ACT UP New York, which helped invent AIDS activism, turns 20
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Founded in 1987 by the volcanic Larry Kramer, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power—ACT UP—emerged in New York City to fight government silence, lack of medical access and deadly ignorance surrounding HIV. With its nonviolent, in-your-face demonstrations, the group electrified America. Yet as the disease has won a more “manageable” reputation, AIDS activism, including the noise made by ACT UP, has quieted over the years. For the organization’s 20th anniversary, POZ tracked down three original members from the kick-ass front lines and asked how ACT UP can return AIDS to the spotlight.
Sarah Schulman (Coordinator, ACT UP Oral History Project): Our country is overdue for a new social movement. There’s a crisis of access across the board—from people with AIDS to poor people to cultural disempowerment.
Andrew Vélez (Forums Moderator, AIDSmeds.com; writer): We need more black, Latino and young faces on the forefront. They don’t necessarily have to be infected with HIV, but they must be willing to speak out. Also, the work must be done throughout the country, because HIV happens everywhere.
Eric Sawyer (Co-Founder of ACT UP, Housing Works and Health GAP): Once effective treatments were developed and the disease became manageable, AIDS activists went home. Now every person on this planet must become an AIDS activist for the epidemic to be gotten under control.