Friday, February 28, 2020

The Times Still Has Blood on Its Hands: An Afternoon Photo Shoot with ACT UP








The other day I got an email from ACT UP mentioning a photo shoot with the New York Times:

“Hi Jay,
I got your e-mail from David France. I'm writing from T Magazine at the New York Times where, for a spring issue, we are gathering together culturally relevant groups of people whom we feel have defined the world as we know it. For one of them, which we want to shoot in late February, we were hoping to gather as many living members of ACT UP as we can, going back to the beginning, for a group portrait that would reflect their power, anger, deep relevance and ongoing resonance. I wanted to personally invite you, and the details are below. I was also hoping you might help me spread the word — I've been contacting many people, and I'm going to post this on Facebook on the ACT UP alumni group as well, but any assistance you might provide when it comes to outreach would be greatly appreciated….. We believe this will be a powerful, memorable and historical moment — ideally hundreds strong — and I hope to see you there. Best.Kurt Soller…”

ACT UP in the style pages?
But why now?
Why was the Times covering the group now?
Was it safe now?

I recall ACT UP zapping the Times for its lack of coverage of the crisis.

Finishing a pipeline action in North Williamsburg in which activists blocked construction for two hours before facing arrests, I rode over  to join my ACT UP comrades, feeling a little iffy about things.  ACT UP is still active.  Activists in Brooklyn were being processed as the photo shoot began. I was still reeling.
Adrenaline pumping. 

Inside I ran into countless old friends and people I still do activism with, including Jennifer, Laurie, Kate, and Jamie, who I  was  arrested with a few weeks ago in Washington DC.

Articulating the feeling many of us had, Jamie stood up to read a statement.

“The  Times Still has Blood on Its Hands,” declared Bauer.

“The Times  has blood on its hands, which it can never wash off, even though it is trying to “work through” its lack of coverage of the AIDS crisis and AIDS activism.

The Times continues, to this day to ignore the activism of the resistance, even while it prints opinion pieces calling for people to protest in  the streets (eg David Leonhardt and Michele Goldberg).   The Times does not cover organizing, does not cover resistance campaigns, and it does not cover demonstrations.  It does not educate its readers about what demonstrations are coming up, who is organizing, or why they should attend.

It covers internecine bickering (eg The Women’s March), which only drives people away. Mostly the Times is silent, or it bemoans the lack of large demonstrations.  Sometimes it will sue a picture of a demonstration (often Rise and Resist) to illustrate and article, but it will not identify the group by name or the demonstration, which leaves people without the information necessary to get involved.

For the past three years (since Trump was elected) I have worked with Rise and Resist.  We are  a  direct action group with a large handful of ACT UP members in it. We have protested weekly about Trump’s immigration policies, his obstruction of congress, and his disregard for the constitution.

These kinds  of  demonstrations  are typical of resistance activities, yet the Times does not cover Rise and Resist, or these  actions, just as the Times never covered the vast majority of ACT UP actions.  ACT UP in its heyday never had more than 5,000 protesters at a demonstration, and most of our actions were  quite small.

The hypocrisy of the Times continues, celebrating what activists did thirty years ago, while ignoring  what activists are doing today.  Despite your “good intentions”, you are complicit.  What can you do to make the difference?  Insist that The Times educate itself and its readers on the current state of activism, and cover demonstrations, organizing, and resistance…”

We cheered as  Bauer concluded.

“But still here we are,” someone chimed in, to more laughs, our contradictions everywhere, a signature  mark of queer activism. 

Everyone was still posing for the style section.
Friends from generations of my activist life in New York City,
the harm reduction activists, the sex activists, the reproductive autonomy activists,
the Church Ladies for Choice, Housing Works, Rise and Resist, Center for Popular Democracy, Gays against Guns, and on and on and on.

So many greetings, it was hard to know who to talk to.

ACT UP Fight Back, Fights AIDS,  we roared.

And then the photo shoot.
Comical to say the least, everyone wanted to be in front, except
Ann Northrop, who recently began her interview with the Advocate,  “We were angry  because”  who was in back.

Everyone form a V around Ken, said Alexis.

I know he’s going to get shit for that.

I know I am going  to get  shit for that, Ken confessed  later on.

More people competing for visibility.

Your head is in the way. 

Others stepping back.

NYTimes Photog:
"Great, Now can we get a shot of you chanting?"
"ACT UP: “Sure."
"Fuck the NY Times!" 
"Fuck the NY Times!"
"Fuck the NY Times!"

Lets  do a die in.

I need help, someone said to my right, lots of bad backs  in the room.

Many began ACT UP over three decades ago.


Andrew Velez wasn’t there.

Neither were Keith or Spencer.

But Larry was there.

Lots of Larry stories.

“He told me I was doing more harm than good,” said  one.

’Gay men only think with their cocks,’ remember  that.”

Age is grasping at us.

Some gray hair to match our act up t shirts.

Lots of survivors.

Lots of stories.

“I had to stop after ’96..” I overheard another.

And out for Chinese food and more gossip.

I loved  Anne’s interview in the Advocate:

Ann Northrop: There are very few places in the world where I don't feel welcome because it just doesn't occur to me not to. There were plenty of women there. It was a great mix of people and the core were certainly gay men who were personally threatened, many of them living with HIV or afraid of acquiring it, and they were there to save their own lives.

JM: …ACT UP was stealing from.
AN: From Anti-war movements, from the Civil Rights movement, from Feminist movements. It has been a process of leapfrogging each other along the way and the right-wing is part of that too. They have learned techniques from us. We have learned techniques from them.
…it was the fearlessness about confronting and shaming people in power publicly that forced these issues to be dealt with. The movement needs people coming at people in power from every angle.
…We need lobbyists. We need people on the inside working. We need people who are donors. We need people who will write their members of Congress, but we need people out in the streets who will raise issues honestly and directly and shame people in power when they don't do the right thing.
…But what ended the Vietnam War was millions of people getting out into the street and demanding that it end. I don't see millions of people in the street now demanding that the horrors that we face now. And I am hoping that those millions of people are sitting home at the moment are getting themselves revved up to go to the polls in the fall.
But whether it's an unwillingness to be unliked or what, I don't know, but I want to see more action.”
So do I.
“We're fighting for your lives, too," said Ann to the crowd at St Pats in 1989, which she hoped would be effective. “Maybe, maybe not. But they got us all out of there. They took us off to the police precincts. I like to say I got home to watch the second half of the Giants/Broncos game.
JM: You had multiple priorities.
AN: Life is rich. You have to do different things.”

Thank  you act up, you’re still fighting for our lives. 











































13 comments:

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