Zoe Leonard’s ‘I Want a President’ revived to benefit HIV/AIDS activism group

Zoe Leonard’s ‘I Want a President’ revived to benefit HIV/AIDS activism group
Zoe Leonard, 'I Want a President', 2016 commission by Highline Art. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Leading lights  -   Artists

‘I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia.’

These are only some of Zoe Leonard’s demands in her 1992 poem I Want a President, which she penned in response to the US presidential election of the same year. The letter-like poem supported the campaign of ‘openly female’ write-in candidate and poet Eileen Myles. The poem was originally intended for an LGBT magazine, but the publication was closed before the I Want a President could be circulated. Instead, Leonard gave the poem to friends and it quickly spread through photocopied pages.

Zoe Leonard, ‘I Want a President’, 1992. Courtesy Tumblr.


Since its pseudo-release, I Want a President, has been revived a number of times. However, the 2016 election of president Donald Trump and recent U.S. midterm elections have seen a particular uptick in its use. The poem, which also demands a president that has experienced abortion, been affected by AIDS, and dealt with unemployment, will soon enter into a new era of revival.

Treatment Action Group, an activist organization, is releasing a series of 100 ink and onion-skin prints of I Want a President, half of which will be reserved specifically for museums. The numbered, signed, and certified prints, which will cost $1,000 per copy, will not only live on to inspire future generations, but the sale will benefit the group. Each year, the activist organization, which supports the treatment of HIV, Hepatitis C, and tuberculosis, offers a new limited edition artwork at its Research in Action Awards. Proceeds from the prints will contribute to the organization’s efforts. More than 30 of the prints have already found their way into museums and institutions, according to Leonard’s gallery, Hauser & Wirth.

Leading up to Trump’s 2016 election, High Line Art commissioned a large-scale installation of Leonard’s poem. The 20 by 30 feet version of the poem proceeded to make its way onto the wall of a New York parking structure for all to read. In an interview with Standard Hotel, Assistant Curator of Friends of the High Line Melanie Kress stated, ‘The work is obviously inspired by the specific political moment of a presidential race, but the text speaks to the larger idea of our leadership reflecting who we are and our everyday experiences.’ The Treatment Action Group’s use of the poem hits particular chords as threats have been made to HIV/AIDS research in recent months by the Trump administration.

The limited prints can be purchased on Treatment Action Group’s website, here.