On This Day: ACT UP holds its first action on Wall Street

On March 24, 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) holds its first-ever demonstration on Wall Street—the world’s financial center—targeting pharmaceutical companies that were profiting off the AIDS pandemic.

At the busy intersection of Wall Street and Broadway in New York City, 250 protestors disrupted morning rush hour traffic. Demonstrators laid in the street or held signs, demanding corporate and government action to end the AIDS pandemic. Specifically, ACT UP called for the release of life-saving drugs by the FDA, the availability of affordable medication, public education around the spread of HIV and policies to end AIDS-related discrimination.

These actions were, as ACT UP organizer Ann Northrop put it, “always planned to be dramatic enough to capture public attention.” The organizers designed their demonstrations around what ACT UP member and writer Sarah Schulman calls non-violent creative direct action, “to communicate through the media (not to the media) to pressure the institutions to change.”

Shortly after the demonstration, the FDA announced it would shorten its drug approval process by two years, responding to the visibility created by ACT UP.

One year later, ACT UP held a second Wall Street demonstration with a larger membership, turning out over 1,000 protestors. Then, in 1989, organizers led a rally of 350 in front of the New York Stock Exchange to target the AIDS drug manufacturer Burroughs Wellcome. Four days later, Burroughs Wellcome responded to coverage of the action by lowering the price of its AIDS drug.

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