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ACT UP Accomplishments and Partial Chronology


ACT UP, or AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, was founded in NYC in 1987 as a political action group in response to the AIDS crisis.

The group's first action, in spring 1987, was a march on Wall St. to protest the high cost and lack of availability of HIV treatment drugs

Over its 25 year history, ACT UP has successfully protested the following organizations and governments for change (among many others):

    Wall St pharmaceutical companies: for profiteering from people with AIDS by charging astronomically high prices for AIDS medicine
    FDA (Food and Drug Administration): for its years-long drug approval process, resulting in the deaths of thousands due to lack of access to potentially life-saving drugs
    CDC (Center for Disease Control): for its narrow definition of AIDS, which did not include infections that affect women and injection drug users
    NIH (National Institutes of Health): for its lack of prioritizing diverse types of AIDS treatments and for underrepresenting women and people of color in clinical trials
    President Bush Sr: for spending a billion dollars a day on the Gulf War after claiming there was little money to increase AIDS spending
    President Clinton and VP Gore: for refusing to lift the ban on needle-exchange funding and for blocking generic production of AIDS drugs by poor countries and inadequate funding of global AIDS.
    The G8 (richest) countries: (thru ACT UP’s alliance with Health Global Access Project and others) for their unwillingness to fund universal global AIDS drug access to all who need it.
    Mayors Koch and Giuliani, Governor Cuomo Sr: for their inaction and neglect regarding the AIDS crisis and for cuts to local and state AIDS services
    Health insurance companies: for their refusal to insurance many people with HIV/AIDS and their discriminatory rates for people with HIV/AIDS.
    Catholic Church: for its opposition to safe sex education in schools and its ineffective demonization of sex, condoms and AIDS.

The local ACT UP group spawned affiliate groups across the USA and the world. Throughout its history, there have been over 140 chapters of ACT UP and thousands of members worldwide.


July 3, 1981: The New York Times published the newspaper article titled "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals" about the disease that would become known as AIDS.

March 10, 1987:  Gay activist playwright Larry Kramer called for the formation of an AIDS activist group in a speech at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Manhattan.

March 12, 1987: Approximately 300 people arrived for the establishment of ACT UP – the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power – a non-partisan group united in anger and committed to non-violent direct action to end the AIDS crisis.

March 24, 1987: ACT UP held its first action on Wall Street to protest the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies on AIDS drugs (especially Burroughs Wellcome, manufacturer of AZT).

October 11, 1987: At the March for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Washington, D.C., ACT UP demanded that the Reagan administration fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.

March 24, 1988: On its 1st anniversary, ACT UP returned to Wall Street and received its first major media coverage. Throughout the year, many more branches of the organization formed.

October 11, 1988: ACT UP protested the FDA for its slow drug-approval policy which resulted in thousands dead from lack of access to life-saving drugs. Within a year, the process was greatly accelerated.

September 14, 1989: An ACT UP protest of pharmaceutical price-gouging on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange stopped trading for the first time in history.

December 10, 1989: About 4500 protestors attended the first “Stop the Church” action to protest the Catholic Church’s deadly, homophobic, and misogynistic AIDS and abortion policies.

January 3 1990: ACT UP interrupted Gov. Mario Cuomo’s State of the Union Address in Albany to draw attention to his inaction and neglect of the AIDS crisis.

January 8-9, 1990: ACT UP besieged the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to protest its narrow definition of AIDS, which excluded the infections that affected women and injection drug users.

March 6 1990: ACT UP/NY’s Needle Exchange Committee began its clean needle exchange program by collecting dirty needles in exchange for clean ones in Manhattan.

May 21, 1990: ACT UP/NY organized a national action to "Storm the NIH” (National Institutes of Health) in Maryland. Over 1,0000 protesters demanded more AIDS treatments, especially for opportunistic infections that killed people, and an end to the severe underrepresentation of women and people of color in clinical trials.

January 23, 1991: ACT UP staged its “Day of Desperation” protest in response to President George HW Bush spending a billion-dollars-a-day on the Gulf War while claiming there was no money for much-needed increases in AIDS programs. Activists disrupted the CBS Evening News live broadcast on the night of the 22nd shouting “Fight AIDS, not Arabs!” On the 23rd, multiple actions took place in all five boroughs, culminating in a massive action in Grand Central Station, where a banner reading “MONEY FOR AIDS NOT FOR WAR” was raised with helium balloons to the ceiling.

September 1, 1991: ACT UP staged a massive die-in at President Bush's vacation home in Maine to demand leadership and to declare that THE AIDS CRISIS CAN END.

October 11, 1992: ACT UP held its first political funeral in Washington, DC. A funeral procession began at the Capitol and ended by scattering the ashes of loved ones on the White House lawn.

January 3, 1994: ACT UP descended on City Hall to tell Mayor Giuliani the AIDS crisis would be Job One on his first day as Mayor.

April 25, 1995: Members of ACT UP staged the “Queens-Midtown-Tunnel Action,” blocking the entrance to the tunnel in protest of Mayor Giuliani’s cuts to AIDS services, as part of citywide multi-racial coalition action against Giuliani's cuts to social services and higher education.

December 1995: ACT UP, Housing Works, and POZ Magazine organize march of 100 activists outside the White House Conference on AIDS, denouncing it as a Clinton re-election ploy. Inside, an ACT UP member interrupts Clinton's speech, demanding to know why he has not taken actions as recommended by Bush's AIDS Commission.

June 1996: Members of ACT UP and Housing Works took over the office of NYS Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to protest his opposition to restoring funds to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), without which many people with AIDS will die. 7 were arrested, top Albany news coverage. Within weeks, Gov. Pataki struck a deal with Bruno to restore the ADAP funds.

March 24, 1997: On ACT UP's 10th anniversary, hundreds converged on Wall Street to protest price-gouging by pharmaceutical companies and cutbacks in Medicaid funding, and demanded Congressionalhearings on AIDS drug pricing.

June 1997: March of 1,000 people on Bill Clinton's Birthday Celebration in Manhattan. This was the start of 18-month campaign led by ACT UP/NY, including an office takeover of his AIDS Czar, disruptions of Clinton's speeches on 6 occasions and this mass protest of more than a 1000 people. Protest was coalition effort including ACT UP Philadelphia, harm reduction programs, and others.

July 1997: ACT UP affinity group takes over Manhattan shareholder office of Glaxo-Wellcome to protest failure to have large expanded access for its new drug Abacavir, then known as 1592, and its attempt to block generic AIDS drug production in Africa.

October 19, 1997: An ACT UP member was ejected at a Manhattan rally for then-Mayoral candidate Ruth Messenger after interrupting President Clinton’s endorsement speech after demanding Clinton drop the ban on needle-exchange.

October 21, 1997: Two activists interrupted an awards ceremony in New York for former White House aide George Stephanopoulos, to protest his support of President Clinton’s ban on federal funding for needle exchange.

November 8, 1997: Three activists from ACT UP/New York interrupted President Bill Clinton’s speech to the Human Rights Campaign, the gay rights lobby that gave major financial backing to Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, this evening at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in D.C.

March 26, 1998: Scores of AIDS activists and advocates demonstrated outside a public meeting of the New York State AIDS Advisory Council's HIV Surveillance Work Group. Members of ACT UP/New York, SexPanic!, and People of Color in Crisis blasted proposals for New York State to create a list of people who are HIV-positive.

April 20, 1998: After a months-long review by her top scientific advisers, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala announced that needle exchanges are scientifically backed, but, at President Clinton's direction, refused to lift the ban on federal funding of such programs.

July 21, 1998: A group of ten activists from ACT UP and harm reduction programs, demanding that President Clinton lift the ban on funding of needle exchanges to prevent the spread of HIV, seized control of the office of Presidential AIDS Policy Coordinator Sandra Thurman in Washington, DC. The activists chained themselves inside her office immediately after Thurman refused to publicly condemn Clinton’s April 20 decision to uphold the ban on federal funding for needle exchange. Nine were arrested.

January 1999: ACT UP/NY and AIDS physician Dr. Alan Berkman convened the first meeting of the broad coalition of AIDS activists & advocates, LGBT groups, physicians, and consumer groups -- later named Health GAP (Global Access Project) -- to demand full access to AIDS medications throughout the Global South.

Spring 1999: Members of ACT UP/NY and Philadelphia, along with Health GAP, did a die-In at the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of America headquarters in D.C. This was the first action in the AIDS Drugs for Africa Campaign. Protesters demanded that Pharma stop pressing its lawsuit in South Africa against the Medicines Act which allowed generic manufacture of AIDS drugs there.

June-July 1999: Members of ACT UP/NY and Health GAP disrupt kick-off events of Vice President Gore's Presidential campaign, demanding AIDS Drugs for Africa and denouncing his role in the administration's threat of trade sanctions against Nelson Mandela's South Africa if it did not repeal the Medicines Act.

August 1999: Members of ACT UP/NY did a lockdown at the old Executive Office Building, where V.P. Gore's offices were, to protest Gore's support of Pharma's lawsuit against the South African Government's Medicine Act. Gore acted as the Clinton Administration's hatchet man on this issue until protests changed his mind.

April 15-16, 2000: ACT UP & Health GAP joined with the with the global justice movement in Washington, DC for a massive demonstration and direct actions, leading to mass arrests, against the IMF and World Bank. ACT UP, Health GAP, and allies pushed for debt reduction in a sustained multiyear movement.

July 2002: ACT UP/NY and Philadelphia organize protest against Coca Cola with the Treatment Action Campaign of South Africa at the International AIDS Conference In Barcelona. Coke had refused to cover its truck drivers in its health insurance plan in Africa, saying that they were hired by subcontractors. Coke later relented.

September 19, 2002: ACT UP/NY and Human Rights in China headed a coalition of New York City activists in a loud, colorful picket at the Chinese Consulate to call for the release of Wan Yanhai, China's foremost AIDS activist. Dr. Wan was detained by police in Beijing August 24 for publicizing an AIDS scandal in the Henan province, in which 1 million farmers were accidentally infected with AIDS. Dr. Wan was released Sept. 20, 2002.

June 24, 2003:  ACT UP and Health GAP members returned a symbolic and gigantic "bounced check" for $15 billion to the Bush re-election campaign, representing the money the administration promised to fight global AIDS but failed to deliver.

August 25, 2004: ACT UP protests naked outside of Penn Station on the eve of the Republican National Convention in NYC, demanding that the Bush Administration drop the debt of poor countries with large HIV/AIDS epidemics. ACT UP & Health GAP and allies pushed for debt reduction in a sustained movement with other allies that resulted in over $100 billion of debt cancelled in 29 countries--freeing up money to pay for the fight against AIDS and to pay health workers instead of paying back rich-countries' banks.

May 2005: ACT UP and Health GAP demonstrated outside the Brazilian Government in New York, demanding that Brazil break the patents on AIDS drugs Norvir and Sustiva and begin generic production using compulsory licensing.

March 29, 2007: On its 20th anniversary, ACT UP returned to Wall Street to demand single-payer health insurance. ACT UP began a two-and-a-half-year coalition campaign with the national groups Healthcare NOW! and Physicians for a National Health Program.

September 29, 2009: As debate over national healthcare intensified, ACT UP organized coalition picket of the Manhattan offices of Aetna Healthcare, one of the nation's top 5 health insurance companies, which activists said were "the real death panels." 17 people were arrested inside the offices, demanding that Aetna immediately cover all doctor approved care for life-threatening conditions, and that Congress pass and the president sign a bill to provide Medicare for All.

October 15, 2009: ACT UP and other advocates of “Medicare for All” did civil disobedience at the UnitedHealth Group insurance company, resulting in 14 arrests. Nationally, more than 100 from various single-payer advocacy groups risked arrest to disrupt business as usual at the nation’s largest health insurance companies, including UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Humana, Cigna, Anthem Blue Cross, and UnitedHealthcare.

October 28, 2009: Nine advocates of Medicare for All were arrested at a sit-in outside Wellpoint offices in New York. The protesters sat down in the lobby after Wellpoint executives refused to hear their demands that the company stop blocking healthcare reform and instead direct the millions spent on lobbying towards delivering healthcare for all critically ill patients. ACT UP was involved in the planning of the action.

April 2010: ACT UP began campaign around the case of of Maksim Popov, the AIDS educator who was arrested, tried and convicted in Uzbekistan in 2009 for his efforts at AIDS education in that country, which had an out-of-control HIV epidemic.

June 8, 2011: Nearly 1,000 AIDS activists from around the world, including from ACT UP/NY and Philadelphia, marched to the United Nations to demand that world leaders renew their commitments to AIDS treatment and prevention. In 2005 world leaders had promised to support and fund universal global access to AIDS treatment by 2010, but broke that promise.

2012: Artist collective Gran Fury exhibited the legendary graphic design work it created to propel ACT UP’s message throughout its history.

The documentaries "United in Anger: A History of ACT UP" and "How to Survive a Plague" were screened at film festivals around the country and will have theatrical release later this year.

ACT UP is currently campaigning for a Financial Speculation Tax (FiST), a small tax (0.05% or less) on Wall Street transactions and speculative trades in order to raise the money needed to end the global AIDS epidemic and provide universal healthcare in the U.S.