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This web site is an attempt at producing a web archive of material produced by the Boston chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, documenting some of the history of the group. I'm starting by scanning the materials I have at hand. I hope to gather more materials as time goes by. I'll be posting scans of material I have bit by bit, so check back often for new stuff!
Contributions and comments are welcome, but please keep in mind that this (much like ACT UP itself) is a volunteer effort. I haven't asked for any one's permission. This is a personal effort and should in no way be considered an official or approved history of the group. I've added a few editorial or historical notes here and there. Again, these are my personal opinions and should not be interpreted to represent any one else's perspective.
The ACT UP movement rocked the US (and Europe and elsewhere) from the late 1980s through the 1990s. ACT UP chapters are still active in a number of places (especially Paris, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco), but I think it's fair to say that the heyday of the movement -- in the USA anyway -- was the early 1990s. Confronted by the devastating AIDS crisis in the gay community, activists from diverse political backgrounds were drawn together in a combination of direct action, clinical research and lobbying, and community organizing to speak truth to power and demand change. Some were 'old hands' from the gay liberation movement, the women's movement and other liberation struggles, but many were new to political work of this kind who found that they could no longer go on living in the old way.
ACT UP's dramatic and confrontational public face was a shock both to the establishment, the public at large and to many in the gay community. For the first time in many peoples' lives, gay men and their allies were demanding to be heard and respected regarding an important issue concerning public health. This was not a struggle mainly about gay rights. It was about waging resistance to a system that was ignoring a pandemic; it was about life and death. ACT UP's creative approach to political mobilization and the wider implications of their work broke through many boundaries, creating a contradictory legacy within communities affected most directly by the AIDS crisis and in society at large.
My own involvement in ACT UP/Boston was limited to a few of their projects, in particular the production of the intermittent newsletter, Attitude!, and working with safer sex and clean needle programs known as the rubber fairies and the IV League respectively. A lot of the material I have at hand is related to these projects, so this archive will be a bit skewed (at first anyway) in those directions. My hope is that eventually I'll be able to fill in the blanks, especially with regards to work researching and advocating around AIDS/HIV treatment issues.
There can be little doubt that the New York City ACT UP was always the 'vanguard' chapter nationally, but the Boston group helped set the pace in terms of a deep and intense attention to treatment activism, particularly in relation to opportunistic infections. It was a 'training ground' for a number of folks who are still AIDS/HIV treatment activists today. This type of activism was the most unique part of what ACT UP did and probably the least-well understood by the public. By paying attention to the experience of the Boston chapter, I hope to provide some kind of roadmap for once and future activists who are finding a need to take on the 'medico-pharmaceutical complex' in an all-around way once again.
I honor the thousands of brave AIDS activists all across the USA and the world who joined together to unleash their power in the 1980s and 1990s (and those who still do today), both within and outside of the ACT UP groups. I reserve a special place in my heart for those who act up in the smaller and more rural towns and cities of this country and in other places where the struggle is waged in a more repressive and fear-filled atmosphere.
Send your contributions and comments to: email@example.com