came to stand beside us. Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, William Cope Moyers and and Dr. Mehmet Oz were there. And dozens of people in recovery shared their stories.

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Signs of Solidarity

The messages throughout the afternoon and early evening were commitments to and for change:

No longer will families need to suffer in silence.

No longer will our loved ones die because of ignorance and inaction.

We will demand parity and that addiction be treated with all the rights and benefits of any other chronic illness.

There is help.

There is hope.

You are not alone.

And in between the speeches and the sharing and the videos, we were gifted with a first-rate rock concert! Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, The Fray and John Rzeznik boomed music through a world-class sound system. It was thrilling.

With the White House only one block away, I couldn’t help but wonder if the President might be like any hard-working businessman, relaxing at home on a Sunday night, wishing he could put a stop to the ruckus going on in the neighborhood. But maybe he sat on his famous white balcony overlooking the Ellipse, taking in the concert he couldn’t attend. Whatever the case, we know he’s on our side. We now move forward with next steps to truly change the landscape of addiction in America.


Photos courtesy of Barbara Cofer Stoefen

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18 Responses to I Was at the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally

  1. Avatar
    denise krochta October 6, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    I was there too!
    Very inspirational and unique. Great energy all night on the Mall. Very successful. Let’s keep the momentum going!

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    Patricia Perry October 7, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    I was there and it was phenomenal. It was educational as well as emotional. I was honored to be part of this history making event.

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    Nadine Herring October 7, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    I was there too and it was AMAZING!

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    James October 8, 2015 at 7:02 pm #

    It was truly an amazing day of recovery I was happy to be a part VOH Cecil county ✊?

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    Michele Walton October 9, 2015 at 7:07 am #

    My daughter and I were there too. Unfortunately I lost my only son Jesse to a heroin overdose in January. It was an amazing day, a bit overwhelming at times especially when I saw his picture on the jumbrotron when they were talking about all the people we have lost to this horrendous epidemic. Great article but I wished you mentioned something about our lost loved ones.

    • Avatar
      Barbara Cofer Stoefen October 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

      I am profoundly sorry for your loss, Michele. Wonderful that you chose to attend the event, and to honor your son.

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    Tina Theroux October 9, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    I was there. My son is 6 months clean. I have been walking this broken road with him for over 11 years now. I just want to say I was overwhelmed with so many who have lost their precious children. My heart is heavy for each family and especially for each mom. I think it is a beautiful thing that you came and continue to stand up for those who still struggle. I pray you will know that your pain has purpose and meaning, God bless you

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    Kim Manlove October 9, 2015 at 11:46 am #

    An extraordinarily experience….at times electric….spirtual and moving. I celebrated the lives that have been saved from addiction and renewed by recovery and honored those we have lost like my son David Jefferis Manlove…..luv ya Dave

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    Mark Knobloch October 9, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Proud to say….I was there!!!

  9. Avatar
    Nancy Juracka October 9, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    My son, Lance, died from alcohol and PX drugs in 2006. Although it was a great article, like Michele, I wish something was mentioned about the many parents that attended that had their children die from this horrendous disease. I came with many other Mother’s that are fighting to save those suffering from addiction in honor of their lost children.

  10. Avatar
    Adrian Hooper October 9, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    There were Great speakers and entertainment. I enjoyed meeting with old friends, making new ones, Networking with policy leaders, sharing ideas and discussing strategy to keep the movement alive and moving forward. I was expecting a better turn out and was disappointed in the amount of media attention the event received from the major news outlets. We still have much work to do to bring attention to this international problem and to those of us who are dealing with it. The stigma and discrimination still runs deep in our society.

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    Lorraine McNeill-Popper October 9, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

    I was there and it was amazing. “United” we were… celebrating those in recovery and remembering the lives of those we lost, like my twin brother, Larry. Love you Larry… wish you were here.

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    Kathy Mowbray October 9, 2015 at 8:26 pm #

    Hello My Name Is Kathy I Was There I Wouldn’t Of Missed It For The World , I Have A Daughter Ashley That Has Been Struggling With Addiction To Heroin Past Couple Years .And My Nephew JoJo 20 That Lost The Battle From Drugs A Long With My Brother Boogie And Brother Law Mickey And Several People I Know. Enough Is Enough We Have To Start Somewhere And This Is What We Needed Unite To Face Addiction To Get Us Towards The Top From The Bottom Of The Pit Of HELL Were Most Of Us Has Been Living Because Of The Drugs That Has Come In Our Lives And Take Over And Took Our Love Ones Away From Us. Together We Need To Stand And To Encourage, Help Build Up Their Hope And Faith I Want To Thank Each And Everyone From The Bottom Of My Heart That Made This Happen, I’M Here To Support In Anyway I Can God Bless You ALL You Are In My Thoughts And Prayers

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    Lorinda Strang October 9, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

    I am a person in long term recovery and I lost my brother to a drug overdose in 1984. My colleague and I came from Vancouver, B.C. and were waving the Canadian Flag to show the Unite to Face Addiction message is far reaching and addiction crosses all borders. We were there to stand strong together with you in honour of our lost loved ones, and to help end the stigma so that no person or family need ever feel shame when asking for help. I agree with Barbara, we made history – the silence has ended.

    From Greg Williams to Patrick Kennedy to the U.S. Surgeon General, to all of the amazing artists, to President Obama, the message was loud and clear – there is Help, there is Hope and We are not alone,

  14. Avatar
    Lisa Solomon October 9, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    I was there and it was an amazing day filled with extraordinary energy, love, compassion and healing!

  15. Avatar
    Jo-Anne Stone October 11, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    It was such an awesome event! I am truly sorry for all the parents who have lost a child to this disease and sorry that you feel like you weren’t mentioned enough. But the parents, and organizations such as “Fed Up” are really the backbone of this movement! As a recovering person myself, we still couldn’t have done it without you! I am so sorry for your loss. But please keep going, as we need you to end the horrible
    Stigma that kills so many
    Honored to work with you to keep others from dying.

  16. Avatar
    MOZELLA G October 13, 2015 at 6:18 am #


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    Cathy Bowrey July 19, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    I was there 2015 and plan to be there this year. Very emotional day but glad I was a part of something this big. I am also planning a Fed-Up Rally in my community this year to be held on Aug 31st overdose awareness day.

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