Steve Michael Political Funeral


 

Steve Michael, founder ACT UP/Washington DC, died of AIDS complications on Monday, May 25, 1998 at 11:12_am. Michael's partner of seven years, Wayne Turner, gave the order to disconnect Michael from life support after his condition severly worsened early Monday morning. Michael had spent almost four weeks in the intensive care unit at Washington Hospital Center for treatment of AIDS related pneumonia.  He was 42 years old.


A political funeral was held on Thursday, June 4, 1998 in front of the White House at 12:30 p.m. Turner had made arrangements with federal authorities to hold Michael's funeral, which was be his last White House protest.



The Associated Press; Thursday, June 4, 1998; 5:31 p.m. EDT
by Eun-Kyung Kim, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Friends of a local AIDS activist marched his body along Pennsylvania Avenue on Thursday before coming to a stop outside the White House to accuse President Clinton of being a "murdering liar."

About 100 people participated in the half-mile procession for Steve Michael, founder of the Washington chapter of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. Organizers said Michael, who died May 25 of AIDS, requested the "political funeral" to protest the Clinton administration's AIDS-related policies.

"Bill Clinton is a murderer, and this death, and tens of thousands of others, must be laid at his doorstep," said Ann Northrop of New York. "He is a liar, and he is letting people with AIDS die on purpose. We will not rest until this crisis is over."

ACT UP and other AIDS activists accuse Clinton of going back on promises they say he made in his presidency's early days to make fighting the disease a priority of his administration. They also criticize Clinton for not being sufficiently aggressive about AIDS education programs in schools or providing the poor with guaranteed health care access. His decision against creating a federally funded needle exchange program for drug addicts also was denounced Thursday.

Pallbearers wearing black arm bands carried Michael's casket. They walked behind a single drummer and Michael's partner, Wayne Turner, who held an altered picture of Clinton with a long, Pinnochio-like nose. Turner walked arm-in-arm with Michael's mother, Barbara Michael, who held her own photo -- a black-and-white photocopy of her son as a baby.

The casket was opened in front of the White House. Michael's mother stroked her son's forehead and gave it a kiss; Turner leaned in close, whispered a few words, and instructed organizers to begin the eulogies.

Friends hailed Michael as a soldier of human rights while reviling Clinton.

"In 1992, the occupant of that house made very clear and specific promises, commitments, to people living with HIV disease, ... and where are we now?" said Bill Freeman, former executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS.

Turning and pointing to the White House, Freeman said: "This is a president who continually said the right thing and did the wrong thing."

The protest stood in stark contrast to past "funerals" the organization has held in front of the White House. Two years ago, more than 300 protesters gathered to watch as ashes of another AIDS victim were thrown onto the mansion lawn.

In comparison, the march for Michael was relatively calm. Police blocked off traffic as protesters carrying the casket and a number of black banners, including one that said "Over our dead bodies," walked by onlookers.

Michael's body was being returned to a funeral home after the protest, Turner said. It will be cremated Saturday.


For Steve Michael, One Final Act of Protest
Activist's Funeral Makes A Stop at the White House
By Patrice Gaines
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 1998; Page B04

To the steady, rat-a-tat-tat of a drum, the funeral procession bearing the walnut-colored casket to the White House lumbered down E Street, stopping traffic; past the Willard Hotel, where a doorman put his hat over his heart; past a park where baffled tourists stared and some took pictures; past the chauffeurs standing outside their polished limos.

"Tell me," whispered one chauffeur. "Is there a real body in there"

Inside the casket was the body of Steve Michael, founder of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), eulogized yesterday as "a soldier in the struggle for civil rights" and as "a champion of justice." Michael, 42, died May 25 of AIDS-related pneumonia.

ACT UP is known for its confrontational tactics and noisy protests, but for this one occasion participants were asked to be "disciplined and silent."

"I want to emphasize we have lost a voice, a very important voice," said activist Wayne Turner, 33, Michael's longtime partner.

Michael earned respect from political insiders and grass-roots outsiders for his frank style and commitment in his efforts to increase funding for AIDS programs, restore home rule to the District and legalize marijuana for medical use.

Turner said Michael had requested, "If I die, take my body to the White House. Show the world that Bill Clinton has lied to and betrayed people with AIDS."

Michael and Turner followed President Clinton on the 1992 campaign and heckled him persistently over his record on funding for AIDS programs. They came to the capital several years ago to continue pressuring Clinton.

Yesterday afternoon, Michael's mother made her first trip to Washington from Los Angeles. A tearful Barbara Michael, 66, watched pallbearers pull her son's casket from a van and place it on Freedom Plaza. A black flag with the pink triangle that has become a symbol of gay pride was placed over the casket. On top of this, Barbara Michael laid a singlered rose and a picture of her son at age 2.

In front of the White House, the casket was opened to reveal the activist dressed in an "ACT UP" T-shirt. His mother cried. For a few seconds, she and Turner stroked Michael's face. Participant Anise Jenkins spoke of how Michael transformed her into an activist. "You didn't follow him, he insisted you walk by his side," she said. "He took a person like me and . . . showed me that I was powerful."

Later, White House press secretary Michael McCurry defended the administration's record, saying it has devoted considerable resources to preventing the spread of the disease, finding a vaccine and providing health care for those afflicted. "It clearly was a dramatic action," McCurry said of the funeral, "but the president takes very seriously the fight against AIDS. . . . I think the record shows that he has done more than any of his predecessors."


Reuters Story
Thursday June 4 5:56 PM EDT

AIDS activists hold funeral protest at White House
by Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AIDS activists Thursday used the body of a dead colleague to protest the Clinton administration's policies on the disease.

Steve Michael, who died of AIDS May 25 at the age of 42, was given an open casket funeral in front of the White House, in accordance with his dying wish.

"He wanted a last statement, and he succeeded," Michael's mother Barbara Michael told Reuters after the ceremony, which took place on a sealed-off portion of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.

Steve Michael lay in a wood coffin, wearing frayed jeans, a rainbow bracelet and a crisp white T-shirt bearing the logo of ACT-UP, the AIDS activist group.

Speakers stood beside Michael's casket, praising his life and denouncing President Clinton for what they said were the administration's inadequate efforts to fight the disease.

"This president committed to this man lying here right now that he would launch an all-out research effort to find a cure for AIDS (and promised) universal health care," said Wayne Turner, Michael's partner of seven years. "The man who lives in the White House made those promises and did not keep them."

"If we had had a Manhattan Project to cure AIDS, launched in Bill Clinton's first 100 days, I would not be here now with Steve," he told a knot of fellow activists and onlookers.

Rev. George Stallings, pastor of the Imani Temple church in Washington D.C., presided over the funeral. "The message that was presented today goes way beyond both protest and a funeral rite. It's consciousness raising," he said.

After the ceremony, Michael's coffin was escorted by pallbearers to a waiting van. His remains were to be cremated Saturday.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry defended what he said has been an active administration role in fighting AIDS and assisting its victims. "Clearly, it was a dramatic action," he said of the funeral protest. "But the president takes very seriously the fight against AIDS. Of course, there are some critics who believe he hasn't done enough. But I think the record shows that he has done more than any of his predecessors," McCurry said.

He said Clinton promoted an expedited effort to develop an AIDS vaccine, promoted increased spending on AIDS research and fought for health care coverage under Medicare and other programs for AIDS victims.

McCurry noted that the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday had approved the first large-scale tests of a vaccine against the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

Many experts have expressed skepticism that the vaccine will help a significant number of people, but some have welcomed the tests as an important milestone on the way to an eventual widely effective vaccine.

AIDS activists were dismayed when the administration refused in April to back federal funds for needle exchange programs for drug users, who often spread the HIV virus by sharing needles, while encouraging local efforts.

McCurry said Thursday the administration had been pleased that many local communities were adopting needle exchange programs and finding the money to fund them.


Thu, Jun 4, 1998 4:54 PM
Agence France-Presse on Steve Michael funeral

WASHINGTON, June 4 (AFP) - Friends carried the coffin of the founder of the Washington branch of a militant anti-AIDS group to the White House Thursday to protest US President Bill Clinton's AIDS policies.

"Steve Michaels, 1956-1998, dead from AIDS, killed by Clinton's broken promises," proclaimed one banner as dozens of Act Up protesters banged drums.

Act Up, an aggressive anti-AIDS group, held the protest at the request of Michaels, who died on May 25.

Activists also waved banners and signs reading, "Hey Bill, thanks for the AIDS," "Clinton lies, we die" and "Fund needle exchange now."

On April 20, the US administration refused to end the moratorium on federal financing of needle exchange programs designed to prevent the spread of AIDS among drug addicts.

"Steve Michaels spent the last years of his life holding the president accountable for his broken promises on AIDS," said Julie Davids of Act Up Philadelphia in a statement.

"And now he has died an untimely death in a country where there is still no national health care, no funding for syringe exchange and no coordinated effort to find a cure for AIDS."


CITY PAPER
Baltimore Free Alternative Weekly, June 10, 1998

88 Keys: A Media Funeral in the Age of AIDS
by Natalie Davis, associate editor

I keep a list of names. It's the sort of list many people would consider morbid, and perhaps it is: It's an accounting of everyone I've lost since 1982, when I first became aware of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

On May 25, I had to add another name to the old, yellowed pages. On that date, I lost my friend Steve. Out of curiosity's sake, I went back and counted the names of my fallen friends and acquaintances--there were 87. Steve made 88. Eighty-eight, like the keys on a piano--each unique and vibrant in its own way, each ultimately silenced. For Steve, the song had come to its end.

If you keep tabs on the fight against AIDS in this region, you probably have heard of--and possibly been annoyed by--Steve Michael. He headed Washington, D.C.'s chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP. It's an international direct-action group with that uses "zaps," creative bits of nonviolent street theater and guerilla tactics, to draw attention to the need for action to put an end to HIV and AIDS.

Like John Stuban, Baltimore's longtime ACT UP leader, Steve was a fiery, take-no-prisoners warrior. A brilliant strategist, he made his name widely known in the fight against the disease and for D.C. home rule and legalizing marijuana for medical use. He shadowed an increasingly uncaring President Clinton, ran for president twice, stormed federal offices (landing in jail more than once), and pissed off more government officials--and fellow activists--than you could shake a stick at. Like John, he had no problems making friends in the press--Steve and I (as did John and I) met in a professional capacity and hit it off. And now, like John (number 53 on my list), Steve is dead.

Upon hearing that Steve had died, I also learned his funeral would be a political event, a showy media fest in front of the White House. This was poetic justice, in a sense. Steve had given his life to the fight against AIDS. He moved from Seattle to Washington, by way of stops across the nation, following candidate Bill Clinton and demanding that if the Arkansas governor won the presidency in 1992 he make finding a cure for AIDS a top priority. Clinton promised Steve--to his face--that in his first 100 days in office, he would launch a Manhattan Project-type effort to find a cure and guarantee comprehensive health care for all Americans. To make sure that the president-elect made good on his pledge, Steve moved to the nation's capitol with his lover and fellow activist Wayne Turner. And he made Clinton a promise of his own: "I will haunt you."

So I suppose lying in state in front of the White House was a fulfillment of Steve's vow. I know it was his final wish--when he entered the Washington Hospital Center for what would be the final time a month ago, he told Wayne he wanted a political funeral in front of Bill Clinton's house. As someone who loved him, I had no choice to respect his wish. Still, I was angry. Color me selfish, but my friend was gone. I wanted an opportunity to mourn in a manner that I thought he deserved--something solemn, dignified, respectful.

And I wondered about AIDS activism in general. For those of us who've worked in the trenches, from caring for dying loved ones or "buddies," to shouting ourselves hoarse in the street or sitting in a jail cell, to taking on unfeeling government suits--all the while neglecting our own lives, families, relationships, and personal health--how much is enough? Steve gave up his life--apparently willingly. He fought incessantly, irritated and riled many, lost sight of his priorities time and again, and paid fuck-all attention to his own well-being. And now, by his own choice, he was giving up the only opportunity to have his friends and loved ones speak only of their love for him. What more is necessary to create visibility for the war against this disease that has murdered thousands and held activists' and caregivers' lives hostage for nearly two decades? Does some well-meaning fool have to hang himself in the village square using a long red ribbon as a noose?

So I made the trip to Washington, poised and ready for a first-class ACT UP media show. I found myself at Freedom Plaza, the starting point of what would be an eight-block march to the White House. A crowd of mabye 200 people was there. Most were dressed casually, in ACT UP T-shirts or shirts promoting Steve's final project, the pro-medical marijuana Initiative 59. A good number of them carried signs: "Bill Lies; We Die"; "ACT UP! Fight AIDS"; "Over Our Dead Bodies" (particularly significant that day). A 30-foot puppet depicted President Clinton as a grim reaper with bloody hands. Steve's mother was there; she'd flown in from California to witness her son's final "zap." In her hands was a photocopy of a picture of 2-year-old Steve. Wayne was directing the troops--there was to be no chanting and no yelling. Marchers were to walk in twos behind the pallbearers. Above all, this was to be dignified.

In the center of all the hullabaloo was Steve's casket: a plain wooden coffin, accented only with copper-colored handles, sitting atop a wheeled bier. The sight brought back feelings I'd experienced 87 times before--overwhelming sorrow, bewilderment, and those awful, cliched questions: "How can he be in that box? Why, God?" In Steve's case, getting an answer was easy--I believe he chose to be a martyr for the cause. But now, I was past anger, at least temporarily.

The procession began. Thankfully, it was largely silent, solemn, stately. ACT UP had obtained permits for the event, so the streets were clear of vehicles. As we slowly marched along, passersby stopped to bow their heads. A doorman in front of the Willard Hotel doffed his hat to pay his respects. About four blocks into the funeral parade, one of the pallbearers mentioned that he was exhausted. I honestly don't know how, but I ended up in his place, helping to carry the coffin. It was enormously heavy--I could feel Steve's weight--and, I thought, the weight of 87 others and 16 years of loss and grief. Tears began to trickle down my face, and then they flowed like springtime rain. What a blessing: I'd been sure my tear ducts were used up, dried out--that I was no longer capable of feeling such anguish. `Thank God,' I thought, `I'm alive.' The people around me, though angry and sorrowful, were alive. All around me energy and passion--and resolve--swirled like the whipping winds of a stormy night.

We arrived at Lafayette Park, right across from the White House, placed Steve's Coffin carefully on the perfectly placed bier (Wayne made sure the spot chosen would make for dramatic photos--and it did). Right before the speakers were about to begin orations aplenty, I noticed Wayne taking the ACT UP flag from the coffin. "Oh no--they're not going to open it, are they?" I asked Jessica. "Don't be naive," she answered back. "Of course they're going to open it. What did you expect?"

Not that. But deep down, I knew it had to be done to get the full effect Steve intended. And what an effect it was. The sun was shining brightly overhead. Steve, pale and dressed in a crisp white ACT UP T-shirt with his long hair lying gently on his shoulders, as if asleep in his walnut-colored casket against the imposing image of the White House. Wayne had indeed picked the right spot. We could even see people gathering at the front door of the presidential residence--whether out of curiousity or respect, I didn't know.

The speeches began, and as expected, focused on Steve's brilliance and perseverance in the face of Bill Clinton's failure to keep his promises. The president was vilified for choosing ineffectual AIDS czars, for refusing to fund needle exchange, for not seeming to give a damn. Several activists called him a liar--and a murderer. One man, a representative of the National Association of People With AIDS, hailed the funeral as "Steve's finest moment." The next speaker, from ACT UP New York, echoed my sentiments when she dismissed that comment, insisting that Steve's finest moments were when he was alive and fighting.

Indeed, my friend was brave and crazy and beautiful. And whatever his flaws, he believed. As the service drew to a close and Steve's body was driven away to a funeral home where he would eventually be cremated, I hugged Wayne and headed back to Baltimore.

I was and am sad. The AIDS pandemic is a hard thing with which we must deal, and part of that is having to say goodbye to loved ones much too soon. But I can deal with it--I can even handle a public funeral with obnoxious camera jockeys and grossly simplistic rhetoric and activists competing for a chance in the spotlight. I know all of us there loved Steve. We were inspired by him and we will miss him. And we will continue to band together to act up when necessary, fight back, and fight AIDS. It's what Steve and the other 87 would have wanted.

CITY PAPER  www.citypaper.com




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