(1) The Beginning

Act-Up is a grassroots international organization that advocates for HIV/AIDS prevention and other intersecting social justice struggles related to the epidemic (safe drug use, anti-sexual violence, etc).

I wanted to work with Act-Up for many reasons.  First, I took Prof. Vijayakumar’s course “HIV/AIDS, Society, and Politics” and found an interest in HIV/AIDS activism because it is so intersectional with women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.  I also have volunteered for harm reduction services as a high school student, many of which provided needle exchanges, and taking Prof. Vijayakumar’s course allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the work I had previously done but was too young to understand, and how important the field of harm reduction is at large.  Second, I am a New York native who is also a theater kid.  Inevitably, I am very familiar with all of the performance art that came out of the 80-90s in New York City that centered on HIV/AIDS activism.

The chapter is comprised of members with a lot of experience in harm reduction work, specifically with people who use drugs.  There are also members in medical schools, nonprofit work, and fine art, which makes a group of adults well-versed in how one can advocate for human rights in many mediums.  

Act-Up Boston addresses a lot of social injustices as they intersect with HIV/AIDS activism.  Besides working towards reduce HIV/AIDS transmission, the Boston chapter of Act-Up does a lot of community education on safer drug use, unsafe drug use, and the houselessness crisis in Massachusetts.  This, inevitably, intersects with combating homophobia, racism, transphobia, etc. Strategies include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Rallies and protests
  • Live and virtual panel discussions addressing safer drug use, HIV/AIDS prevention, etc.
  • HIV/AIDS prevention via community education workshops
  • Narcan trainings
  • Creating art projects as a means of prevention

So far, I have been responsible for facilitating or note-taking during our weekly meetings.  I keep track of our action items (upcoming events and projects) for each meeting, along with taking on the multitude of small tasks that need to be completed (emailing, social media updates, checking in with members). I help design promotional fliers for our virtual panels in the Month of May and for Boston Pride events that Act-Up was involved in, and I help think of new events and activities for each month, along with spearheading them. 

I think my eagerness to incorporate more arts activism into Act-Up’s work will inspire the mission to continue to include the arts in their work, especially during community engagement activities as a form of processing emotions and seeking creative solutions as a collective.  Additionally, I am currently starting to outreach with other organizations to host community facilitation courses on safer sex and safer drug use, which are incredibly relevant to the present atrocities occurring in the Supreme Court in regards to reproductive rights.  

In addition to the impact my work will have, I think my personality has allowed me to bring more mindfulness into the organizing space.  Most of my fellow organizers are adults with a bunch of jobs, adult obligations, and life stressors that I am not experiencing yet.  Being the youngest member and being a very extroverted person, I’ve started to make a conscious effort to check in with everyone and create an environment where everyone is getting to know each other a little more each day.  

Change and progress look like a million different things.  Change looks like having difficult, tedious conversations with close friends and family or total strangers.  Change looks like listening to your colleagues/peers when they are discussing their expertise.  Progress looks like consistent public outreach and seeing 2-3 new members at each chapter meeting.  Progress looks like acknowledging your own implicit biases and harmful beliefs that you may have stuffed down, but now have the language to understand and correct.