WASHINGTON — A new rendition of "We Are the World" was belted out in the nation's capital this week. But Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper and others need not worry about the competition.
A mixture of Hollywood celebrities, world hunger activists and government employees joined hands on stage at the Kennedy Center Tuesday night to sing the popular USA for Africa song at one of many events marking World Food Day, which was Wednesday.
The singers did not know the words exactly. But they knew the feeling.
The song concluded the presentation ceremony of the third annual Presidential World Without Hunger Awards, which went to USA for Africa, Live Aid, Band Aid, singer John Denver, the private voluntary organization CARE, Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist Norman Borlaug, Land O'Lakes Inc. and Bradford Morse, the administrator of the United Nations development program.
Earlier in the day, a commemorative "Help End Hunger" stamp was issued on Capitol Hill, and Pasadena's Dorsey Lawson, the southwest regional coordinator of Results, a national anti-hunger information group, was honored for her efforts.
The presidential award activities were coordinated by the Los Angeles-based End Hunger Network, a coalition of more than 130 private voluntary hunger organizations. The award winners were featured at two days of events, which also included a press conference, an awards ceremony, a luncheon, a State Department reception, a dinner and a convocation. Denver even scheduled a talk with children about hunger outside the Education Department building. But since these were the presidential awards, some of the two dozen participants who had flown in from Los Angeles wondered, "Where is the President?"
"I personally am disappointed that he's not here," said Marcia Seligson of Hollywood, a board member of the End Hunger Network. "I think he should be participating."
Added another board member, Seligson's husband, Tom Drucker, "I thought until a few weeks ago there would be more of a presidential presence," adding they would have been happy with either the President or vice president or their wives participating in some part of the festivities.
But neither of the top two officials had slated time for the hunger awards. The day of the presentation, President Reagan was in Boise campaigning for Sen. Steven Symms (R-Ida.). Vice President and Mrs. George Bush were visiting China.
The highest-ranking Administration official participating was Peter McPherson, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"The entertainment community can take this issue just so far," said Marty Rogul of Los Angeles, who accepted the award for USA for Africa. He is the executive director of the USA for Africa Foundation.
"I would like to see (the issue) on a top scale," Rogul said. "I would welcome the President to take the initiative."
Denver received the loudest round of applause from the audience upon receiving his award. A co-founder of the Hunger Project, which seeks to end hunger by the year 2000, Denver has been involved in the issue for more than 10 years, spending 17 days in Africa last year to film the suffering of the famine.
"For a long time nobody was really interested in this," said Denver, who lauded his colleagues in the entertainment business for their efforts. "But now, wherever I go, even in the Soviet Union, people want to know, 'What's happening with the Hunger Project?' "
Actors Harvey Korman, Dennis Weaver and Cliff Robertson participated in the awards ceremony and other events. Brenda Boz Eddy, president of the End Hunger Network and organizer of the awards festivities, was triumphant in her remarks, telling a press conference, "half of the $1.2 billion in famine relief that went to Africa this year was contributed by the U.S. That response changed the world."
McPherson said that when he went to Africa a year ago he saw only "stick children," and that now the situation is much improved.
So the new challenge now is to keep America interested in the next steps: medical recovery and agricultural development in Africa, at a time when AIDS has attracted the attention of many fund-raising celebrities, many of the participants said.
"There is the situation of what's the chic issue of the moment," Seligson said. There is "definitely" the danger, she said, that interest in hunger will wane, now that 35 million people have been saved from starving to death.
"The AIDS epidemic is an emergency, it's a quick fix in our excitement-prone society," Drucker said. "It is not quite as dramatic to provide Africa developmental resources as it was to provide famine relief. You're not saving a life every week. It doesn't have as much sex appeal."
But for the world hunger activists who have been with the issue before it was popular, they will stick with it, they say.
Many of the participants compared Africa's problems, termed hopeless by many, to India's, which also were termed hopeless 20 years ago.
"India's production has quadrupled in the last 19 years and it has become self-sufficient," said Borlaug, the scientist who was instrumental in the "Green Revolution," which increased agricultural production through hybridization and higher seed yields.
"In Africa, this must be made to happen in the next five to eight years," Borlaug said. "It can be done. It must be done."