How to Survive a Plague

The ACT UP/TAG documentary How to Survive a Plague, which has a theatrical release set for September 22, has an official trailer…

…as well as a tumblr of ACT UP images that also invites users to submit their own artwork about current issues. 25 years later, the posters that ACT UP and the associated art collective Gran Fury put together are not only arresting, but sadly still relevant.

Gran Fury poster from 1988. Source: How to Survive a Plague
Gran Fury poster from 1987. Source: How to Survive a Plague

All signs point to this film being an out-and-out tearjerker; the trailer alone made me cry. But the larger point seems to be not just to elegize a movement and the millions lost to AIDS, but to inspire a new generation of activists to address their own social justice concerns. In his review, Frank Bruni testifies to the film’s sense of hope for the potential of mass action to effect real change. Indeed, last year’s Occupy movement seemed to echo ACT UP in its tactics and targets, if not in the precision of its message, and the two groups collaborated on an action in April and one over the Fourth of July, and members of ACT UP Philly helped train Philadelphia Occupiers in direct action methods when the encampment was in place late last year. While ACT UP has largely faded outside of a few strongholds in the urban mid-Atlantic (ACT UP Philadelphia being the only continuously active chapter, by their own claim) the growing economic inequality in the United States coupled with the energy of Occupy protesters has some hoping that a new truly progressive politics might be possible in this country. Whether it will materialize, and whether it will in the end look anything like ACT UP or Occupy remains to be seen.

Incidentally, my goal in undertaking the African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project and African American AIDS History Project is also to inspire, as well as to inform. Of course, the interviews that I conduct are a critical piece of the research for my dissertation. But beyond that, by recording voices that have been left out of many popular and academic accounts of U.S. AIDS activism and collecting digital copies of materials through the African American AIDS History Project site, we’re creating a repository of materials that will not only be available to scholars, but will hopefully inspire people to get involved with important issues at a grassroots level.

Cross-posted at the African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project.


Bon voyage, Caroline!

I want to highlight a new link in the sidebar–my friend Caroline Genco leaves this week to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Malawi, and she’s blogging about her experience. Caroline is the mother of Christina, a dear friend, fellow Bike and Builder, and amazing young woman who passed away last summer as the result of a road collision. Caroline is working with HfH’s Global Village program in Christina’s memory, and has established the Christina Genco Foundation in her daughter’s honor. Check out Caroline’s blog and consider donating to either the Christina Genco Foundation or Habitat for Humanity Global Village, if you can.

Today would have been Christina’s birthday. Happy birthday, girl. Miss you lots.

Christina and her mom, Caroline.

McCarthy for Muslims.

This week Representative Peter King’s (R-NY) House Homeland Security Committee opened hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims.  Amid opposition from Democratic congressmen and -women, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Islamic groups, King defended the proceedings, saying that there is “nothing radical or un-American about these hearings.”  King obviously wants to avoid comparisons (too late) to Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which seriously damaged the lives and careers of left-leaning folks in entertainment and government, as well as those of (suspected) gay men and women working in the federal government.  King is also trying to fend off charges that his hearings are rooted in racism and prejudice by saying that while the majority of Muslim Americans are patriotic citizens, the small number of radicals who engage in terrorist acts warrants the committee’s investigation.  As Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) pointed out during the hearings, by that logic it would make just as much sense to hold hearings investigating the causes of radicalism among white folks:

When the Southern Poverty Law Center put out reports in 2009 and 2010 saying essentially the same thing, that white right-wing extremism poses an immediate threat to Americans’ safety and security, it raised conservative hackles that they were being unfairly targeted by left-wingers promoting a culture of fear by inflating the violent actions of a few to demonize a swath of people with similar political beliefs. (examples here, here, and here) Um, irony much?

Speaking of irony, these hearings come the same week that two NPR executives resigned after conservative activist James O’Keefe (of ACORN pimp fame) caught one of them on tape saying that the Republic party has been “hijacked” by “Islamophobic… xenophobic… seriously racist, racist people.”  The problem with this statement?  Well it’s not great from a PR standpoint, but it’s not exactly an unreasonable opinion.  Looking at the groundswell of oppositional protest by people waving signs proclaiming, “I want my country back” following Obama’s election, the sheer number of Republicans who believe that the president is a Muslim, and recent opposition to the Park51 Islamic community center, it’s a pretty easy conclusion to draw.  The rub lies in that funding for public broadcasting (including NPR) is under Congressional review with the current budget bill.

Of course, the House budget bill seems to have much more to do with settling old scores and pleasing the Republican party’s base (although who makes up that base these days is anyone’s guess) than with functional governance, and that goes double for Scott Walker’s Wisconsin clusterf***.  I wrote here briefly about the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, but Americorps has also come up on the chopping block, apparently because it makes House Republicans think of Bill Clinton and Ed Kennedy.  Likewise, Rep. King’s hearings seem to be more about fear-mongering and building political capital than preventing terrorism; King’s support for the I.R.A. in the 1980s only make the proceedings look more cynical.  But the fact remains that Republicans and a fair number of Democrats see this as a productive political discourse, or at least one to which they must pay lip service.  It’s possible that with all the battles Republicans seem intent on fighting, the American electorate will wake up to what’s going on here and throw them out in 2012, but I’m really afraid that this is actually a dark portent of things to come.

Vim, vigor, and vacuity.

Here’s something worth re-posting: Tenured Radical has a great piece today on what’s wrong with Teach for America.  I don’t mean to denigrate what I’m sure is genuine do-gooderism among many Teach for America teachers, but I think TR (not this TR) is pretty spot-on.  I always wondered what it would be like to be a career teacher at one of these “troubled” schools and have a fresh-faced kid from Yale, Berkeley, or wherever come in with the ostensible mission of saving your troubled institution.  I can’t imagine that it makes for a pleasant work environment, either for the career teachers or for the TFA kids.  I realize that many of these schools may already have high faculty turnover rates, but even in that case the TFA model seems neutral at best, fitting into an existing trend that detracts from the overall quality of public education.  Now again, I don’t want to cast aspersions on the teachers themselves (like Jeff, a friend from Cal who teaches in Philadelphia), as I’m sure that many of them work hard to make a difference in the lives of their students.  My suspicion lies instead in the model of the program itself which, much like the Peace Corps, puts youthful exuberance above worldly experience and does more to salve our first world consciences than to actually improve the lives of the people such demonstrations of goodwill purport to help.

Maryland Swim for Life

Just a quick note that I’ve registered for the 18th Annual Maryland Swim for Life, an open water event to benefit local charities serving people with HIV/AIDS and their families.  I need to raise $100 by July 11th, but since Bike and Builders are totally pro fundraisers, I’m looking to do much better than that.  Just click on the widget to visit my FirstGiving page and make a tax-deductible donation, and thanks for supporting a very worthy cause!