Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Two Reports From ACT UP/NYC's 20th Anniversary Action Planning Meeting

(Members of ACT UP/Philly.)

I recently traveled back to New Jersey to visit my family, and coincidentally during that time, ACT UP/NYC held its first organizing meeting for the group's twentieth anniversary in March, which I attended. Here's my report.

The meeting was held at the gay community center in second floor meeting room that was well heated. I expected to find about a dozen folks sitting around ready to organize and instead walked into a crowded room with chairs quickly being claimed. There was practically no room for standees, except out in the hallway.

I felt extremely happy seeing the veterans and survivors from the truly bad old days, when our friends and lovers were dropping like flies, and sharing hugs with them. Many faces were new to me and the crowd over all was extremely diverse -- white folks, people with AIDS, African Americans, youth and the more mature, Latinos and Asians, skinnies and chubbies -- a real mix of people.

(Standing center, wearing glasses, Eric Sawyer. Seated center, taking notes, Andy Humm. Standing right, John Riley.)

Eric Sawyer laid out a brief agenda and facilitated the meeting, with many taking notes. He read a touching note from Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares, wishing good will and reminding us of the immortal and totally apt words of Arthur Miller from "Death of A Salesman." The message: "Attention must be paid." Eric waved around the $20,000 check from Broadway Cares, which received a few snaps up.

Everyone was asked for their ideas about how best to commemorate the founding of ACT UP, and to keep their comments to 3 minutes.

Some of the ideas proposed included the following, in no particular order of importance:

1. Stage a big die-in, with the theme of "Money for AIDS, not for war;"

2. Focus attention on the needs of prisoners with AIDS;

3. Reissue old t-shirts, posters and stickers and raise some funds;

4. Organize actions at high schools in NYC to educate youth about safe sex;

5. Coordinate an action with immigrant rights' advocacy groups and shed light on America's HIV immigration policies;

6. Whatever is planned, keep celebrities out of the picture and pay attention to regular people;

7. Work with groups demanding national health care for all citizens;

8. Create an enormous female condom, which is also suitable as an anal condom, putting the focus on effective prevention;

9. Ask surviving members of other ACT UP chapters around the country and across the world to hold speak outs and remembrances;

10. Make sure that whatever action is planned in NYC in March that people who don't live in the area can participate somehow through the web;

11. Put energy into increasing funding for the Ryan White CARE Act and the programs it supports;

12. Attack AIDS denialist rhetoric;

13. Collaborate with peace groups organizing demonstrations in mid March to mark the start of Bush's war in Iraq;

14. Choose one HIV issue, organize one massive action on a single day, to better generate national media attention;

15. Hold a remembrance meeting on a Monday night in March, just like the meetings of yore, to recall deceased friends and renew our spirits.

(From the right, Peter Staley, Sean Strub, two members of Housing Works.)

Needless to say, no agreement was reached on actions during March, except to definitely do the Monday night meeting remembrance. Very glad I was able to make the meeting and give suggestions to the NYC group, and if I were living in the NYC area again, I'd definitely be at the next organizing meeting. Information on that meeting is below.

And mark your calendar! On March 13, Larry Kramer will be making an anniversary speech at the gay community center. Let's hope some tech and web savvy NYC folks get it together to broadcast Larry's talk on the web.

Finally, the report below is from John Riley and I'm sharing it in the spirit of old ACT UP/NYC, to give a few perspectives on a given event or topic. By the way, I disagree with John's count. I believe more than 70 people were at the January 11th meeting at it height.

John Riley's report:

Notes: January 11th meeting 2007 planning meeting for ACT UP Anniversary Action

Attendance: 53 people

Donation: Tom Viola, Executive Director of Broadway Cares generously sent a check for $20,000 to cover expenses during the anniversary year for education and outreach to revitalize the ACT UP to be administered thru a 501c3 conduit (African Services).

Decision: To create one main action with the bulk of the energy going into developing it. Then perhaps have one or more actions that are announced at that main action. (either verbally or in writing). We would attempt to have an action that we would reach out to and hopefully draw non-AIDS groups as well as AIDS groups. (This passed overwhelmingly.)

Brainstorming: The notes which follows are the general ideas, if you proposed them and they are mangled let me know specific wording changes and I'll adjust them. These notes are mainly to give an indication of the general issues that we might
want to work on.

Infection and prevention for young people are extremely important topics, as is the continuing HIV immigration ban. Now may be the time to do something to take advantage of the Bush administration moving slightly on the issue.

Ken Bing: We need a fundraising committee to raise money for beyond this year. Proposed a demonstration at a main location but also satellite actions with people holding placards with pictures of PWAs who have died. This could be associated with mini die-ins at simultaneous locations. These actions could be a part of a day of action and might include civil disobedience.

Michael Petrelis: Wants an event where people talk about what ACT UP meant to them, broadcast also on web. Also pick one day in March for global remembrance. ACT UP/Paris and other ACT UP chapters would be invited to participate. Need to honor Mark Kostapoulis of ACT UP/LA and Danny Satomayor of ACT UP/Chicago.

Jon Winkleman: T-shirts could be re-issued.

Elizabeth Meixell: The issue could be Money for AIDS not War.

Other ideas: Focus on the travel ban Clinton signed it into law after passing both Democratically-controlled houses.

Prisoner health is also something we might make headway on. Spitzer is on the record for that. The Prison Committee of ACT UP has worked on getting the Dept. of Health to have the power of oversight over prison health rather than the Department of Corrections.

John Riley: We could connect Money for AIDS not War directly to the lack of funding of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria as well as national health care.

Waheedah Shabazz-El from ACT UP Philadelphia: We need to check in with other chapters about demo ideas and would preferably be on some issue we are currently doing work around, preferably something with a national angle.

Emmaia Gelman: We need to work with immigrants and youth of color. We need to consider using part of the money to hire a full time organizer to help prepare for the March demo.

Jeanne Bergman: AIDS denialists are doing tremendous damage not only in South
Africa but also in parts of the US including New York.

Drug Pricing and Global Prevention

For every one person in treatment, there are 7 new infections. Here in New York they'll give out condoms but don't give condom lesions in schools. With the new Democratic Congress we could make some headway with drug prices and the testing with consent issue.

One thing that has happened in the last 10 years since more effective treatment appeared is the disappearance of the face of PWAs. PWAs just blend in now.

Glen: ACT UP could be useful to help with Ryan White reauthorization.

The HIV system is run better than most health systems and could lead us to national health care

Complacency regarding education of young people.

Ellen Bay: There are many fantastic ideas. Health care for all is a great idea. We need to be outrageous and confrontational. We may want to consider Abbott as a target because of their outrageous pricing policies and making Norvir taste like vomit so people would have to use Kaletra, their protease inhibitor cocktail. We need to go after the companies we know best.

Peter Staley: Concentrate on one event one issue we can have an impact on like immigration, or laws that discriminate on HIV/AIDS status or national health care.

Sean Strub: Do one issue. Have an anniversary meeting. Create an activist agenda for congress that includes drug pricing and immigration ban. How much ground has been lost? ACT UP asserted the right of a disease group; we had a voice, now we've lost it. There is only one PWA/HIV on Amfar's board, and none with the AIDS Project Los Angeles board. Increasingly PWAs aren't even being give choices they have a right to like those regarding treatment choice and it is turning into a Tuskegee-like experiment. People don't know they have other options.

Event: Focus on Prevention and treatment

Kendall Morrison: We should have the action at Ground Zero.

Jose from ACT UP/Philadelphia: African Americans are the most impacted with the disease now. We need to reach out and incorporate the African American community in the process and recruit.

Ann Northrop: Denver Principles: Main goal make goal needs to be making an action that is effective. We'll have to make hard choices. Maybe need to be naked in front of Bush and Clinton. We could also do an action with dildoes and condoms where we surround the schools with condom demonstrations.

Brian: I'd like to see focus on Bush. Love to see the googley-eyed Bush with "Murderer" on the sign. The Denver Principles were key in our organizing; they asserted our right to express our voice. Now we've been made a permanent and inferior subclass that is criminalized. We have to disclose. We need to realize the gravity of this.

James Wentzy proposed that we used the theme we are losing the war against AIDS as the theme, saying what no other organization in the community wants to say.

Next Meeting: Thursday, January 18th at 7pm at Housing Works Day Treatment Center, Conference Room B, located at 320 West 13th Street on the 4th floor.

(James Wentzy after he spoke.)

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