During the opening plenary of the 2023 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA), U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D–Calif.) was the keynote speaker. Celebrating Black women is the theme of this year’s USCHA and was the focus of the plenary.

Rep. Waters spoke about the successes that Black women have been a part of throughout the HIV epidemic. She also reminded the audience of the challenges that still remain, including the fight to retain funding for both domestic and global HIV programs.

In particular, she underscored the urgency of the moment to combat cuts proposed by House Republicans totaling $767 million from HIV funding in the 2024 budget. She issued a call to arms for the audience and for the HIV movement at large.

Rep. Maxine Waters at USCHA 2023Courtesy of Jennifer Morton

From her speech:

“These programs used to have widespread support. It is shameful that House Republicans are now trying to eliminate them. We cannot allow these cuts to pass. We cannot compromise, we will not give up….


“Let me just say this: You’re all nice people. Sometimes I think I’m nice, not all the time. And I don’t want to be nice all the time. I want to not only tell it like it is and speak truth to power. I want to use the words that they will understand: Hell no! We won’t go!


“We’re not going to give up. Forget what you’re talking about. That’s our money; that’s the people’s money. You cannot decide who you’re going to spend it for and who you’re not going to spend it for. We are worthy, we are worthwhile, we deserve to have the support of the public money to deal with saving lives. If you think we’re going away quietly because you think you have the votes in the House, you got another damn thing coming….


“You’re going to hear more about this over the next few days, but I want your voices to be heard. I want you to be on every social media outlet that you can be on. I want you to respond to everything that’s happening on public radio. I want you to be on television. I want you to talk in the churches. I want you to hit the streets. I want you to let them know that we’re on it, that we’re fighting, that we’re not going away, that we’re not going to give up.


“Oftentimes we think that, ‘Oh, the elected officials will get it done.’ We’re nothing without you. We can’t get it done without you. I’ve walked around my district, and some of the guys were saying, ‘Hey Auntie Maxine, we’ve got your back.’ I said, ‘I like that, but I want to see your ass on the street. I want to see you working. I want to see you organizing. I want to see you talking. I want to see you challenging.


“Ladies and gentlemen, this conference is not simply about bringing us together so that we can renew our friendships. This is about inspiring us. This is about helping us to remember from whence we’ve come and where we have to go. This is about remembering who we are. This is about understanding what has happened to the least of these and the ones who need the help of their government the most. This is about rededicating ourselves. This is about the confidence that we need to stand up to anybody that we need to stand up to….


“Can I hear your voices? Can I hear you speak up? Are you ready for this fight? Are you ready to take on whatever we have to take on to save the lives of our people? We’re making progress in so many ways. As I look across the country, I see the rise of Black women in so many ways.…


“And if in fact Black women are making gains in all of these areas and this conference has dedicated itself to Black women, then Black women, you better know who you are and you better take control, appreciate the support that you’re getting and give them hell! Thank you!”