“Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT Up New York, 1987-1993” by Sarah Schulman— A Political and Personal History

Schulman, Sarah. “Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT Up New York, 1987-1993”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

A Political and Personal History

Amos Lassen

Sarah Schulman’s “Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT Up New York, 1987-1993” is a masterpiece. Schulman brings together research and analysis to give us an important look at a time in history that we should never allow ourselves to forget.

ACT UP, New York was an d unlikely coalition of activists from all races, genders, sexualities, and backgrounds who is just six years were able to change the world by taking on the AIDS crisis using creativity, intelligence and rage. ACT UP attacked o corporations, institutions, governments, and individuals who blocked AIDS treatment for all. But it was not all rage. The members started needle exchange programs in New York and fought to change the legal definition of AIDS to include women; they changed the American insurance industry and went to war against the Catholic Church, the media and the pharmaceutical industry. It was their activism that transformed the lives of people with AIDS and the society that had left them to die.. 

Schulman reassessed what made ACT UP work and what caused its ultimate end. She shows “how a group of desperate outcasts changed America forever, and in the process created a livable future for generations of people across the world.”

ACT UP was founded in 1987 by several enraged people with AIDS and their allies and it came to define an era of American history with civil disobedience, new ideas about patient-centered pharmaceutical testing, and social justice initiatives that gave us new definitions of so much. Schulman interviewed the surviving former members of ACT UP and uses these interviews together with her own accounts of having been a participant in ACT UP to share these stories with us. She makes sure that different class, race, and gender experiences are centered as she writes of the organization that relied on its white and gay members as well as its Black and brown, lesbian, and straight women members.

Schulman writes about New York between 1987 and 1993, when the Monday night meetings at a downtown lesbian and gay community center brought in hundreds of people.  She gives us a book about the past yet written in the present as we are suffering another epidemic.

ACT UP came to be out of necessity. Founded in 1987, members were infected, their friends and lovers were sick and dying. Members were told that they must be “committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis.”.

This is the true story of AIDS without distortion. People came to ACT UP as a way to change things. This is a comprehensive, informative, and moving account of ACT UP New York  during the early days and peak of the AIDS crisis. the generation that lived through this is today aging, survivors are dealing with the long-term effects of HIV/AIDS and the early medications and Covid-19 the new pandemic brings with it new vulnerabilities. 

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