"ACT UP Women Speak Up"
By Crystal Mason and members of the Women’s Action Committee
ACT UP San Francisco, Volume II, Issue 4, September/October. 1992. pp. 2
The following are excerpts from the position paper of the Women’s Action Committee and Crystal Mason’s introductory speech at the Aug. 30. ACT UP/ SF meeting.
"I pledge to join others I fighting for all our lives and liberties during the AIDS crisis…"
This is how the AIDS Action Pledge Begins. Out of the AIDS Action Pledge came ACT UP/SF. The question today is whether ACT UP/SF remains committed to fighting for all of our lives? If we hope to beat this epidemic the answer must be yes.
For those of us committed to this fight, we know if the answer is no, years from now we’ll still be in the streets demanding the same things we demand today.
"We believe the AIDS crisis calls for a broad movement actively engaged in ending the epidemic. We recognize that AIDS has had a devastating impact on the lesbian and gay community.
"We further recognize that the AIDS crisis disproportionately affects men and women of color. Any strategies for fight the crisis must incorporate these understandings."
The above lines are also from the AIDS Action Pledge. Now is the time we must ask ourselves if we as ACT UP/SF really mean what we say or are we just being politically correct in saying it.
Political correctness is an empty plate to a hungry person.
What ACT UP/SF has claimed to be is the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. By choosing to be part of this coalition we all at least imply that we agree that we are just that, a coalition.
We as the Women’s Action Committee understand what Bernice Johnson Reagon says when she speaks of coalition work being a struggle and we call upon other individuals within ACT UP/SF to recognize that "most of the time you feel threatened to the core and if you don’t, you’re not coalescing."
The ACT UP/SF Women’s Caucus and Women’s Action Committee will fight to make sure ACT UP/SF truly acts as a coalition.
A coalition that is about ending the AIDS pandemic on a global level, and that includes—as we publicly say it does—fighting sexism.
AIDS is about all phobias and isms, including sexism. We all must be able to see this.
Sexism is about an unequal power dynamic, where men have the power and use it over women to keep women in check, to make women do, feel, think what men want us to. This organization which is overwhelmingly male has to constantly work against that power dynamic that sees empowerment as power over.
Men in ACT UP/SF have to keep checking themselves and each other to insure that words and actions are not sexist. Any time a man or men act out that dynamic of power over a woman that is sexist . When men deny that it is sexist that is sexist. Playing out the male power against one woman disempowers all women, especially in a room where men often outnumber women ten to one.
Refusal to deal with these issues, or even acknowledge them is buying into society’s erroneous images and is hindering the fight against AIDS. We the ACT UP/SF Women’s Caucus and Women’s Action Committee say, "Deal with these issues! Be a part of the coalition! Do not attempt to railroad your own agenda through or by invoking the male power privilege."
As women we came, and still come, to ACT UP/SF and are, or become, educated around issues which particularly concern gay men. We know more about gay men than they know about us. We know that to be part of ACT UP/SF we must be allies to gay men, and be actively working on all the issues that are part of the AIDS Action Pledge. We demand that the men in ACT UP/SF be allies to women and work on the issues that ACT UP/SF says it’s working on.
We demand that sexism not be tolerated in ACT UP/SF. We demand our space as women, both white women and women of color, as lesbians, as AIDS activists, as political people, and as individuals. We demand acknowledgment of the work we have done.
We state that being an ally against sexism is not a simple refrain from blatantly sexist or misogynist language, but also a constant struggle, an active, ongoing, activity something that men need to do every day, every hour, every time men speak or act.
Fighting sexism means taking risks. It means being bold enough to call each other on sexism and owning your own sexism. It means struggling to unlearn what you’ve been taught and owning that being part of an anti-sexist coalition is a real struggle.