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How Has Activism Changed Since the Early Years of ACT UP?

April 23, 2012


Jeannie Wraight

Jeannie Wraight

HIV Treatment Activist, Founder,; Bronx, N.Y.

I caught the tail end of ACT UP's heyday. There were so many of us and we were dedicated, militant and organized. It's hard nowadays to get a group of people together more than 15 strong. We were angry and anger is an amazing motivator. It seems to me that most of us are now so worried about being politically correct and hurting others' feelings that we don't speak up when something is wrong and thus things are slow to change.

Being angry doesn't equate to having a negative attitude. Being an activist is not a popularity contest. A real activist is often a lone voice of dissent in a room full of smiling faces, saying and doing what needs to be done to save lives. In losing our anger, we've lost our will and power to force change when it's desperately needed. The dying hasn't stopped for all of us. We need to find our anger again.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Brad (Washington, DC) Fri., Apr. 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm UTC
I think one of the fundamental changes is that many former activists now work passionately to defend the slow, wasteful bureaucracy of AIDS organizations while working in it. When "activists" say we need to speak with one voice, what I hear them saying is "don't challenge our status quo" despite the arduously slow response to change that bureaucracies by there nature are. Activism has itself become an industry that wants people to be reactive, do their bidding, but not necessarily be informed. When you see how many activists are jetting around the world on someone else's dime to the countless conferences, is it any wonder? There are a few activists out here still, but I know from experience that when you challenge the status quo of "AIDS, Inc." it can feel pretty lonely.

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Comment by: Mitch Mon., Apr. 30, 2012 at 11:50 pm UTC
Ditto. Wish I could've said it this well. Lots of people are whispering this under their breath amongst friends, or anonymously on message boards.

The Activist Set loves to berate newer poz for lacking "fire". The reality couldn't be any further from the truth. We've got plenty of fire-we just don't want to waste it on a system that hocks "preventative facial fillers" and recreational sex pills. We're segregated from one another, or supervised like children in support groups. We're screaming in the wilderness, against a superstructure our "elders" never faced. HIV activism always beckons with one hand and strangles with the other.

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