Twenty years ago this week, the Centers for Disease Control’s newsletter reported 5 unrelated cases of pneumonia inhomosexual men in the Los Angeles area. Two of them had already died. The report generated little interest.
As the death toll mounted and people with AIDS lost friend after friend, they found themselves up against incredibleodds: a government that refused to acknowledge the disease–the Surgeon General under Reagan said the White Househad prevented him from making any public statements on AIDS for the first 3 years of the epidemic; governmentbureaucrats who wouldn’t approve drugs fast enough; right-wing leaders, who called the disease God’s revenge on gays;brutal, homophobic police, who wore gloves while beating up activists; a media more concerned about convincing thepublic that Saddam Hussein should be punished than about deaths at home; and a homophobic general population whostood by watching.
But the incredible odds bred incredible results. AIDS activists conceived and carried out some of the mostdisruptive and effective actions in U.S. history. A few examples:
*October 11, 1988: the newly formed AIDS action group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) shuts down the FDA inWashington.
*September 14, 1989: ACT UP members infiltrate the New York Stock Exchange, staging a demo on the floor and stoppingtrading for the first time in history. The activists demanded that traders sell stock in Bourroughs Wellcome, nowGlaxo-Wellcome, who was the only maker of AZT and charged exorbitant prices.
*January 22, 1991: ACT UP members make it onto the set of the CBS evening news interrupting Dan Rather and theMacNeil-Lehrer show.
Today we’re going to devote the hour to AIDS activism in this country over the past 20 years. We start with the CBSevening news on January 22, 1991…
- CBS Evening News, News Reports Of The Incident, And The Macneil-Lehrer News Hour On January 22, 1991.
- Interview With John Weir, the activist who appeared made it on camera during the CBS evening news.
Special thanks to James Wentzy of AIDS Community Television for providing the news footage and the interview withJohn Weir.
Special thanks also to Bob Lederer.