United in Anger – A History of ACT UP

the other night i decided to check out a public program after work in the hammer’s billy wilder theater called “united in anger: a history of act up.” i only stayed for 30 minutes, since my bus didn’t run past 8. but even the 30 minutes that i experienced was profoundly eye-opening and reminded me of how privileged many of us are. it also reminded me of my student activist days while also inspiring me to get involved again in the activist spirit.sarah schulman, a journalist and the facilitator of the program, introduced a clip from a film project that she and a couple of her colleagues created. it compiles hours and hours of first-hand footage about act up’s actions in the 80s and 90s, interlaced with interviews of AIDS activists, telling the story of how act up came to be.here’s an excerpt from their website about the project:

The purpose of this project is to present comprehensive, complex, human, collective, and individual pictures of the people who have made up ACT UP/New York. These men and  women of all races and classes have transformed entrenched cultural ideas about homosexuality, sexuality, illness, health care, civil rights, art, media, and the rights of patients. They have achieved concrete changes in medical and scientific research, insurance, law, health care delivery, graphic design, and introduced new and effective methods for political organizing. These interviews reveal what has motivated them to action and how they have organized complex endeavors. We hope that this information will de-mystify the process of making social change, remind us that change can be made, and help us understand how to do it. (ACT UP continues to fight to end the AIDS epidemic. For more information on ACT UP’s current activities, see their website www.actupny.org)

act up is an acronym for the organization AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. when the organization started in the 80s grassroots style, they went straight to work and protested at chapters of the center for disease control (cdc) to implore them to expand their definition of AIDS. (the cdc is the ultimate medical entity that defines any and all diseases. an almighty medical webster, if you will.) at the time, the cdc didn’t acknowledge that women could contract the disease and so women, especially women of color and women of low SES, could not qualify for medical trials, medicare, clinical treatments, etc., leaving them with no way to pay for their insane medical bills and frankly, to just die. act up eventually succeeded in their first campaign, and the cdc finally conceded in redefining AIDS to include female-specific symptoms. ultimately, women could now qualify for AIDS-related treatment and services. after this first campaign, many others came thereafter.schulman and her colleagues donated the film project to the new york public library, so it’s open for any and all to use as a resource. so, it looks like i’ll just have to make another trip just for this…


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