Background Information

Just about everyone at the March 13, 1989 ACT UP meeting has been personally affected by the AIDS crisis. For some, a friend, lover, or family member has been sick or died. Many know dozens who are sick or have died. Many know that they themselves are HIV positive, and that there is no cure or effective treatment.

Eight years into the crisis, and the Reagan administration’s response has been shamefully lacking. Reagan did not even say the word AIDS in public for years after it had become the most immediate threat to Americans. The administration has committed shockingly small amounts to researching and developing treatments. There is little expectation that the newly-inaugurated Bush administration will be any better. There is a general belief that the government simply doesn’t care about AIDS because it mainly affects gays and drug users.


The New York City government insists it is devoting adequate resources to treatment and prevention, yet city hospitals are overflowing with patients with AIDS and the city government is spouting the ineffectual abstinence rhetoric of the Catholic church instead of implementing fact-based education initiatives. Everyone believes that New York City Mayor Ed Koch is a closeted homosexual, and is not focusing resources on the crisis for fear that this will out him as gay.


Monday night meetings

The weekly Monday night ACT UP general meetings are where the group makes all of its plans and disseminates information. While there are meeting facilitators, people who head committees, and people with more expertise on certain topics, there is no formal leadership structure. The people who attend the Monday night meetings collectively make decisions, which means the meetings can get messily democratic in all of the best and worst ways.

The main focus of the March 13, 1989 meeting is Target City Hall, a major action coming up in two weeks. Most of the people at the meeting would be making plans for Target City Hall. For people who are members of affinity groups or committees, this will involve planning with those groups.

Video of a meeting

To protect people's privacy, cameras were not normally allowed at ACT UP meetings. But the Floor approved filming at certain meetings. Below is a link to some of the few existing videos. You are welcome to watch as much as you want, but watching for just a few minutes will give a good feel for the meetings. It will also give you a sense of the clothes people wore.

The second video on the following page, starting at the 3:50 mark, is footage from the March 27, 1989 pre-acting meeting the night before Target City Hall. Because this was the night before ACT UP's largest action to date, this meeting was more crowded and amped up than the general meeting on March 13, 1989.

Capsule history of ACT UP

In March of 1987, the AIDS crisis had been raging for six years with no end in sight. Service organizations like GMHC had formed to care for the dying, but there was little pressure being placed on the government to adequately address the epidemic. Larry Kramer was asked to speak on March 10, 1987 at the Center, and he challenged the audience to form a group to take confrontational action to combat AIDS. Two days later, ACT UP had its first meeting at the Center. Since then, ACT UP has become famous (and infamous) for its actions and acts of civil disobedience.

These actions have included, among many other smaller actions:

March 24,1987 - A protest on Wall Street with 17 people arrested.

June 28, 1987 - ACT UP had a concentration camp float in the New York gay pride parade, comparing the government's response to AIDS to the Holocaust.

January 15, 1988 - The Women's Caucus protested outside the offices of Cosmopolitan magazine in response to the an article it published saying heterosexual women can't get AIDS.

March 24, 1988 - A second protest on Wall Street with hundreds stopping traffic and over a hundred arrested.

October 11, 1988 - Seize Control of the FDA, ACT UP's first large-scale, national action

November 25, 1988 - ACT UP protested in front of Trump Tower decrying tax breaks for developers but no housing for people with AIDS. 

Popular culture

These are the songs, films, and TV shows that were popular on March 13, 1989.

The top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100:

Movies currently in New York theaters:

Rain Man (expected to win the Oscar in two weeks)

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Dangerous Liaisons

Lean on Me


Chances Are

Working Girl

Mississippi Burning

Farewell to the King

New York Stories

The Accidental Tourist

Police Academy 6

Skin Deep

The 'Burbs

True Believer

Three Fugitives

The top 10 prime-time television shows: