NYC: March 2007 Archives


This t-shirt was designed by the legendary activist artist collective Gran Fury 17 years ago.

Today South Africa has national health care.

A lot of people still think they can do something to help drag our own country into the [twentieth] century. Some of them know they have to ACT UP to get there. But activists also know how to party, and sometimes a little cash is needed to help make a stink, so ACT UP is throwing a $20 celebration/benefit bash this evening, and everyone is welcome.

The doors of Manhattan's LGBT Center at 208 West 13th Street (just west of 7th Avenue) will open at 7 pm. The program will start at 8 or 8:30 and will feature readings/performances by Pulitzer-prize winning author Michael Cunningham, the notorious Church Ladies for Choice, Mark Hannay (formerly of the Hot Peaches), and fabulous downtown performance artist Penny Arcade. The evening ends with a dance party that goes until midnight.

[image via ACT UP]

across from the Stock Exchange yesterday

If yesterday's ACT UP twentieth-anniversary action demonstrated anything, it was the coalition's own renewal, and its transformation from an AIDS activist group once largely made up of young middle-class queer white males into one devoted to the this country's larger, evolving healthcare crisis and composed of a much broader community of people who have realized we are all directly affected by both AIDS and a medical system completely inadequate to address it or other health needs.

In New York yesterday every age group and every community in this hugely-diverse city appeared to be represented in the crowd which gathered in and around the Wall Street area. They hurled chants at a powerful corporate medical, insurance and political establishment, reached out in conversations to regular passersby, they brandished both printed and hand-lettered signs addressing an aloof, fortress-minded establishment, and they carried or dragged with them some 50 bulky black body-bag props as they wound through the narrow downtown streets in a band of roughly a thousand souls. At the site of the bull statue near Bowling Green some 30 people were arrested for civil disobedience while lying down in the street amongst those bags.

The NYTimes did not consider the event worthy of a single word or image. See See Andy Humm in Gay City News for the best account of the day.

The new ACT UP appears determined to be only the nucleus [or perhaps, this still being ACT UP, really only the trigger] for re-igniting an enormous popular movement, coinciding with the run-up to the 2008 election, directed toward finally securing this nation's adoption of a single-payer healthcare system after something like one hundred years of broken dreams and promises.

What follows are a few scenes from the struggle as renewed just yesterday.






going back for more, 20 years later

Apparently as a nation we can accept throwing away something like half a trillion dollars (and counting), and very likely some 700,000 lives, on a remote elective war whose only accomplishment was a second term for the regime of the biggest Big Brother we've ever had, but we [or at least our media and our elected representatives] still think a single-payer healthcare system means handing over too much power to government.

ACT UP has always supported a single-payer health care system, and its members have always understood the role of war in thwarting its achievement. Tomorrow morning, Thursday, at 11:30 this remarkable and unfortunately still indispensable activist group of stalwarts will be marching on and in Wall Street to mark its twentieth anniversary and the beginning of its campaign to make access to healthcare for all, including single-payer insurance and drug price controls, a major issue throughout the 2008 election campaigns.

Anyone who is able to make it is welcome to join us as we gather for the march at 11 am. We will be stepping off from the Federal Building downtown, on the east side of Broadway at Worth Street, just above Chambers Street.

Twenty years on, the press will no longer be labelling us all "homosexuals", as did the NYTimes in its coverage of the first action, shown in the image above, although it was exactly that powerful picture and its caption which sucked me into the group. As far as tomorrow is concerned, while it should be assumed that only those who have decided to commit some form of civil disobedience could be arrested, there is less certainty about that than there ever was in our present terrifying, and terror-stuck, political climate.

I'm bringing my camera, for surveillance purposes.

An editorial in the current issue of The Nation is an excellent tribute* to the historic accomplishment of ACT UP and a reminder that neither the role nor the actors have yet disappeared. Excerpting the last three paragraphs of the editorial:

During the years that followed, ACT UP stormed the National Institutes of Health, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control to protest their shortcomings. On the local level, Catholic dioceses and boards of education were targeted for blocking HIV information in public schools; city governments for failing to provide care and housing; jails and prisons for setting up segregation units. Some ACT UPers set up guerrilla needle-exchange programs; others staked out the entrances to junior highs to distribute condoms directly to students. Just as essentially, ACT UP members became self-taught experts in such arcane fields as virology and patent law and in so doing rewrote the patient-doctor relationship and helped put the idea of universal healthcare--now favored by a majority of Americans--on the political map.

Along the way, ACT UP borrowed strategies from other radical movements: antinuke protesters for techniques on civil disobedience, antiapartheid campaigners for bringing political funerals to the streets. Many of its tactics--videotaping demonstrations as protection against police brutality, coordinated but autonomous affinity group actions--have become standard fare in the global justice movement, as has ACT UP's deeply democratic tradition.

ACT UP is now a shadow of its former self, but its alums have gone on to found Health Gap, a driving force for global treatment access; the Treatment Action Group, which continues to push the AIDS research agenda; and Housing Works, which has won housing for thousands of New York City's HIV-­positive homeless. And true to form, the organization will mark its twentieth anniversary with a march on Wall Street March 29 to demand single-payer healthcare for all.

including a candid apology for the progressive journal's own historic neglect: "Though barely noticed in the pages of this publication, ACT UP would revolutionize AIDS research and treatment, as well as inject new life into the gay movement and infuse the tactic of direct action with its own style of theatrical militancy."

[image from actupny]


In this image of the Waverly Theater (now the IFC Center) marquee, as seen from across the street yesterday afternoon, it's not immediately apparent that motorists, approaching from the left on this one-way street, got to see only the feature titles/first stanza; pedestrians could enjoy the entire poem.

going soon from your neighborhood

The giant, spinning, flood-lit pink cupcake perched above the curb on the top of an advertising canopy on West 23 Street has to be removed within 30 days. The city's Department of Transportation [DOT], which has the authority in these things as the safety guardian of our streets and sidewalks, has found that the owners' original permit for a conventional framed canopy expired in 2003 and that the mechanical structure appended to the awning the restaurant had built after 2003, is itself in violation of city statute.

I call it a victory for the public's common right to the streets. It represents official recognition that there are limits to what a business operating for profit can seize from the people, even if some individual members think a particular encroachment is cute.

I won't try to suggest that another winner here might be a decent respect for aesthetics, because New York bureaucracies are obviously not to be trusted with that kind of protection. What is to be regarded as seemly, or pretty in a huge city? I'm in love with the lively chaos of big metropolis at least as much as any of my neighbors, but New York is not Las Vegas and today's corporate Times Square is not a reasonable model for a neighborhood. A great city must enjoy playing with itself, but it must be allowed to reveal its history and its quieter comforts and beauties as much as its essential energy.

Pepto-Bismol pink

A personal note about Burgers & Cupcakes only partly related to issues of "taste": Even before the giant cupcake appeared late last fall I had thought the aesthetic choices made by this particular food-operation business were rather unwise, if not totally unbelieveable, for business reasons alone: Pepto-Bismol pink and wet-feces brown would not seem to be the obvious choice for a restaurant's advertising sign and interior decor.

still curved after seventy years

And a note on both the historical and street context of the Pepto-Bismol building: This is one of several two-story "taxpayers" constructed on the site occupied by four early-nineteenth-century brownstones when I moved in next door twenty years ago. The landlord(s) of these once-handsome townhouses (converted eventually into rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments, with small stores on the ground floor) had deliberately neglected their upkeep and eventually succeeded in displacing the tenants in anticipation of some speculative boon which apparently never materialized. The buildings were then demolished and the lots left boarded up for a time, until the current structures, thrown together almost overnight with metal sticks, styrofoam and stucco, displaced hundreds of our neighborhood pigeons and untold generations of rats.

Today these jerry-built structures are an exceedingly awkward interruption of the streetscape of the north side of this Chelsea block. On their left is a large and quite handsome art-modern building (still a Woolworth store with a full lunch counter when I moved to the street, but currently a GAP branch, with a gym occupying the areas on the second floor which were originally devoted to professional offices). On the right is a large yellow-brick 1936 art deco apartment house (with eight very neat restored small storefronts on the street level. One of them is occupied by a Ben & Jerry's boasting the original curved glass windows and period metal moldings which can't be duplicated today. There is a restored fully-retractable awning mechanism in a pocket above the windows, and below them there are two reconstructed grilled openings ingeniously devised for ventilating the basement storage area).

This kind of love, intelligent attention, labor and sacrifice devoted here to enhancing the ambience of a cherished neighborhood in a city of eight or nine million people is of an entirely different order from the ignorance and indifference which produced the rotating pink cupcake and the several poor sheds of which it is such a part.

[thanks to Blog Chelsea for helping to keep the pink cupcake issue alive, and to Melanie La Rocca of Chris Quinn's office for doggedly pursuing the DOT about the status of my complaint]

This page is an archive of entries in the NYC category from March 2007.

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