Thursday, October 18, 2012

How To Survive A Plague

I first heard about this movie from a post on the wall of a Facebook friend. On his wall was a photo of a man named Rob Rafsky, one of the activists from ActUp (Aids Coalition To Unleash Power). There was Rob, chained to a gate covered in fake blood. This image together with what "my friend" wrote about the movie, really had my attention.
How To Survive A Plague is a documentary about the survivors and activists of ActUp, an organization that brought awareness around the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's.
What started as 41 known HIV cases in Greenwich Village, the disease quickly spread at a speed that was taking the lives of hundreds young men by the day. People who were exposed to the virus were beaten or turned away by hospital staff. (St Vincents being one of them…..)

With footage captured by activists, men and women came together to plead for help from the government to spend more resources on stopping the spread of this insidious disease...and in the process stop their loved ones from dying.
Meanwhile back in Trinidad and Tobago we first learned about AIDS in the late 1980's. The public had no idea what was happening and saw it as a gay disease. Some thought it would not affect them because of of their ethnicity. Some thought if they ate a bar of soap, it would cure them. At a clinic the nurses would say that people coming in were not afraid of the virus, it was not in their genes…

As three to four of our friends started dying every couple of months, we all became terrified. The people who were infected had no where to go. Families would disown them. They would be beaten and evicted, then die alone on the streets.

My coworker Phillip died on the streets. My neighbor hung himself in a tree because he did not know what to do. I remember the entire village came out to see it. Families turned their backs, or hid the bodies of their loved ones from their friends and partners. Not all though... some families stood by their loved ones and their partners. Some rallied together to raise money to pay for funerals for their brothers and sisters. But this was not before we lost so, so many friends.

To stop the widespread panic,  brave people like actor/playwright/proud Trinidadian, Godfrey Sealy
started becoming more educated by following what was happening in the U.S. Inspired by ActUp, more people began raising their voices asking for help from the government.

This brings me back to How To Survive A Plague. This movie is the most inspirational movie I have seen in years. It shows us a real sense of community and empowerment, how to take on a government that is neglecting its people and the right for survival.
Thank you to the many heros of ActUp, dead and alive, gay and straight for prolonging the lives of so many. From beginning to end one message was clear, "Act Up, Fight Back, Fight Aids!!"

As one activist said, "This fight was the greatest achievement by the gay community till this day…."


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