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155 In September 1984, several gay men poured fake blood at the entrance of a nuclear weapons laboratory to protest the funding of the arms race rather than research on AIDS. Blocking the road to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, roughly thirty-five miles from Oakland, they added a new layer of meaning to the symbolism of death that marked antinuclear protest. In the words of protestor John Lindsay-Poland, they sought to make visible that “every contract this lab gets has blood on it,” whether due to military assault or because dollars spent on defense could have been spent on AIDS research or care.1 The protesters were members of Enola Gay, a group of radical white gay men active in the antinuclear and Central American solidarity movements and whose name reappropriated the moniker of the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Their action was the first recorded instance of civil disobedience to confront AIDS.2 In June 1985 a person with AIDS named John Lorenzini chained himself to the doors of the San Francisco office of the US Department of Health and Human Services to protest federal inaction on the epidemic. Lorenzini was inexperienced in activism but had sought advice and mentoring from Bill Blackburn, an HIV-negative gay man who had frequently served as a police liaison at antinuclear and Central American solidarity protests.3 Blackburn met with Lorenzini several times to help him plan his protest, and on the day of the action he chained Lorenzini to the doors of the federal building, holding a banner reading “People chapter 6 Money for AIDS, Not War Anti-militarism, Direct Action against the Epidemic, and Movement History 156 | Money for AIDS, Not War with A.I.D.S. Chained to a Sick Society,” while Lorenzini wore a T-shirt that proclaimed “I am a person with AIDS.” Lorenzini won a conversation with the acting director of the office before police briefly detained him. This was the second recorded instance of civil disobedience to confront AIDS. The actions by Enola Gay and John Lorenzini foreshadowed a much larger current to come: the AIDS direct action movement, which sprang up around the United States throughout 1986 and 1987. The birth of direct action against AIDS is usually attributed solely to AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, founded in March 1987 in New York City. However, echoing this book’s challenges to Stonewall exceptionalism, this chapter intervenes against narratives that imagine ACT UP as formed spontaneously and as the only group to lead street protests against the crisis of AIDS. The most simplistic origin stories of ACT UP locate its catalyst in Larry Kramer’s March 1987 speech at New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. While Kramer’s speech was an important event and did help to spark ACT UP’s founding, two other AIDS groups that had formed several months earlier in New York laid groundwork for ACT UP. One was the Silence = Death Project, a collective of artists that later formed into the group Gran Fury. As commemorated by participant Avram Finkelstein, the collective sought to create a simple, graphically compelling poster that would “advertise” the scale of the AIDS crisis and the need for action. Its members initiated the project in summer 1986 and worked on it for six months, debating iconography and fonts and “stud[ying] the work of other [artist] collectives, like the Guerrilla Girls,” before coming up with the design of a black background and pink triangle—an inverted version of the symbol the Nazis used to identify homosexuals—above the words “SILENCE = DEATH.” The bottom of the poster read in smaller font: “Why is Reagan silent about AIDS? What is really going on at the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Vatican? Gays and lesbians are not expendable . . . Use your power . . . Vote . . . Boycott . . . Defend yourselves . . . Turn anger, fear, grief into action.” The collective wheatpasted the poster around Manhattan in February 1987, and when ACT UP formed the next month, it “surrendered its use to the group” by providing posters and paying for the first run of buttons.4 Deborah Gould has traced the other effort that seeded ACT UP: a direct action group called the Lavender Hill Mob that also formed in New York City in summer 1986. The members of this group “disrupted a CDC [Centers for Disease Control] conference on mandatory testing” in February 1987 and attended Kramer’s...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520965706
Related ISBN
9780520279056
MARC Record
OCLC
948669919
Pages
276
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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