All the rage - Page 3

25 years ago, queer activist network ACT UP redefined AIDS, changed politics, and saved lives. Can the rebooted ACT UP/SF mobilize a new generation?

An ACT UP/San Francisco banner drop at last years Pink Saturday party on Pride weekend

One of the less-emphasized aspects of ACT UP was its reverence for procedure and attention to order, its organization into multiple affinity groups and action committees: a trick learned from classical anarchism and the Civil Rights Movement. The young ACT UP/SF members I've met — there are about 25-30 core members — seem to have absorbed these techniques: they speak calmly and deliberately but candidly, seeking out consensus but unafraid to disagree. Their actions, too, seem deliberately organized and calmly executed.

The delicately butch-featured Nova joined me at Church Street Cafe, along with fellow ACT UP/San Francisco revivalists Mayra Lopez, 24, a poised yet vivacious nonprofit worker with striking red lips, and Alan Guttirez, 23, the kind of soft-voiced, sharply intelligent sex worker who somehow survives Dennis Cooper novels.

"I was 18 and taking a summer sociology class at SF State with this flaming faggot professor," Guttirez told me. "Usually queer teachers like to talk about themselves a lot, and at some point he mentioned ACT UP. No one knew what he was talking about, that there was this whole radical movement here that had been almost completely buried. I was immediately curious about the possibilities."

Lopez told me, "I grew up in Sonoma — for half my life, HIV wasn't even on my radar. You never talked about sex in the Latino community I'm from, nevermind queer issues or HIV. Then, in high school, I watched a documentary about HIV and wanted to do a history of the disease for a project. I picked up a book of posters, included ones from ACT UP, that's how I found out about it. From there I went to work for a nonprofit — but nonprofits have a problem with being able to address issues about migrant workers and HIV, which is my focus. They have to be so P.C. I feel like ACT UP is a tool to address those issues openly."

A 2012 ACT UP/SF die-in outside Mission Dolores Basilica, protesting the Catholic Church's homophobic and sexphobic policies. Photo by Liz Highleyman

Is any of the motivation for the ACT UP renewal a matter of trendy nostalgia? "We're too busy for nostalgia," Guttirez says. "We wish the people wearing ACT UP things or looking back at the '90s would dig deeper into the meanings to know what those things stood for, that we're still fighting against the same shit. Categorizing people on hookup sites as 'clean' or 'dirty' according to their HIV status or making fun of poor people is just perpetuating behaviors that were once used against us, and killed us."



One of the original ACT UP's main goals was access to life-sustaining drugs. What's the agenda of a new ACT UP? Besides addressing the prohibitively high costs of AIDS meds — something most HIV-positive people with insurance may take for granted, a lack of awareness that drug companies can take advantage of by price gouging or delaying more cost-effective treatments, and leaving uninsured people scrambling and dangerously stressed as public programs are increasingly cut — and the lack of an HIV safety net for many immigrants, the new ACT UP/SF also gives priority to sex worker and housing issues.

ACT UP/SF joined a coalition of local organizations, including Nova's employer St. James Infirmary, to successfully demand that the San Francisco Police Department ban the use of condoms found on someone suspected of prostitution from being used evidence against them. (On January 14, however, Police Chief Greg Suhr announced that the ban would remain "temporary" for 90 days.)


After the ACTUP GG/SF split in 1991, ACTUP SF disintegrated while GG kept up its very narrow focus activism. What happened then follows a pattern of disruptive infiltration where folks who came into the open movement for the VI AIDS conference. The number of folks in ACTUP SF quadrupled after that activism. A small number of very charasmatic and well off gay white men with no apparent means of economic support took the lead in exploiting divisions between the 'AIDS as a social justice pandemic' and 'get drugs in the arms of white gay men with health insurance as soon as possible' camps. As if there as any contradiction or incompatibility between the two.

The reason why ACTUP SF was successful 25 years ago is for the same reason that Occupy showed signs of life 2 years ago, because the community had skin in the movement and the movement reflected broad consensus of the community.

In the intervening two decades, post Seattle 99, the government has changed its posture towards protest, ignoring it all.

Without an organic base of support from the community and without reflecting the needs of the entire community, not just those with nonprofit coverage, it is going to be impossible to test what new forms of activism, adaptations to increasing state intransigence and violence, can be successful.

But that would involve old school activism, putting the community and its needs first, rather than the domesticated catch and release advocacy for "the most vulnerable" of the nonprofits. 25 years ago, everyone was the most vulnerable.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 20, 2013 @ 8:02 am

I can tell you that now.


When was the last time threatening someone with violence ended well for you?

Or Dan White? Or Mark Chapman? Or Lee Harvey Oswald? Or John Hinkley? Or Sirhan Sirhan?

Posted by anon on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

Please consider a reading comprehension test as a requirement to post comments onto this website. Nothing too hard, maybe elementary school level.

Otherwise, illiterate commenters will misunderstand or misrepresent your articles and reader comments.

For a glaring example, look no further than the above comment posted on Feb. 25 at 4:21 pm, which completely distorts the earlier comment posted on Feb. 20 at 8:02 am.


Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

putative strategy, and you got called out on it.

Owned. Deal with it.

Posted by anon on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

"For a glaring example, look no further than the above comment posted on Feb. 25 at 4:21 pm, which completely distorts the earlier comment posted on Feb. 20 at 8:02 am."

Hello. That's a resident troll at 4:21. Their intention was to completely distort. They excreted some bait. Best to ignore.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

defend your own indefensible posts.

Posted by anon on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

I am not a pacifist.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

Your earlier point made that quite clear.

Funny thing is, you're a skinny older guy who wouldn't last 2 minutes in a real fight

Posted by anon on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

Green and being violent.

You won't eat meat because it involves killig animals but you are perfectly happen to be violent to other beings if it suits you?

Portland will love you, marcos.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

The United States is a very violent place, Americans are amongst the most violent people in the global north.

If you oppose violence, then you are anti-American and should consider relocating to a country where there is less violence, like, say France?

The market demands violence and just who do you think you are to stand in the way of what the market commands?

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

support violence? That's good to know because, in your anon incanrations on this thread, you were trying to deflect that suggestion.

Can you describe a time when being violent achieved a political objective for you? Be sure to include a list of the injuries the other party suffered.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

I support the Second Amendment requirement that a well regulated militia bear arms. I look forward to millions of armed, organized citizens!

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

will provide an analysis showing the distorting nature of the illiterate commenter's statement.

Marcos' original comment read, " is going to be impossible to test what new forms of activism, adaptations to increasing state intransigence and violence, can be successful."

The illiterate commenter, anon, began his reply by misquoting the original comment: "Impossible to test what forms of violence can be successful"?

Note how anon deleted the words "of activism, adaptations to increasing state intransigence and" in order to claim that marcos' original statement about responses to state violence is actually advocating activist violence.

At best, anon's actions display a lack of reading comprehension. More likely, he deliberately misquoted marcos' statement for his own nefarious reasons.

This example is why the SFASC is reluctantly advocating the passing of a reading comprehension test as a prerequisite for posting onto this website.

For a long period of time, the SFASC has been closely monitoring this and other San Francisco websites for examples of stupidity as part of its campaign to combat stupidity and its ill effects on internet communication.

From its copious analysis, the SFASC believes unequivocally that anon is the most stupid commenter on any San Francisco website.

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

There was no lack reading comprehension going on here. You empower the trolls by acknowledging them. Either ignore them or drown them out, there is no middle ground here.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

But at least you gave up that dumb "posting anon" idea. You have to be a lot smarter than you are to get away with that.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

I actually think that sort of comment is to be encouraged for the much-needed levity it brings to this forum -- and it fits in with my favored theory with regard to how to best deal with trolls; i.e. ridicule.

Anyhow, I also noticed that marcos took the poster to task, but then was minorly victimized by typography trollery. It would have been more productive use of marcos' effort if he'd put it towards expounding on monetary or housing policy or some such.

The funny thing is that the SFASC commenter was actually defending marcos from misattribution. I honestly wonder why in response marcos would not be appreciative instead of needlessly stern.

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

Pearls, swine, you know.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

... exactly that way...

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

Pearls/swine applied to pontificating on policy, not on thanks to SFASC, apologies for the ambiguity.

I was businesslike with SFASC, maybe I should have gotten down on my knees more demonstrably?

Thanks, SFASC!

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

clearly you advocate violence as a viable stratgey.

Denying you said that is bad enough. Going anon to pretend to be somebody else agreeing you is even worse.

Posted by anon on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

of this website's comments, the SFASC notes that commenter anon uncritically supports the most violent aspects of American society; that is, aggressive warfare and unbridled police power.

Anon's attempt to deflect his own prediliction for violence by misrepresenting someone else's comments reinforces the SFASC's finding that anon is the most stupid commenter on any San Francisco website.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Feb. 26, 2013 @ 12:57 am

Don't I get a "+1" for making the trolls roll in their own filth?

Posted by marcos on Feb. 26, 2013 @ 7:47 am

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