Revisiting ACT UP’s Tactics and Strategies: An evening with Sarah Schulman.

AAN! was happy to co-sponsor an exciting event last week at the TIFF Lightbox. Sarah Schulman, an acclaimed American lesbian novelist, playwright, and activist was interviewed by Now Magazine’s Books and Entertainment Editor Susan Cole about her work as an AIDS activist and about her writing, film making, and other activist work.

The event was called “Learning Tactics and Strategies from ACT UP.” Schulman joined ACT UP in 1987 and was involved for 5 years or so. She’s been chronicling the history of ACT UP through interviews; there are hundreds of them - they are really incredible. It makes you wish we had an oral history project for AAN!

Schulman is also collaborating with Jim Hubbard on a documentary film about ACTUP and she showed a clip from the film. It was a high point of the evening. The footage was so inspiring. Watching clips of demonstrations and actions like the storming of the stage at the IAS conference in Montreal in 1989 (which AAN! helped organize and participated in) and the occupation of Grand Central Station in 1991 brought people back to the incredible creativity, excitement, innovation and success of the early years of AIDS activism.

Things are different now and we need to rethink how we work, which was part of the point of the evening. Exploring new forms of activism is all the more pressing for us now given the pall of conservatism we’ll be facing over the next few years.

During the Q and A there was a lot of talk about strategies and tactics. Schulman talked about how the critical mass of people involved in ACT UP made it possible for the organization to have a pretty democratic process in meetings and in actions. In her words, you weren’t forced into doing anything you didn’t want to do because there were enough people to do it without you. She also talked about how through the interviews she’s been doing she’s discovering that the common denominator that drew so many different people to ACT UP was their unwillingness to see people being victimized.

She spoke a lot about the need to be effective in activist work and to have victories. For her that’s not about the big revolution, but about learning about and researching a specific problem, getting prepared and taking direct action that moves toward a shared goal.

After the event was over a few of us talked as we walked toward downtown. Nicole wondered about whether there wasn’t something constraining about activism that was geared into notions of effectiveness. Gary said that, for him, activism works when it’s informed by an understanding of social organization or how things are put together. Eric was still taken by the idea of small victories.

There was another high point of the evening. It happened when a woman who was a lesbian cop in New York in the eighties stood up during the Q and A. She talked about the challenges of coming out as a lesbian police officer at the time, about the officers she knew who died from AIDS-related causes, and about how much she loved ACT UP.

All in all is was a great event, leaving us with a lot to think about.

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After a speech by Conservative Senator Stephen Greene opposing Bill C-393 and a moving speech by Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer in support of the bill, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan stood up to say that Conservative Senator Larry Smith, who was absent from the chamber (but was present earlier that day in the chamber), wished to speak to the bill and therefore he was moving to further adjourn debate. This was a blatant attempt to stall this important piece of humanitarian legislation yet again. Liberal Senators demanded a recorded vote, and Bill C-393 was adjourned again by Conservative Senators in a vote of 44-36.

It is clear to us that the Conservative Government is unwilling to let Bill C-393, which would fix Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), proceed further in the Senate. In fact, Xtra Canada has revealed that the Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, issued a memo earlier this week urging Senators to vote against Bill C-393.

This position shows contempt for Parliament — if nothing else, the Senate must study the bills that come to it with majority support in the House of Commons, not simply stall them. (Bill C-393 passed in the House of Commons recently with a vote of 172 MPs in favour and 111 against, with support drawn from all parties.)

But it also shows clear disrespect for the will of the Canadian public. A national poll found that 80% of Canadians support fixing CAMR, so that it can deliver on Canada’s pledge years of years ago to help developing countries get more affordable medicines for AIDS and other public health problems. Dozens of health professionals and scientists sent an open letter to all Parliamentarians calling on them to pass Bill C-393, as has a wide and diverse array of faith leaders from across the country, as well as dozens of eminent Canadians. Tens of thousands of Canadians have emailed, phoned or written to MPs and Senators asking them to act quickly.

Given this latest news, we must therefore redouble our efforts, which have had an amazing impact in the House of Commons. This is the final hurdle and there is no time to waste. But it is doable. The Senate must fulfill their obligation to allow this to come to a timely vote so that Bill C-393 does not die on the Order Paper (again).


Bill C-393 will come up again today in the Senate, and will keep coming up as long as the Government keeps adjourning it. Every day they adjourn increases the likelihood of the bill dying — which literally means people dying.

Please make the following 3 calls and/or emails as soon as possible, today or tomorrow:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Telephone: 613-992-4211

Senator Marjory LeBreton
Telephone: 613-943-0756 or 1-800-267-7362

Senator Gerald Comeau
Telephone: 613-943-1448 or 1-800-267-7362

Senator Larry Smith (a proposed candidate in the upcoming election)
Telephone: 613-996-8555 or 1-800-267-7362

These are the primary targets for public pressure.

When calling the above, please express your dismay at their unwillingness to allow this to come to a vote, and your anger that lives continue to be lost to politicking. Please also take detailed notes on how they express their position on this subject so that we can continue to glean valuable information for the hours and days ahead. (Please share this information with us by sending it to Lindsey at

To take further action, please visit and send your email in support of Bill C-393 being passed quickly in the Senate today.

With your support we can create a deluge of emails and phone calls to the offices of these key players who are currently all too comfortable with ignoring the will of the Canadian public.

For more information, visit or follow the Legal Network on Twitter at for updates.

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An invitation to Rob Ford

Dear Rob Ford,

We are writing in response to your solitary vote last week against a 100% provincially funded, one-time, transfer in the amount of $100,000 to combat the ongoing elevated rates of HIV and syphilis in Toronto. You claimed your vote was in order to protect tax payers money, even if it was provincially funded. In light of your other requests to the province for funding (asking for $150 million to balance your budget), it’s hard not to see your vote and accompanying statements as an attack against people who are at risk for HIV and syphilis. While we are all at risk of sexually transmitted infections, some of us are at greater risk because of social inequity, stigma, and discrimination. Many of these individuals are gay men, low risk women, newcomers, Aboriginal peoples, and youth. Your actions suggest the health of people who are at risk for HIV and syphilis is not worth your time and our money, and this is a big concern for us. Furthermore, there are a number of ways in which your vote is based on inaccurate knowledge and poor economics.

First, prevention of HIV and syphilis has economic benefits. Studies estimate that an averted HIV infection saves approximately $150 000 in lifetime medical costs. Therefore, if this transfer averts just two HIV infections, it will have saved money.

Second, your assertion that your vote against this was in order to protect taxpayers’ concerns implies that you either believe people who are at risk for HIV and syphilis don’t pay tax, or that they do, but for some reason, their health issues are not important. This belief comes from a place of stigma and homophobia.

Almost 20,000 people have tested HIV-positive in Toronto since the beginning of the epidemic. Many people continue to be at risk for HIV and syphilis. Prevention efforts are needed to help reduce the spread of these infections; your support for these efforts is important to help protect the health of vulnerable people - who are also taxpayers - and to society as a whole.

As a group of people affected by HIV, we invite you to meet with us so you can meet with people living with HIV/AIDS, people who are at risk for and have had syphilis, and so that your future decisions about HIV and syphilis prevention are more informed.

AIDS Action Now

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The campaign to fix the flaws in Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) continues

Bill C-393 is an important humanitarian bill that aims to reform our flawed Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), making it easier for Canada to export affordable, life-saving generic medicines to the people living in developing countries who desperately need them. Since its introduction, this private member’s bill has faced fierce opposition from certain politicians and the brand-name pharmaceutical industry. It has also commanded strong support from civil society and 80% of Canadians, and despite all odds, the bill will be entering its 3rd and final reading in the House of Commons on Monday, January 31st.

At this time, Bill C-393 is currently without a formal sponsor in the House of Commons. Its original sponsor, NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North) stepped down from her seat in April last year. Her colleague, Brian Masse, the NDP’s industry critic and MP for Windsor West, has taken up the cause as champion of Bill C-393 before the Committee and as would-be sponsor of the bill in the House. Transferring Bill C-393 to a new sponsor will require unanimous consent of the House of Commons, which means that a single opposing voice is enough to deny the bill a new sponsor effectively killing the bill on this procedural technicality.

The Legal Network and its allies on this campaign have been working hard to secure a commitment from each of the parties in Parliament that their MPs will agree to a new sponsor for the bill. So far, we have received commitments from the three opposition parties - the Liberal, the New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois - that they will not block the motion for a new sponsor. Unfortunately, we have yet to receive any confirmation from the Conservatives, and there are real concerns that they will try to kill the bill by blocking a motion to accept a new MP as sponsor of Bill C-393, even though it enjoys support from MPs from all parties and should be allowed its democratic due course and be debated on its merits.

You can stop this from happening! Take action by visiting today and let Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s House Leader, John Baird, know that it would be outrageous to block Bill C-393 by denying it a fair vote in the House of Commons. To find out more and get involved, read the Legal Network’s Fixing CAMR backgrounder and visit

Photo credit: Andrea Houston

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Bill C-393 Die-in Action Video

On December 13, 2010 the Bill C393 Students Coalition and AIDS ACTION NOW! members gathered in Toronto to hold a die-in in support of Bill C393. The bill hopes to ensure life-saving medicines reach those in developing countries who need them the most. The Bill will come before Parliament again on January 31st. Check out this great video from Deviant Productions documenting the action.

To support the bill, visit:

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