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Political Funerals

AIDS Community Television (weekly series #109) 
originally telecast 1/31/95 (29:00)

Compilation video of Political Funerals, directed by James Wentzy
produced and edited by Wentzy & Jerry Lakatos; cameras: James Wentzy, John Schabel, Ira Manhoff, Dean Lance, Shraga Lev, Andrew Chang, Tony Arena, Ellen Spiro, Meg Handler

images and videos, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted by videomaker James Wentzy
and can be utilized freely for non-profit use with attribution to videomaker


film festival review

Funerals Synopses
David Wojnarowicz

1954 - 1992

"To turn our private grief for the loss of friends, family, lovers and strangers into something public would serve as another powerful dismantling tool. It would dispel the notion that this virus has a sexual orientation or a moral code. It would nullify the belief that the government and medical community has done very much to ease the spread or advancement of this disease.

One of the first steps in making the private grief public is the ritual of memorials. I have loved the way memorials take the absence of a human being and make them somehow physical with the use of sound. I have attended a number of memorials in the last five years and at the last one I attended I found myself suddenly experiencing something akin to rage. I realized halfway through the event that I had witnessed a good number of the same people participating in other previous memorials. What made me angry was realizing that the memorial had little reverberation outside the room it was held in. A tv commercial for handiwipes had a higher impact on the society at large. I got up and left because I didn't think I could control my urge to scream.

There is a tendency for people affected by this epidemic to police each other or prescribe what the most important gestures would be for dealing with this experience of loss. I resent that. At the same time, I worry that friends will slowly become professional pallbearers, waiting for each death, of their lovers, friends and neighbors, and polishing their funeral speeches; perfecting their rituals of death rather than a relatively simple ritual of life such as screaming in the streets. I worry because of the urgency of the situation, because of seeing death coming in from the edges of abstraction where those with the luxury of time have cast it. I imagine what it would be like if friends had a demonstration each time a lover or a friend or a stranger died of AIDS. I imagine what it would be like if, each time a lover, friend or stranger died of this disease, their friends, lovers or neighbors would take the dead body and drive with it in a car a hundred miles an hour to washington d.c. and blast through the gates of the white house and come to a screeching halt before the entrance and dump their lifeless form on the front steps." -- DAVID WOJNAROWICZ

Wednesday, July 29, 1992 8 p.m.
12th Street & 2nd Avenue. NYC



see also Wojnarowicz Readings


Bring your grief and rage about AIDS to a Political Funeral
in Washington D.C. Sunday, October 11, 1992 at 1:00 p.m.

"You have lost someone to AIDS.

"For more than a decade, your government has mocked your loss.

"You have spoken out in anger, joined political protests, carried fake coffins and mock tombstones, and splattered red paint to represent someone's HIV-positive blood, perhaps your own.

"George Bush believes that the White House gates shield him, from you, your loss, and his responsibility for the AIDS crisis.

"Now it is time to bring AIDS home to George Bush.

"On October 11th, we will carry the actual ashes of people we love in funeral procession to the White House. In an act of grief and rage and love, we will deposit their ashes on the White House lawn.

"Join us to protest twelve years of genocidal AIDS policy."

See also second Ashes Action
October 13, 1996 @ Clinton's White House

Mark Lowe Fisher

Funeral Procession
November 2, 1992

Open Coffin Procession originating from Judson Memorial Church on West 4th Street walking North on 6th Avenue ending at 43rd Street in front of the Republican Headquarters in New York City the day before Election Day, November 2, 1992.

Bury Me Furiously
written by Mark Lowe Fisher

I am a person with AIDS.

I think about what's happened to my life since I was diagnosed over two years ago. I think about all the passion and precious time I've spent fighting this government's indifference toward me and all people with AIDS. And I realize that a lot of people out there -- gay, lesbian and straight -- still do not believe that the AIDS crisis is a political crisis.

My friends and I have decided we don't want discreet memorial services. We understand our friends and families need to mourn. But we also understand that we are dying because of a government and a health care system that couldn't care less.

I think of the late David Wojnarowicz, who wrote:

"I imagine what it would be like if friends had a demonstration each time a lover or a friend or a stranger died of AIDS. I imagine what it would be like if, each time a lover, friend or stranger died of this disease, their friends, lovers or neighbors would take the dead body and drive with it in a car a hundred miles an hour to Washington D.C. and blast though the gates of the White House and come to a screeching halt before the entrance and dump their lifeless form on the front steps."

These words sharpen my thoughts and plan. I have decided that when I die I want my fellow AIDS activists to execute my wishes for my political funeral.

I suspect -- I know -- my funeral will shock people when it happens. We Americans are terrified of death. Death takes place behind closed doors and is removed from reality, from the living. I want to show the reality of my death, to display my body in public; I want the public to bear witness. We are not just spiraling statistics; we are people who have lives, who have purpose, who have lovers, fiends and families. And we are dying of a disease maintained by a degree of criminal neglect so enormous that it amounts to genocide.

I want my death to be as strong a statement as my life continues to be. I want my own funeral to be fierce and defiant, to make the public statement that my death from AIDS is a form of political assassination.

We are taking this action out of love and rage.

Bury Me Furiously
Mark Lowe Fisher, November 17, 1953 - October 29, 1992

see also Jon Greenberg Speech for Mark Lowe Fisher's Funeral


BORN July 18, 1957

Washington, D.C., July 1, 1993
Stand-off with AIDS Activists' Political Funeral for Tim Bailey

"This is the body of Tim Bailey.

"He was a friend, a lover, a brother, and a son. He was also an AIDS activist -- a hero in the fight against the epidemic. We're giving him a hero's funeral.

"When he was alive, Tim told us he wanted his body thrown over the White House gates. Because he was enraged by the government's lethargy -- outright inhumanity -- in confronting the AIDS crisis. Because he wanted his death to help more Americans understand that while the government drags its heels, real people are dying.

"We told him we couldn't throw his body over the gates. Not because we didn't share his fury. But because we loved him too much to treat his mortal remains that way.

"During his last days he said, "All right. Do something formal and aesthetic in front of the White House. I won't be there anyway. It'll be for you."

"This procession, then, is for us. Not just those of us who knew and cared for Tim. For all of us; for everybody. Because we're all living with AIDS. Every man, woman, and child. Because when President Clinton fails to keep his promises, he murders all of us.

"He murders us when he delays appointing an AIDS czar for six months, and then settles on a candidate who's unlikely to be much more than a bureaucratic functionary.

"He murders us when he refuses to consider programs like the McClintock [AIDS Cure] Project, an all out assault on AIDS modeled an the Manhattan Project that won World War II.

"He murders us when he declines to speak out against the United States' Internment camp for Haitian political refugees at Guantanamo Bay, which incarcerated hundreds of people whose only "crime" was being infected with HIV.

"In our outrage and our despair, we're carrying the body of Tim Bailey along the same route traveled by the bodies of other slain heroes. After you've read this, we ask that you observe a moment of silence for Tim. A funny, smart, impassioned 35-year-old man who could have been your friend. Your son. Your brother. Your lover.

"Then, after you've observed a moment of silence, do whatever you can to tell this country's leaders that their indifference and inefficiency cannot and will not be tolerated.

"We are all dying of it. There's no more time."



Born: February 22, 1956
Died of AIDS: July 12, 1993

July 16, 1993
  Funeral Procession in the streets
  of the Lower East Side to Tompkins Square Park

Jon Greenberg, announcing to all of his friends on many occasions -- especially in crowded elevators and in the presence of small children.


Jon Greenberg participated in the Day of Desperation Action at the PBS News Hour Zap. He wrote the following speech for Mark Lowe Fisher's Political Funeral, which was later read by Barbara Hughes at Jon Greenberg's Political Funeral in Tompkins Square Park, Lower East Side, New York City.


Jon Greenberg Speech for Mark Lowe Fisher's Funeral

On Jan 22, 1991: Mark, Barbara, Anna, Steven, Laurie, Neil and I sat in the cafeteria of Channel 13, waiting for a signal which would tell us when to take those final steps, walk those final 100 yards which would propel us down the passage and into the studio where Robin MacNeil was reporting on the Iraq War once again.

We were nervous, frightened, fidgety. We were about to push through a social barrier, do what many had only imagined and fly in the face of convention and what was once considered acceptable social behavior: to declare our presence and force the world to take notice. Our country, this world, had lost all perspective. And we were determined, if only for a moment, to reaffirm some truth, some reality into a media event where truth and reality had ceased to have meaning.

We were prepared for everything we could possibly be prepared for, Mark had made sure of much of that. As many variables as we could control we did control, largely because of Mark's extraordinarily anal organizational abilities. But for all that, as we approached that studio door with the red light flashing outside; we, none of us, knew what to expect on the other side. The red light was meant to scare us into staying on our proper side, control our actions with fear. But Mark and the rest of us, in spite of our fear, knew that it was only fear and rather than let that stop us, we used it to propel us into further action, to confront and push through the barrier of our fear and be liberated even as our bodies were being arrested and jailed. there was an otherness about hose moments. We all felt it. We all knew that we had, if only for a moment, an hour, a day, become larger than we had been the day before. We each became part of the other and as a unit our collective spirit crossed an illusory boundary which we only knew was an illusion after we had crossed it. We were each a part of Mark on that day, and he was a part of each of us. Through collective empowerment we declared who we were and how we felt and made a place for ourselves in the universe.

Mark has once again crossed a boundary that each of us will sooner or later have to cross, whether we have AIDS or not, whether we are angry or not, whether we are afraid or not, and whether we have a Republican President or not. The truth is that each of us will one day follow Mark to that ultimate otherness and the final liberation. Mark took that road consciously, let us hope that we can do it as consciously, actively and as well prepared as Mark has. To the end Mark was unafraid of the consequences of his actions, or if afraid, he used that fear to propel him onward rather than to paralyze him and stop him from fully living.

Mark knew he was going to die. We, each of us, will also die. Mark's life and death, if it is to mean anything, cannot be trivialized by wishing it away or by pretending that there could be any other end. Yes, we are in pain. We have lost a precious powerful friend and colleague. But to avoid that pain by blaming it on someone else, robs us of our opportunity to experience and learn from a greater consciousness, a larger self, a fearlessness. Acceptance of our mortality--as Mark accepted his--makes it possible to live life fully, in spite of our fear; makes it possible to live life in real freedom because we are not afraid of the consequences of our actions.

It is only after we see how trivial and illusory are the political, social, religious, and physical barriers of this world can we begin to liberate ourselves from our fears and find our true power, consciousness, action and fearlessness. Mark was honest with himself and with his life. He knew his death was unavoidable, he knew that to believe otherwise was to believe a lie and to give more power to the fear of the unknown than to the courage, strength and love we can choose to face that unknown.

And Mark chose this action today as his memorial, making even his death an act of empowerment for his community and giving each of us an opportunity to publicly declare our presence, our pain, our right to life and our right to be proud of our deaths. We can learn from Mark's death: learn about consciousness, empowerment, fearlessness and action; and follow his lead as I followed him almost two year ago through the barrier of our fears.

Goodbye Mark and thank you for this final act of empowerment and generosity. Mark's final entry into his medical journal was: "mind is clear, feel like a connected whole...." __ We honor that connected wholeness in our actions today.


see also: Day of Desperation News Zaps


1948 - 1994

A Great Hero In The Fight To End AIDS
Honor His Life -- Take Action

March 4, 1994
A funeral procession across
14th Street to Union Square Park

"I am a person with AIDS and I am gonna fight to get what I need."

"Why are hospitals being closed in Harlem when the biggest need to improve health care exists right there? Why are there no research efforts being done into issues that affect women in particular when there's such a crying need? Why do we not have services that can support people who are poor and homeless -- and prevent them from having to eventually land in an emergency room where there is a group of people who are overwhelmed by people needing health care? All of these issues tie together. Why is the United States one of only two industrialized countries that has no health plan?"

"So, there I was supposedly debating Anthony Faucci -- head of NIAID -- and Louis Sullivan -- representing the Bush administration, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Yet Louis Sullivan would appear on that program only under the condition that my microphone not be on while he was speaking. The fact that our Secretary of Health and Human Services does not recognize that 300,000 is the number of AIDS deaths in the United States is indicative of how high on the agenda AIDS is for the medical establishment in this country. It is appalling."

" Yet the person who drew the biggest reaction on the opening day of the conference --the 1993 Berlin International Conference on AIDS-- was not Merson nor Fauci nor the German president nor any other suit-clad official. He was Aldyn McKean, a 44-year-old sharp-tongued AIDS activist from New York, who was invited unexpectedly to the podium during the opening session by conference Chairman Karl-Otto Habermehl, a German virologist. Although McKean's name was not on the program, ACT UP-New York had been negotiating with Habermehl for a year for the right to speak. Habermehl relented Monday morning. Wearing jeans, a T-shirt and two small gold earrings in his right ear, McKean announced to the assembled crowd: 'I am a proud queer, an AIDS activist and a person with AIDS.' To the scientists in the audience, McKean pleaded: "Please help us. We have been screaming for six years. Nobody cares about another AIDS activist demonstration anymore. The answer is for scientists and researchers to stand up once in a while and say: 'Yes, they (activists) are right. They need to be paid attention to.' "

"The world's leaders in the fight against AIDS received a powerful reminder of what's at stake here. A funeral at the International AIDS Conference [1994, Yokohama, Japan]. The ashes of activist Aldyn McKean become dust in the wind over Yokohama Harbor. He died of AIDS in February. A year ago, McKean did the talking. At the Berlin AIDS Conference, he called for tearing down the walls that block scientific and social progress. ALDYN McKEAN: One of the most hideous of those walls is the wall that is erected against people with AIDS who attempt to travel or immigrate to countries, such, unfortunately as my own, the United States of America."

"From the beginning of AIDS activism, people with AIDS have been saying that there is a need for a broader range of research into this disease. Focusing attention on people [who] are living long term with HIV is something I've been screaming about for some five years now." The apparent shift in the direction of research efforts, McKean adds, "is, at least in part, a result of hard work over the last few years by ACTUP."

"What we as a movement have to be about is targeting specific issues that we can go out there and fight for -- and win. Because it is when you fight and win that people begin to understand that a radical analysis is correct and that civil disobedience and direct action work."


see also

Steve Michael's Political Funeral   June 4, 1998 @ White House

Ashes Action   October 13, 1996 @ Clinton's White House


Film Festival Review of DIVA TV Video "Political Funerals"

DIVA TV Netcasts


ACT UP/New York