All the rage - Page 5

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

A lively conversation careened among several milestones of queer radical AIDS activist history. The major early, roof-climbing takeover of pharmaceutical giant Burroughs Wellcome's Burlingame office in 1987. The packed week of successful demonstrations around the sixth International AIDS Conference in 1990. Protesting a 1989 episode of NBC program "Midnight Caller," which featured a murderous bisexual HIV-positive character. The 1989 day that Stop AIDS Now or Else blockaded the Golden Gate Bridge, two weeks after members of ACT UP/SF chained themselves to the Pacific Stock Exchange.

Juicy tidbits dropped: owner Marty Blecman of Megatone Records, Sylvester's label, bankrolled ACT UP until he died in 1991; a fresh-faced Rachel Maddow, member of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel in 1994, stole some other cute dyke's look. We tried to pin down a timeline of everything, but memories were fuzzy, exact dates had faded.

"I'm pleased to be a part of what's happening, and I'm glad that it's so intergenerational," said Palmer (all three are active in the new ACT UP/SF) "but we need to maintain a momentum, and the motivation is different than when people were dying around you every day. Back then, the movement had members from every walk of life — yuppies, deadheads, people I never would have dreamed of associating with as a punk — united by this life-threatening illness."

Highleyman agreed. "HIV has been taken over by the medical industry, we're narcotized. A lot of ACT UP was based on exchanging information on these bewildering scientific things. Now people just ask their doctor what medicine to take. But who's monitoring the doctors or watching the drug companies?"

"And the economics of the city have changed so much," she continued. "I wonder if there are the resources anymore to support a protest movement. It's just so expensive to live here, who has time to organize and follow through? The fact that these kids are taking it on is incredible and rare."

"Back then we all worked three jobs, too" Palmer said. "But our rent was only $300 dollars — and if you had to leave one job to go to a protest, something else would pop up. I'm not sure if that can happen now."



What happened to ACT UP? Leafing through the mesmerizing ACT UP Golden Gate files in the GLBT Historical Society archives in SoMa (especially those of its young star activist, Edward Zold, who succumbed to AIDS in 2009 at 38), a blizzard of drug names zips past: liposomal, foscarnet, fluconzole, sp-pg, TNP470, D4t, clarithromycin, AZT, Deovythymidine, xylocaine.

Every week it seemed, a new hope rose with a new drug name, only to be quashed when that drug failed. As several of the recent AIDS movies posit, the overwhelming amount of death just became too much, people couldn't handle it anymore. Activists began turning on each other, the movement faded, and activist queer culture sank into despair. Until 1997, that is, when everyone began to realize the new anti-retroviral drug therapies would actually work. They were going to live, and then it was the best Folsom Street Fair ever.

Maybe more importantly, whatever happened to radical queer activism in general? I met with writer K.M. Soehnlein, who's working on a novel based on his experiences of the ACT UP period — he was there from the very beginning in New York. He's featured in United in Anger, and Queer Nation, an ACT UP offshoot formed to combat gay-bashing and promote queer visibility through renegade tactics, began in his living room in 1990.


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

Related articles

  • True House: Where to celebrate Frankie Knuckles' legacy this weekend

  • Peep peep

    Nightlife's spring has sprung: Sunset season opener, Hard French's return, star-studly Soiree, Dick Slap life, Worldly sounds, more parties

  • Hills are alive

    Sing your heart out at Musical Mondays. Plus: TT the Artist, Sweater Funk, DJ Harvey, Mr. Oizo, Lex 17, more nightlife 

  • Also from this author

  • Brilliant exodus

    Arthur Szyk's 1930s Haggadah packs fresh visual punch.

  • Ketchup

  • Saving Yosemite