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2012-03-23

"How to Survive a Plague": As ACT UP Turns 25, New Film Chronicles History of AIDS Activism in U.S.

Guests

Peter Staley, HIV/AIDS activist featured in How to Survive a Plague. In the mid-’80s, Staley was diagnosed with AIDS. He left his job as a bond trader in New York to work as a full-time activist. He became a founding member of ACT UP in 1987 and served on the board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research until 1991.

David France, director of the new AIDS activism documentary, How to Survive a Plague.

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This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of ACT UP — the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power — an international direct action advocacy group formed by a coalition of activists outraged over the government’s mismanagement of the AIDS crisis. We speak with ACT UP founding member Peter Staley, one of the longest AIDS survivors in the country; and David France, director of the new documentary "How to Survive a Plague," which tells a remarkable history of AIDS activism and how it changed the country. "I’m alive because of that activism," Staley says of the triple drug therapy he was able to take. "This was a major victory this movie tells about getting these therapies. But that was only the beginning of the battle. Now we have these treatments that can keep people alive, and there are still two to three million dying every year. There are more dying now than when we actually got the therapies to save people. So it’s a huge failure of leadership internationally. And it shows a failure of our own healthcare system." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, celebrates its 25th anniversary. The international direct action advocacy group was formed by a coalition of activists outraged by the government’s mismanagement of the AIDS crisis. On March 24th, 1987, ACT UP staged its first major action: a "die-in" with hundreds of protesters convening on Wall Street to demand access to experimental drugs and an end to discrimination against HIV-positive people. While most protesters stayed behind police lines, some crossed the barricades and sat in the street to block traffic. In total, 17 members of ACT UP were arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, and later released. The protest was the first in a long line of demonstrations, speeches, die-ins, political funerals, and marches that helped propel the HIV/AIDS crisis into the national spotlight. Over the years, ACT UP played a vital role in securing legislation, medical research and treatments and policies.

Now, a new documentary about ACT UP and the history of the AIDS epidemic is screening Saturday in Manhattan. It’s called How to Survive a Plague. It chronicles the rise of AIDS activism though the lens of those who captured it firsthand. It tells the heart-wrenching yet deeply inspiring story of people organizing, marching, lobbying to curb a plague that vast swaths of society saw as just punishment for allegedly immoral acts. When the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, I spoke to its director, David France, and Peter Staley, one of the longest AIDS survivors in the country. In the mid-’80s, after being diagnosed, Staley left his job as a bond trader in New York to work as a full-time activist. In 1987, he helped found ACT UP. I began by asking director David France why he made How to Survive a Plague.

DAVID FRANCE: This is a story that I’ve known for a long time, and it seemed to me that the stories about AIDS have all been about the arrival of the virus and the way the virus impacted the community, and the devastation, really. But the truth about the epidemic, especially those darker days of the epidemic, is that there was a lot of amazing activity that took place, and the community really rallied and made a difference. And that part of the story about the plague had never been told. So, that’s what I wanted to go and try to see if I could wrap my hands around.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s really a story about strategy and about activism in the face of death, so it was a life-and-death struggle. Peter, when were you diagnosed?

PETER STALEY: I found out shortly after Rock Hudson became a major news story, when he disclosed that he was dying of AIDS in the fall of 1985. And the country was in a complete panic that point. Parents were pulling their children out of school. There was a lot of fear. There were no drugs. There were no treatments. So it was a frightening time to find out.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s when you were tested?

PETER STALEY: That’s when I was first tested. They had only isolated the virus about nine months before that, and they quickly developed an assay to test for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it fair to say you’re one of the longest surviving people with AIDS?

PETER STALEY: There are those that were infected earlier, even before we first started seeing those dying from AIDS. There were some infected in the late ’70s who are still with us today, thanks to the treatments that are out there. But not many got through the ’80s and ’90s, so I feel very lucky.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about your journey of activism. You certainly didn’t start as an activist.

PETER STALEY: No, I was a bond trader at JPMorgan on Wall Street, trading U.S. government bonds during the Reagan debt years. It was quite a heady job, and I kind of hated it, actually. But I found out I was positive and thought I only had a couple years to live. And then, a year—

AMY GOODMAN: What spurred you to leave that job?

PETER STALEY: Well, my immune system collapsed, and I went on disability. But by that time, I was already a member of ACT UP New York, who had its first demonstration outside the front door of the bank on Wall Street.

AMY GOODMAN: Actually, David, it’s described in the film, your—the bigotry you felt within at JPMorgan.

PETER STALEY: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You weren’t out at the time.

PETER STALEY: No, I was deeply in the closet. And I got handed a flier for that very first demo, when we were all on the trading floor, and everybody had got handed the flier. And there was a discussion on the trading floor. And my mentor, the head trader, said, you know, "I think they all deserve to die." And I just—I just had to sit there at my desk and steam and fume about it. But I went home that night, and there we were, the lead—they were, those demonstrators, the lead story on CBS News, and—with Dan Rather, which I always watched. And I said, "I’ve got to join that group." And that’s how it started.

PETER STALEY: We have everybody.

ACT UP ACTIVIST 1: Wait for you at the end.

PETER STALEY: Yeah, just wait outside the elevators. OK. Hi, we’re with ACT UP. We’re doing an act of civil disobedience. Please remain calm. Jim, Peter, we’re in. Send all the press.

MR. BORSICK: Hello.

ACT UP ACTIVIST 2: We’re from ACT UP New York.

ACT UP ACTIVIST 3: We’re here basically to demand that you start to develop this drug as a potentially life-saving therapy for people with breast cancer and Kaposi’s sarcoma.

ACT UP ACTIVIST 4: You already have the blood of several thousand people on your hands. And those of us like me who have Kaposi’s sarcoma are going to die. And we are here until we get arrested.

GARANCE FRANKE-RUTA: You seem to know nothing about the actual details of the development of this drug. Maybe you’re just not telling us.

PETER STALEY: Mr. Borsick [phon.], could you schedule a meeting with the FDA?

MR. BORSICK: Yeah, [inaudible]. We can.

PETER STALEY: We have helped many companies through this process. We can take a drug from your test tube to the market in under two years, if you work with us. And we will pave the way for you with the Food and Drug Administration. But this total reluctance on your part is going to get you nowhere. And it will end up killing us. All right?

ACT UP ACTIVIST 4: See this dark mark on my forehead? That’s Kaposi’s sarcoma. It’s going to spread. It’s going to kill me. You coming to my funeral? Because you’re the man [blank] responsible. You are my murderer, in your shirt and tie!

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and the strategizing. I mean, you’re talking about now a presidential election year. You’re talking about a year we’ve just come out of, a year of uprisings from Tunisia and Egypt to the Occupy movement all over this country. This, in a sense, is a kind of primer on what to do and maybe what not to do. David, talk about the whole trajectory of protest.

DAVID FRANCE: The ACT UP story, and I think the important part of the ACT UP story, is that it took almost 10 years for the kind of impact that they were looking for to actually be achieved. And I think, with those other movements, we’re impatient for victories and for well-defined strategies. And what How to Survive a Plague details is how those strategies developed and how—how an organization of people who were simply desperate and terrified became a movement that could really change the way healthcare is delivered, not just in America but throughout the world, how science is conducted, how drugs are researched and approved.

And the strategy that ACT UP developed was one which they call "the inside-outside approach": the people who were very well educated, self-educated, in the issues of science and regulation and the whole drug world—and Peter was a member of that aspect of the movement of ACT UP—and then the people on the streets, the soldiers who could bring thousands of people to bear to push forward the points that were being requested and demanded by the activists on the inside.

AMY GOODMAN: David, you covered the AIDS crisis, epidemic, plague, before it had a name. What were you doing?

DAVID FRANCE: I was covering it for the gay presses, when—and you may remember this back then, that the mainstream press wasn’t covering AIDS at all. And it was—the only place to find news about AIDS was in Gay Community News, the New York Native, very small-circulation gay publications. It was before the internet. It was before this ease of communication that we have. And I began to cover AIDS because I needed to find out what was happening. I wasn’t a journalist at the time. And ultimately, it gave me a path for how I could respond to the epidemic. And so, I kept at it starting in 1982.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did the coverage change?

DAVID FRANCE: There was really no coverage through 1985, '86, ’87. ACT UP, one of their first goals was to get AIDS into the national dialogue. And they did it pretty effectively. The coverage wasn't good in '87, ’88, ’89. There were AIDS panic stories. There were AIDS victim stories. At the time, people were still burning the houses of neighbors who had AIDS to try to keep their kids from going to public school. So there was—it was a kind of a wartime sort of coverage. The medical coverage, the scientific coverage, was just as spotty. And it turns out, and as you see in How to Survive a Plague, it's because there was very little medical and scientific work going on even to respond to the crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter, you were very much not only on the activist end, but the medical activist end and the research. Talk about what you were demanding. You were challenging the whole notion of what it meant to be an expert. You were taking on the bureaucrats, the corporations. How did you get in there? How many times were you arrested, by the way?

PETER STALEY: I was arrested 10 times. And thanks to a lot of great pro bono lawyers, I don’t have a record, but—and definitely attended many more demonstrations beyond that. But, you know, we started with mostly just an outside activism process at these huge demonstrations at the doorsteps of buildings in D.C., and then demanding meetings, and with that, the pressure of the demos, we would be granted these meetings. And then the dialogue would start, and we’d keep meeting and keep meeting and come up with lists of demands, and then demo—and demonstrate again when those demands were not met. So it was a real inside-outside process.

GARANCE FRANKE-RUTA: There are three major things that control NIH research: stupidity, incompetence and greed. Those are the three major driving forces behind what’s going on here and why there are no treatments out there for people living with this disease.

In that building down that way, Dr. Anthony Fauci is deciding the research priorities for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. We’re down here because we think we should be deciding the research priorities, because these are the people who know what’s going on, because they’re dealing with it every day.

PROTESTERS: The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Merck.

PETER STALEY: Merck, they were—they were an amazing company, because they actually kind of—by the time that they started looking at protease inhibitors, this was almost in the early ’90s. And ACT UP and the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP was fully educated by then, so we were meeting with all the pharmaceutical companies. They really respected that we had done our homework. And we were able to help them design their trials because of all the work we had done with the FDA, so that they could get the drug approved as quickly as possible and that we could really get the answers on whether the drug worked in combination with the older AIDS drugs.

DAVID FRANCE: The big innovation, I think, that the activists in ACT UP, and later, TAG, the Treatment Action Group, brought was a biostatistical innovation, which is a new way to design trial protocols for new drugs that would allow the drug to be tested quicker and results to be reliable results, to be produced in a quicker way, that would—that brought down the amount of time it took to come up with those answers from seven to 12 years, prior to their work, to two years and under, sometimes as quick as six months.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter, how do you do what you called "humane trials"? And, I mean, You were taking on the entire medical, corporate establishment. Why did you all know—I mean, you had been a bond trader, for God’s sakes—how they should be conducting health clinical trials?

PETER STALEY: We actually started—we had a couple people that joined the group, that joined ACT UP, who had medical backgrounds, and they started doing weekly classes for the rest of us. And we used textbooks on immunology. I mean, we really all went back to square one, and just crash course in trying to learn the science.

And then, after the first drugs were approved and there was this kind of burst of hope that maybe we’re on the right path, everything came crashing down in the early '90s, when we realized those drugs really didn't help that much. And there was a long period of depression, and how we were going to dig ourselves out of this hole. And that’s when ACT UP started this—actually started making friendships with these—the best biostaticians in the country, who had been criticizing a lot of the AIDS research that had happening. And we adopted their criticisms and learned what they were talking about, and took that back to Washington and the drug companies and said, "This is what we need to do to get actual answers of how to save lives with these drugs."

AMY GOODMAN: There was also a debate going on that you were getting too insider, and people were saying, "We’ve got to take to the streets. You guys are just too cozy with those in power."

PETER STALEY: It’s a story of a movement that begins to rip apart. And I’m amazed, given the amount of carnage that was going on, the amount of members that were dying on a weekly basis, how long ACT UP remained unified and strong. But it began to splinter about five years in. And fortunately, a lot of us kept working, and Treatment Action Group was formed, and it did amazing work. And ACT UP lives to this day. So, there’s still a lot more work to do.

AMY GOODMAN: AIDS activist and survivor, Peter Staley, and film director David France talking about the new documentary, How to Survive a Plague. It’s going to be airing at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on Saturday night here in New York City, as well as at the Museum of Modern Art on Monday, before its fall release. We will continue our conversation with them after break, on this 25th anniversary of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We continue on this eve of the 25th anniversary of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP. We return to my conversation about this remarkable new documentary called How to Survive a Plague, which chronicles the history of the AIDS epidemic, as well as those who stood up, spoke out and organized against it. It is a remarkable story of human resilience and the power of organizing. I spoke with David France, the director, at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, along with Peter Staley, the—one of the longest surviving—one of the longest AIDS survivors and activists in this country. I asked David France to talk about the political funerals that activists held on the streets to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

DAVID FRANCE: The political funerals are kind of these stunning manifestations of grief and anger and desperation. And surprising, to me, about those events were how they went uncovered. The media didn’t cover them. These are events in which corpses are carried through the streets, carried to Washington, to make public statements about the urgency of the need for medications. And literally, there’s no television coverage of those, there’s very little newspaper coverage, as though these things hadn’t happened.

And the way we are able to present them in the film is through the archival footage that was produced by the activists themselves. In fact, the film is largely composed of that footage. So it’s really deeply behind the curtain of AIDS activism. And it shows kind of a stunning view of a movement that would have gone unrecorded if it weren’t for the knowledge of the organization that it needed to record its own history, to really historicize for itself its role and its mechanisms and its angers and losses and gains.

BOB RAFSKY: A political funeral for Mark Fisher, who wouldn’t let us burn or bury his courage or his love for us, any more than he would let the earth take his body until it was already in flight. We asked for this ceremony not so we could bury him, but so we could celebrate his undying anger. This isn’t a political funeral for Mark; it’s a political funeral for the man who killed him and so many others, and is slowly killing me, whose name curls my tongue and curdles my breath. George Bush, we believe you will be defeated tomorrow, because we believe there’s still some justice left in the universe and some compassion left in the American people. But whether or not you are, here and now, standing by Mark’s body, we put this curse on you. Mark’s spirit will haunt you until the end of your days, so that in the moment of your defeat, you will remember our defeats, and in the moment of your death, you will remember our deaths. As for Mark, when the living can no longer speak, the dead may speak for them. Mark’s voice is here with us, as is the voice of Pericles, who two millennia ago warned the Athenian soldiers who didn’t have to die and in whose death he was complicit, but who had the nobility to say that their memorial was the whole earth. Let the whole earth hear us now. We beg, we pray, we demand, that this epidemic end! Not just so we may live, but so that Mark’s soul may rest in peace at last. In anger and in grief, this fight is not over ’til all of us is safe. ACT UP, fight back, fight AIDS.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter, you were doing a number of things. One was, people were educating themselves. At the same time, the huge battle to educate the media; at the same time, to take on corporations and the government, especially around issues of funding. Can you go through, in a nutshell, very quickly, a kind of time line of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and the kind of actions that you all engaged in?

PETER STALEY: One of the earliest was to take on the bureaucracies in Washington that we felt were ignoring the crisis. The government—Ronald Reagan was in office when ACT UP came about. They were—he had yet to mention the word "AIDS."

AMY GOODMAN: How long did it take him, in his eight years?

PETER STALEY: It took him seven.

AMY GOODMAN: Seven years to say the word "AIDS"?

PETER STALEY: Say the word "AIDS," seven years into the crisis. It was, you know, a real disgrace and, I think, cost hundreds of thousands of lives, if not millions, that lost time where we could have really been putting a full national effort into research. So, ACT UP really started basically guilt-tripping the government and all of Washington by actions that really grabbed public sympathy. And you saw the polls change, where the public started saying, by 80 percent, that they wanted more spent on AIDS research. And within three or four years, we were spending over a billion dollars a year, from virtually nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the FDA protest. I want to go to a clip in the film, How to Survive a Plague.

PROTESTERS: AZT is not enough! Give us all the other stuff! AZT is not enough! Give us all the other stuff! AZT is not enough! Give us all the other stuff! AZT is not enough! Give us all the other stuff!

VITO RUSSO: It takes nine months to test the drug in Europe. They developed it in France, Germany and England. We are not asking the FDA to release dangerous drugs without safety or efficacy. We are simply asking the FDA to do it quicker.

PROTESTERS: Drugs for sale! Drugs for sale! Drugs for sale!

PROTESTER 1: Dextran sulfate for sale! [inaudible] here. You can’t get it inside.

PROTESTER 2: [inaudible] FDA, but we’re selling it anyway.

PROTESTER 3: Thirty dollars for dextran sulfate! Thirty dollars!

PROTESTERS: Release the drugs now! Release the drugs now! Release the drugs now! Get to work! Get to work! Get to work! Get to work! Get to work! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control! Seize control!

REPORTER: OK, come on, tell us why you got arrested. Where are they taking you? What’s going on today?

PROTESTER 4: We don’t know where they’re taking us. We’re here because this government has the resources to deal with the AIDS epidemic, and they won’t do it unless we force them.

NEWS ANCHOR: R.J. Hudson reports live from Rockville, where the massive protest is wrapping up. R.J.?

R.J. HUDSON: Well, Jim, it’s being billed as one of Montgomery County’s biggest demonstrations in recent history, and it went off smoothly. One hundred eighty-five arrests as a coalition of gay groups came to Rockville to shut down the FDA.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip of How to Survive a Plague, directed by David France, our guest David France, and Peter Staley. That FDA action, explain what you did.

PETER STALEY: Thousands of us showed up at their headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, and—at Rockville, excuse me. And they had never seen anything like it. It was the very first time in history where a patient group, from an illness or disease, showed up and demanded to be heard, to the bureaucrats in Washington in their, you know, ivory tower that did things their way or in the old way and, frankly, a very slow way. And we were demanding that things be drastically sped up for life-threatening diseases. And what—and they ended up dramatically speeding up the drug approval process, not just for AIDS, but for cancer drugs, as well. So we had a pretty wide effect, and it’s really changed, from that moment on, how most illness patient advocacy groups interact with the U.S. government.

AMY GOODMAN: And taking on bureaucracy had rarely been done, an internal—I mean, not just the president or Congress, but finding the agencies and then dealing with those in charge.

PETER STALEY: You had to be an expert. I mean, you had to talk the same language that they were talking. So we spent a great deal of time on self-education. We learned all the science. We became our own experts. And we earned their respect by doing that. It took some time. In our first meetings, we were pretty green. But by 1989, ACT UP was really impressing the scientists and those in government who were involved in the research effort.

BILL BAHLMAN: I’m here with Jim Eigo from ACT UP, and there’s a major protest going on here in Bethesda over the drug DHPG. Tell us what’s happening.

JIM EIGO: Well, this is the second meeting of the Bush commission for reviewing procedures for approving AIDS and cancer drugs. And we thought, since the non-approval of DHPG is such a perfect example of how regulation has gone wrong, we’d bring it home to the commission itself by showing up here in force. And that’s what we’ve done.

BILL BAHLMAN: OK. Also, inside, at the hearing itself—and I understand there’s going to be an action in just a little while when Ellen Cooper speaks.

JIM EIGO: I guess so.

PROTESTERS: What about DHPG? What about DHPG? What about DHPG? What about DHPG?

DR. ELLEN COOPER: We feel that we would indeed be on treacherous grounds in defending that decision, and in fact we’d be wide open to the charge of arbitrary decision making, although we certainly wouldn’t be accused of being inflexible.

PROTESTER 5: You did it with AZT. I don’t see why you can’t do it with [inaudible] —

DR. ELLEN COOPER: I mean, that—I mean, I have to say that the difference in the data between AZT and DHPG is the difference between night and day, as far as the quality [inaudible].

PROTESTER 6: Sight and blindness. [inaudible] have died since this meeting started, and four more are going to die before it’s over.

PROTESTER 7: Who represents the patient on this panel?

DR. ELLEN COOPER: There is a person of color on this panel.

LARRY KRAMER: FDA re-looks at the DHPG data and suddenly, oh, agrees with ACT UP.

FDA PANEL CHAIR: Ready for a vote? All in favor, raise your hand. One, two, three... Oh, that’s everybody. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED: It was really an amazing encounter, but it sort of felt like reaching the Wizard of Oz, like you’ve got to the center of the whole—of the whole system, and there’s just this schmuck behind a curtain.

AMY GOODMAN: The moments taking on candidate Clinton, Bill Clinton, describe what happened there.

PETER STALEY: That was Bob Rafsky, who you see a lot of him in the film. And he heckled the President during—well, candidate Clinton, during the lead-up to his first election, about AIDS. And it was the very first time Clinton said, "I feel your pain." And he actually said it twice. It’s a very dramatic moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he interrupts one of his campaign stops.

PETER STALEY: Yes, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: But—and David, maybe you can weigh in here—in the presidential debate, it’s then raised. Because you have these protests outside, it becomes an issue in the presidential campaign.

DAVID FRANCE: Absolutely, yeah. That was the outside approach that was—it became such a national, and then, ultimately, international, movement of AIDS activists, that it was impossible to not discuss AIDS in public if you were a public figure. And that was essential in order to be able to force those doors open to allow people to go inside and help make the decisions about what drugs to test, how to test them, how to get them out to people.

AMY GOODMAN: Early in How to Survive a Plague, Peter, you’re a very young man in the film, and you say you don’t expect to live. What changed?

PETER STALEY: Triple drug therapy in 1996 saved my life. And those therapies came about because the government spent a billion dollars on research, starting in 1989, 1990. And that all came about because of pressure from advocacy. So I’m alive because of that activism. And I hope people will see this film. It’s about how when—it’s about people power being able to actually create change and to change things for the better. It’s not just an AIDS story. Anybody who’s involved in the Occupy movement should run to see this film. Anybody that wants to change the world should run to see this film.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of affordability? Now, the issue in the United States and around the world of people who can or cannot get the treatment that would keep them alive, as this treatment has kept you alive?

PETER STALEY: This was a major victory this movie tells about getting these therapies. But that was only the beginning of the battle. Now we have these treatments that can keep people alive, and there are still two to three million dying every year. There are more dying now than when we actually got the therapies to save people. So it’s a huge failure of leadership internationally. And it shows a huge failure of our own healthcare system to be able to deliver these drugs to everybody that needs them in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, seeing you in one scene—it’s what? Addressing the International AIDS Conference?

PETER STALEY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And talking to the different parties involved. Can you remember that speech?

PETER STALEY: Yeah, it was in San Francisco in 1990. It was the last AIDS conference in the U.S. before they started boycotting the U.S. because of our immigration ban. And the previous year in Montreal, we had invaded the conference, so this time they decided to invite us in. And they had a—they decided to let ACT UP have a moment at the podium during the opening plenary.

AMY GOODMAN: And what you said?

PETER STALEY: And I tried—at that moment, there was just a tremendous amount of conflict between the activists and the scientists, a lot of fear, a lot of finger pointing. And I tried to bridge those differences so that we could start working together, and I tried to make ACT UP more comfortable for them. And I tried to tip my hat to what the scientists were there to do and to say, "Listen, we know you’re here to do good."

AMY GOODMAN: Title, David, How to Survive a Plague, how did you choose it?

DAVID FRANCE: It seemed to me to capture not just the activity of the individuals that were involved in this movement, but it’s—it was a primer. It really establishes a paradigm for activism. And I thought the title kind of stretched its arms around larger issues or more issues than just AIDS activism. But at root, it’s really — How to Survive a Plague really is a story about how—how we attacked AIDS, not how AIDS attacked us, and what it takes to do that and what it takes to come up with just the desire or the thought that you could do that, and then how to refine your techniques along the way to actually make a difference.

AMY GOODMAN: David France, Peter Staley, thank you so much.

PETER STALEY: Thank you.

DAVID FRANCE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The new documentary, How to Survive a Plague, is going to air Saturday night at the Walter Reade Theater and on Monday at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, before its fall release. This, on the 25th anniversary of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, what is happening with activism today on the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.

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