September 1989: five men slip onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Sweeping in with a swarm of smokers rushing for the start of trading, they chain themselves to a balcony. As the bell goes off, they drown it out with air horns and unfurl a banner. ‘Sell Wellcome!’ Chaos ensues. Trading can’t start – the only time in history it’s interrupted. Dollars rain down on traders. Fake tens, 50s and 100s drift to the floor, emblazoned on the backs: ‘Fuck Your Profiteering. People are dying while you play business,’ and ‘White Heterosexual men can’t get aids … Don’t bank on it.’ Traders are rabid when they realize these are aids protestors. Outside 1,500 people gather, carrying signs of bloody hands and handing out the fake bills. The next day, photos of the scene make the front pages of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and, two days later, Burroughs Wellcome lowers the annual cost of the antiretroviral drug AZT by 20 percent, from US$10,000 (at that time the most expensive drug in history) to US$8,000.
Entries in How To Survive A Plague (2)
1) THIS YEAR ACT UP is 25 years old, AIDS just over 30, and an excellent documentary How To Survive A Plague about the former (and, of course, the latter) was released a couple weeks ago. “Most inspiring film this year” has been said about it frequently. It’s true. Also true is what it shows that people can do if your heart is set to it. Or, if you face a death sentence. And, you are middle class and male and white and have (because of those three things) been brought up to believe you can change the world. There is a certain entitlement to those three things, but that isn’t to say that ACT UP continued to be defined by them. In fact, part of what the group did was invite in many voices to speak and fight: women, Hispanics, blacks. 2) The movie’s release is the occasion for this piece, but it is not the piece, though parts of it (pieces of the piece, if you will) will address the movie. For reviews there is Andrew O’Hehir’s excellent piece in Salon and this one in the SF Chronicle. There are countless others too. The movie I will say again is inspiring. See it.