On April 25th, and in honor of its 25th anniversary, AIDS activist group ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), joined by organizations ranging from Occupy Wall Street to Visual AIDS to Housingworks as well as other AIDS activist and queer organizations, will be staging a large scale demonstration on Wall Street reminiscent of its original Wall Street protests of the late 1980s.
Planning to march from City Hall to Wall Street, ACT UP, as well as the other groups, are marching in favor of a Financial Speculation Tax (Fi.S.T.), otherwise known as the Robin Hood tax, on Wall Street, a tax on speculative trading by Wall Street investment banks, hedge funds and other large financial institutions. The revenue generated with this tax would then be used to fund the fight against HIV/AIDS both in the United States and abroad. The organizations are also stating their hope that this tax would also help create universal healthcare in the United States.
A History of Change
While it remains to be seen how effective this protest will be on the possibility of Fi.S.T., ACT UP has a history of creating real change from political activism, particularly on Wall Street. In the late 1980s, ACT UP marched on Wall Street several times in response to the pharmaceutical companies monopolizing AIDS drugs, making it impossible for a generic version of the drugs. In 1987, with the AIDS activist art group Gran Fury, ACT UP staged a protest and the next day the price of AZT was lowered.
While most of the media attention arount the April 25 march is sure to be focused on the joining of forces of ACT UP, the strong and completely effective AIDS activist group, and Occupy Wall Street, a movement which has been both widely praised and criticized. This partnership, if only temporarily, leads to some important questions about the connections between Occupy Wall Street and ACT UP and what OWS could learn from the strategies of ACT UP.
Artist, writer and activist Ted Kerr, an artist, who is a part of Visual AIDS, spoke to Hyperallergic and says he sees some natural alliances between the two groups:
For [the] 12th Street [journal] I interviewed Sarah Schulman about the possible connections between ACT UP and OWS. She said the biggest difference is that ACT UP, like great activism before it, had winnable goals. OWS is about not having goals per se. This makes a huge difference. It makes it harder for some people to enter the movement. With HIV it was a clear message — save lives. What is interesting about Occupy is how they are working to balance the demands to have demands, and the pressure to keep the movement loose. The best thing about Occupy is that is actually grows as people bring their complaints to the table. The connection I do see is that Occupy, inspired by ACT UP possibly, is a movement of bodies in inhabiting space, something activism has been missing for a while.
It is surprising that even today many people appear to know little or remember even less about the AIDS crisis that consumed the world in the 1980s and 1990s and continues till today. The public perception of the crisis is no doubt shaped by the fact that people living with HIV/AIDS are able to live for years, if not decades, with the help of drug cocktails that do not cure but prolong the life expectancy of those with the illness. The topic of HIV/AIDS has largely disappeared from the national consciousness, and even in academia, art and queer circles, which were once strong centers of debate about HIV/AIDS, the discussions are more muted.
Kerr sounds hopefully about the April 25 march. “What I like best about the upcoming ACT UP action is that it reminds the public at large that HIV is not over. By pairing up with Occupy we establish that HIV is an ongoing and real issue,” he says.
The joint ACT UP and Occupy Wall Street demonstration and march on Wall Street is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, April 25 starting at 11 am at New York City Hall and will end on Wall Street.