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Mar 23, 2007 News: ACT UP at 20
By Kyleovision

Twenty years ago, a furious speech by the playwright and activist Larry Kramer at New York City's lesbian and gay community center birthed a new activist organization, ACT UP--the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Within a month, weekly planning meetings were attracting 200 people, a motley mix of gay men, lesbians, recovering addicts with AIDS and the newly diagnosed, a great many of them just in their 20s.

Though barely noticed in the pages of this publication, ACT UP would revolutionize AIDS research and treatment, as well as inject new life into the gay movement and infuse the tactic of direct action with its own style of theatrical militancy.

At the time, six years and at least 30,000 American deaths into the epidemic, Ronald Reagan had yet to give a public address on AIDS. Not a single drug was available to treat HIV. Prevention efforts had been left to volunteers and struggling nonprofits. The right's solution was epitomized by William F. Buckley's modest proposal that gay men with HIV have their buttocks tattooed.

For its first action, in March 1987, ACT UP sent some 250 activists to descend on Wall Street. Armed with cardboard tombstones and anti-Reagan posters, they chanted, "Release those drugs," lighting a fire under the Food and Drug Administration and drugmakers to speed up research and approval.

Read much more in The Nation

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