Actions & Zaps

ACT UP is a group of individuals committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. This can take many forms. We monitor government health agencies, elected officials, pharmaceutical and insurance companies. We publicly demand that these groups and individuals act responsibly and morally. We demand that they do their jobs and respond to the needs of the AIDS community. ACT UP has developed numerous tactics for communicating dissatisfaction with institutional indifference to the AIDS crisis. These tactics are divided into two categories, called actions and zaps.

Actions are public protests or demonstrations organized by a working group within ACT UP. Actions specifically target a person or organization who is not responding effectively, or morally, to the AIDS crisis. Actions try to accomplish three goals:

make specific demands for change from the target;

increase public awareness, concern, and knowledge of AIDS issues;

expose, through media coverage, the inaction or improper actions of the target.

Characteristics of Actions:

a planning period;

an extensive promotion of the action through flyers, handouts, contacting other AIDS related groups, media, radio spots, and wheat pasting;

a large turnout of ACT UP members, coalition partners form other boroughs, cities, and states, as well as participation of other concerned people.

All ACT UP actions must be approved by the floor of ACT UP. This approval is usually a two-week-long process. The working group for a particular action presents the target, concept, and budget for the action at one meeting. At the following meeting, questions, suggestions, alterations, discussion, and usually, approval of the action takes place. Although all proposed actions are not approved, most have been discussed informally for a period of time before they go into the formal process and through those informal discussions it has become clear that a consensus on the need for the action is likely.

An important component of most actions can be non-violent civil disobedience. Civil disobedience ("CD") is a traditional method of drawing attention to a cause that was used by the members of the American Revolution, Gandhi, and Rosa Parks to name a few. CD involves breaking a law to draw attention to a larger injustice in society. People in ACT UP who choose to participate in CD take responsibility for their decision to risk arrest. No one is required to risk arrest (although police behavior is not always predictable and people are occasionally arrested who are not breaking the law). Everyone who wants to risk arrest is strongly encouraged to attend a civil disobedience training prior to an action. ACT UP CD training includes discussion of why one might want to be arrested, what your rights are, the procedure that those arrested usually undergo, what the usual legal penalties are, etc.

Zaps are designed to address AIDS issues needing immediate action by ACT UP. Zaps are a method for ACT UP members to register their disapproval of and anger toward the zap target. Zaps usually have more specific targets than actions. Because of this focus, numerous zapping techniques have been developed. ACT UP zaps individuals or organizations by:

sending postcards or letters;

invading offices and distributing fact sheets;

sending (lots and lots of) faxes;


outraged (and sometimes outrageous) phone calls.

The more zappers who zap the zappee the better the zap.

For more detailed information about how to conduct zaps, go to the:

Time to Become an AIDS Activist Direct Action Manual

New Members Packet Index:


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