Act Up Turns 20: The Voice of AIDS in America

“Could anyone have imagined six million Jews would be exterminated during World War II,” says Andrew Velez, Chair of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power Action Committee during the recent taping of our web TV series Reporting AIDS. “Nor did I think AIDS would become a world-wide epidemic killing millions of people.”

In 1981, recognized as the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, gay men mysteriously started getting sick and dying from rarely before seen forms of pneumonia and cancer. San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Key West — all gay-Meccas in the 1970′s, became paralyzed as thousands of men succumbed to the disease.

GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), as it was called at the time, destroyed immune systems and left those afflicted powerless to fight the most minor infection.

Public health officials, doctors, nurses — those entrusted to help — retreated in fear, leaving the sick and suffering to die without basic care or dignity.

By 1987, when ACT-UP was formed, people were desperate.

I was fresh out college working in a restaurant on Market Street in San Francisco when I witnessed for the first time what AIDS was doing to people. There were scant ways to see the scope of the suffering from AIDS if you didn’t live in a city where people were dying.

Media attention and government information was sparce. Nothing had given me an understanding of the problem. Until I saw it.

A young man, maybe 35, walked into my restaurant around lunch-time. He seemed confused and slightly disheveled. It looked like he was unaware and unconcerned about being in the restaurant, but rather purposefully found a seat and waited for someone to approach him. He seemed to recognize the waiter helping him and somewhat acknowledge, though not warmly, what was happening. Nothing was said, but over a twenty minute interplay, he got food, ate, and left.

I asked a co-worker what was happening. I was told the man was suffering from Dementia, a symptom of AIDS much like the late stages of Alzheimer’s. It turned out the man had once been a waiter at the restaurant and knew it was a place where he could come to get food, no questions asked.

There it was, black and white, AIDS had the power to render a fully-engaged, ambitious, and hopeful human being down to the most basic level of human behavior, instinct. That’s what it was like when ACT-UP was formed.

“It’s amazing what desperate and dying people will do,” says Eric Sawyer, a co-founder of ACT-UP, during the show. Sawyer, along with the entire ACT-UP membership, turned rage and fear into targeted, effective political activism, taking non-violent demonstrations to entirely new levels. Their efforts changed the course of the AIDS epidemic and saved millions of lives.

To mark the 20th Anniversary of the first ACT-UP demonstration, March 24th, 1987, we invited Velez and Sawyer to talk on-camera about some of ACT-UP’s most important demonstrations; shutting down the FDA, protesting the Catholic Church and delivering political funerals.

After watching the show, we hope you’ll take a minute to share your thoughts on ACT-UP. The comments section below should provide enough room for you to be as concise or verbose as you’d like.

Tell us about your experience of ACT-UP, the impact they had on you personally, and how you think they changed our society.

John Mikytuck is a ScribeMedia.Org healthcare reporter. He’s hosting an ongoing series and dialog on HIV/AIDs.

4 thoughts on “Act Up Turns 20: The Voice of AIDS in America

  1. An excellent program on ACT-UP featuring people who were there.
    It is sublime to hear the words “social justice” being said again- and by the same voices that spoke so eloquently in 1987!
    Thanks again for your program and to Mr. Mikytuck who does a great job in asking the right questions and doing some helpful interpreting.

  2. That these fools and imbeciles have the audacity to be proud of the death and destruction that they themselves caused and contributed to, is truly the most absurd and bazaarest of things that I have ever witnessed!

    ACT – UP or “act-out” is fully responsible, along with others, in having caused the vast majority of deaths here in the US, that are said to be due to “HIV, the fraud that causes paranoia”.

    These fools are a danger to society and to themselves, and must be seen for who and what they are. Complete imbeciles living in denial.

    These fools who claim they spoke “Truth to Power” would not recognize truth if someone beat them over the head with it!

    Before Act-Up came along, there were less then 500 deaths. The deaths were confined to those gay men who had unfortunately become completely self loathing and self destructive drug addicts with inner death wishes. Most all of those who died had also been disowned by their families for being gay, and were escaping the emotional destruction through massive drug addiction, and sex addiction followed by std infection after infection followed by high potency antibiotics that completely screwed up the necessary and protective flora in their guts.

    What kind of an imbecile would believe that people acting out in such a self destructive way would or could possibly remain healthy for long?

    Crystal meth, Poppers sniffing (slightly more toxic then sniffing gasoline), shooting up and sniffing anything and everything and staying up “tweeked out” on speed were at the core of AIDS illnesses in the 80′s and 90′s.

    Every one of the Kaposis Sarcoma and PCP pneumonia cases were among those who were doing massive antibiotics and sniffing poppers!

    But the King Babies of ACT-out did not want to recognize that most always, they too, were in complete and total denial of the fact that most of gaydom was caught up in an epidemic of severe drug abuse and addiction and emotional illness from dealing with coming to terms with being a gay man.

    Notice too, that lesbians, who have always been much more accepted by society, did NOT become quite as self destructive as their gay brothers.

    The very drug that they laid down in the streets to demand, AZT, is the cause of death of the real Iatro-”HOMO”cide that was AIDS, from 1987 to 1995, when AZT monotherapy was ended.

    Those taking AZT monotherapy from 87 to 95 died in an average of 8 months to 1-1/2 hears!

    These imbeciles have yet to accept the responsibility for having been at the heart of this iatrogenic homocide.

    They also completely screwed up by demanding the FDA install the Fast Track system, which has led to drugs being quickly slipped through with very little testing, no placebo tests, and all studies and study info completely controlled by the drug company with a product at stake. To THIS DAY, almost ZERO followup, as is demanded by the FDA, has ever been done with any HIV drug. Absolutely NO HIV drug has EVER been placebo tested, other then a very short and completely corrupted original AZT trial. And in that pharma funded trial, those taking the drug were found to be sharing it with those who were not. And the study was set up with the most sick in the group who were not going to get the drug. And the list of deadly side effects was found to have been “doctored” by the pharma paid fools who ran the trial, Drs Fishl and Douglas Richman!

    Richman still runs the ACTG group out in San Diego. Just far enough from DC to make sure the gov cannot keep a reasonable eye on him.

    The ACTG trials group is payed be each of the drug companies creating supposed antiviral drugs, an average of $10,000 and up to per patient and per drug to get gay men to come into drug studies.

    It quickly turned ACTG into a “good ole boys” group of people who ran all HIV drug trials that were fully paid off by the pharma companies.

    Look up to see the many multimillionaires that control the HIV drug empire. All fully paid off by big pharma!

    Is it any great surprise to anyone, that LIVER FAILURE in those taking the current anti-HIV drugs, IS and HAS BEEN the leading cause of death in the US ever since AZT monotherapy ended in 1995?

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