Power (ACT UP): A Direct Model
of Community Research for AIDS
At early ACT UP NY meetings, it was usual to hear people say: "We don't want to help people die anymore. We want to help people live." Indeed, one of the reasons ACT UP NY was formed was that it had become apparent to some members of the lesbian and gay community in New York that no matter how many service organizations we created, unless there were treatments available, all we could do was to help people to die. Our own personal experiences with the inaction of the federal government and the blatant homophobic1 rhetoric appearing in newspapers and being espoused by public officials led to the conclusion that acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) prevention required more than safer sex guidelines or community based social services. The AIDS epidemic was a political crisis. Required were an active and public exposure of the issues and the use of collective direct action to pressure for the changes that could save lives and a community.
ACT UP NY, formed in March 1987, is the oldest and largest of all ACT UPs.2 The legend is that ACT UP appeared out of a vacuum when Larry Kramer gave one of his rousing speeches at the New York Lesbian and Gay Community Center in March 1987. Yet Kramer had made other rousing speeches to no avail. His pointed comments and pleas that night definitely served as a catalyst. However, the basis for ACT UP's emergence and its focus on direct action had been brewing for several years.
In the mid- 1970s in New York City, direct-action political gay groups dissipated. In their place arose gay community groups organized around Democratic party politics or other facets of life, such as religion or business. The focal political issue for the gay male community was the Gay Rights