AIDS Activism Then and Now: A Q&A with Peter Staley
In the weeks leading up to World AIDS Day 2012, longtime AIDS activist Peter Staley shared his thoughts with readers in Status, San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s monthly newsletter. Staley’s early activism features prominently in the film How to Survive a Plague—screening for free on December 1 at the Castro Theatre.
For this veteran activist’s perspective on lessons learned from the epidemic—and where advocates should focus their time and energy today—check out the excerpt below and read the thought-provoking Q&A in full at sfaf.org.
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On World AIDS Day, San Francisco AIDS Foundation is proud to present a free screening of the acclaimed documentary “How to Survive a Plague” at the historic Castro Theatre. The film tells the story of the emergence of the activist group ACT UP in New York City. Peter Staley is one of the activists central to the film. We sat down with him to hear his thoughts on early AIDS activism, what we should be focusing on today, and who inspires him.
Status: Of all the lessons we learned from the early years of AIDS activism, which are still applicable today?
Peter Staley: Even small numbers of people can make a difference. I mean, yes, at its peak ACT UP had hundreds of people at its weekly meetings in New York and dozens of chapters around the country. But in the larger scheme of things, it was a small movement. Our largest demonstration ever was only about 5,000 people. We’re not talking about the Million Man March on Washington. Even many of our smaller victories were done with demonstrations that only took a handful of people. Putting a condom on Senator Jesse Helms’ house took about six or seven of us, and shutting down the New York Stock Exchange took about five of us. With good strategy and persistence, even a small number of people can really make a difference. It’s all about creativity and persistence. Those are the lessons we learned back then that can still apply today. We may not have the energy and the large number of people we had back then, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of doing some pretty remarkable activism with smaller numbers of people….
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