An estimated 5,000 people braved sullen, rainy skies on Sept. 27 to march across the Brooklyn Bridge in a show of strength and support for addiction recovery, just days after similar events drew thousands of attendees in St. Louis and other communities around the country to mark National Recovery Month.
Organized by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the A&E television network — home of the Emmy-award winning reality series “Intervention” — the New York Recovery Rally was led across the Brooklyn Bridge by “Recovery Delegates ” from every state and Washington, D.C., with the march terminating at City Hall Park.
“About halfway across the bridge I stopped for a moment and climbed up on a ledge to look back,” said Dan Duncan, the delegate for the state of Missouri and director of community services at NCADD's St. Louis chapter. “Seeing these thousands of people behind us was something truly special and significant to all of us. After 28 years sober, and most of them involved in promoting recovery, this event made me feel as if recovery advocacy is finally coming into its own.”
Speakers at the rally included A&E President Bob DeBitteto, NCADD President Bob Lindsey, and local politicians, as well as individuals in recovery. Comedian Mark Lundholm emceed the event, which also featured concerts by Rufus Wainwright and the band Crazy James, whose members also are in recovery.
“I used to live under a bridge,” said Lundholm. “Today, thousands of recovering people walked over one to raise awareness, lessen the fear, remove the stigma and provide hope for the addicted community.”
Volunteers also were on hand at the rallies to register voters as part of the Recovery Voices Count initiative.
“The 5,000 participants and the individual Recovery Delegates … offered a visible and dramatic demonstration of the fact that millions of Americans and their families are in long-term recovery,” said NCADD's Lindsey. “Most importantly, the rally offers hope for the 22 million individuals and their families who are living with active alcohol or drug addiction.”
An earlier event organized by Faces and Voices of Recovery, the St. Louis Hands Across the Bridge Rally on Sept. 20, also drew some high-profile supporters of addiction recovery, notably actor Louis Gossett Jr. “You don't have to be an Academy Award winning actor to give back and share your recovery story,” said Gossett, who marched with hundreds of other recovery advocates across the historic Chain of Rocks Bridge. “All of us who are in recovery can inspire hope in people who are still struggling and their families by giving back our stories of new lives in recovery.”
Attendance at the New York rally exceeded the expectations of organizers despite the bad weather, with busloads of individuals in recovery from upstate New York, Long Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania being augmented by Manhattan locals. Some attendees even traveled by boat from New Jersey.
A&E arranged for Wainwright to perform, paid for a stage setup that included two large video monitors, and handled much of the publicity for the New York rally, as well. “A&E really stepped up to the plate as a company to sponsor this event,” said Lindsey. “We really appreciate A&E's commitment to this issue and to working with us to change public perceptions about addiction.”
A&E Vice President John Hardinger said that the network's involvement in the addiction recovery movement was “inspired by the tremendous reaction to the Intervention series.”
“We've come to recognize in the telling of these stories what an enormous public-health crisis alcohol and other drug abuse represents,” he said. “What we can do best is to use our platform to put a spotlight on these issues.”
The well-attended rallies were part of a heady few weeks for the addiction recovery movement, capped by the long-sought addiction and mental health parity legislation being signed into law on Oct. 3. Faces and Voices of Recovery kicked off Recovery Month on Sept. 4 with the unveiling of a Recovery Bill of Rights on Capitol Hill, and on Sept. 17 A&E unveiled The Recovery Project, a new campaign to raise awareness about addiction and recovery.
“The Recovery Bill of Rights states that all Americans have the right to recovery from additions, that people have the right to be treated with respect, and that people have the right to speak out about the reality of recovery,” said Pat Taylor, executive director of Faces and Voices of Recovery.