This was my response to Mark Schoofs' "opinion." [in his Village Voice article about ACT UP's 10th anniversary, which called the Shouting down of HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan a "tactical error"].

As we at ACT UP have always made it our business to do, I could not leave his uninformed distortion unanswered and made it my responsibility to (you should pardon the expression) straighten him out.

 

Dear Mark,

 

RE: The Sixth International Conference on AIDS, San Francisco 1990

 

I beg to differ. I was there when Louis Sullivan spoke, shooting video for DIVA TV. I had spoken with researchers, delegates, PWAs, et al throughout the week and had my finger on the pulse (as an activist and media person) as per the sentiments of those attending.

 

You seem to have forgotten the boycott of that conference over the Helms legislation denying HIV+ people entry into the country. People who were delegates were detained at customs by INS and thrown into detention when AZT was found in their luggage.

 

Many of the delegates including the organizers of the conference wore red armbands protesting the Bush Administration's refusal to veto the legislation. Waivers were granted, but many organizations (not to mention FRANCE!) refused to participate because of this.

 

At the plenary session (where it is customary for the head of state to make the opening address), George Bush couldn't be there. He chose instead to keep his "previous commitment", a fundraiser in North Carolina for Senator Helms, sending a member of his cabinet in his absense to represent the President (and to take the expected heat.)

 

Everyone knew well beforehand that Secretary Sullivan, in his capacity as the shill (and sacrifical lamb) for the administration, was not going to have his speech heard. In fact, most of the delegates - by their own admissions - were looking forward to the anticipated obfuscation of his speech at the closing session. ACT UP placed a fact sheet on each of the 12,000 seats at the Moscone Center before the session commenced explaining why Louis Sullivan's speech was being drowned out.

 

For those who cared what he had to say (and they were few and far between as most of the delegates realized it was going to be mere lip service - face-saving rhetorical apologist bullshit), copies of the speech were given out in advance. So his performance was all that was blocked, not the "empowerment of information" he had to disseminate for which you accused ACT UP of being censorious.

 

Two nights before, when Aldyn McKean debated Dr. Sullivan on "Nightline", the Secretary of Health and Human Services stipulated that they must be in separate rooms so he would not have to confront Mr. McKean head on, face-to-face. When the speech was given that Sunday morning, delegates could have heard it through headphones, though the majority of them turned their backs to the stage as he was making his address in an expression of their outrage over the Bush administration's discriminatory policies.

 

It was actually a joyous celebration. Not only for those who concurred with ACT_UP, but a small victory for those who have toiled on any level for the benefit of people with AIDS .

 

If you doubt accuracy of my account, any number of the people you'd quoted in your article who were also there will back it up anecdotally, as does the unedited video footage from the event that is now part of the Testing the Limits archives. Mine included (some of which made it into "Voices from the Front.")

 

Thought you'd want to know.

 

Sincerely, Dean Lance DIVA TV