Sunday, March 18, 2012
ACT UP is 25
AIDS may be out of fashion, but it hasn't gone away. The medical profession reminds us that the "cocktail" is only a stopgap, not a cure. The disease has not gone away at all, and infection rates are on the rise again.
There probably wouldn't be a "cocktail" if it wasn't for ACT UP making life miserable for those in power and for medical professionals. The movement began 25 years ago this month out of desperation. AIDS by 1987 had already killed thousands of people and thousands more were dying, frequently in miserable and degraded conditions. The policy of the Reagan Administration was one of malign neglect. AIDS was seen as a way to rid the country of a nuisance population. There was talk in those days of "innocent" victims as opposed to most who somehow deserved what they got for being queer. That a lot of other victims were minorities and drug abusers was considered a bonus. Most other countries, including Haiti, had more advanced and pro-active AIDS policies than the USA at the time.
That nuisance population decided not to go quietly. ACT UP decided to kick the ogres in the shins, and to keep kicking them until they got their attention. ACT UP sometimes resorted to extreme measures. Their most controversial act was to disrupt a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral (Cardinal O'Connor and the minions of the Archdiocese in City Hall successfully blocked the City Health Commission from distributing safe sex information). At the time, the action was considered a fatal over-reach by ACT UP alienating supporters. In retrospect, it may have been a bold move that announced to the powerful outside the walls of the cathedral that ACT UP was not afraid of them and would follow them into their inner sanctums if necessary. Indeed, policies on the local and national level slowly began to change not long afterward.
ACT UP's tactics continue to shape dissent today, most notably in the disruptions by Occupy of official political events.
Promo for a new documentary on ACT UP and the response to AIDS.
Hat tip to Joe Jervis of JoeMyGod.
The Bizarre Rabbit sends us this old ACT UP tribute to Cardinal O'Connor.
STILL MORE EXTRA:
Frank Bruni writes a very fine column in the NY Times today based on the movie advertised in the Extra above. It's a good essay, though I think his conclusion is a little too optimistic.
Posted by Counterlight at Sunday, March 18, 2012