ACT UP/New York staged a die-in at the New York Public Library's AIDS exhibition on its first day earlier this month. The library's exhibition showcases the strong history of AIDS activism within the LGBT community, but ACT UP/NY protested to demonstrate that HIV-related issues are still very much present a today concern. More than 30 members and allies of ACT UP, which stands for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, fell to the marble floor of Astor Hall in symbolic deathly protest.
"I'm a librarian/archivist and an HIV/AIDS activist here in NYC and I died-in to show that while we should be respecting the activists and the work that has come before us. AIDS by no means is over and should not be memorialized as if it is," said Bacilio Mendez II, chair of ACT UP's Digital Activism Work Group.
Last week, Mendez also organized an ACT UP hackathon to encourage the involvement of young programmers, designers, and volunteers. Their inclusion is a means of modernizing ACT UP's approach to HIV prevention and AIDS activism during the digital age.
"Teaching young people about the history of AIDS and LGBT activism allows them to connect with a tradition of empowerment that occurred before they were politically conscious," Mendez said. "But if we want new generations to repurpose these tools of activism and empowerment to fight HIV today, we have to start with the statement: 'AIDS is Not History!'"
According to projections from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV incidence rates are rising in New York City, especially among young men of color and transgender women. These same projections say that more than half of today's young gay men and transgender women might become HIV-positive by age 50. ACT UP, as a result, recently declared war on AIDS 2.0, the modern successor of the epidemic memorialized in the library's exhibition.
ACT UP is also pushing the New York City Department of Health to implement a promised public education campaign concerning two new HIV prevention treatments, PEP and PrEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, respectively).
"Twenty-five years ago members of ACT UP/NY sat in at the office of the New York City Department of Health to protest, and the department had no idea how many New Yorkers were living with HIV infection, so it made up the numbers. Twenty-five years later, HIV is on the rise again in some New York neighborhoods. The department has failed to collect the information we need so the city can effectively target its HIV prevention services," said Jim Eigo, a longtime ACT UP member.
In addition to many examples of the vibrant posters, pamphlets and artifacts from the 1980s and '90s that helped to inspire the strong community response against the epidemic that populate the New York Public Library exhibition, the library has also organized programs directed at young people to increase awareness of HIV among teens and young adults.
Still, ACT UP/NY's protesters wanted to hammer home the persistant relevance of HIV activism today.