The Ashes on the LawnRadiolab
- 1,196 views
- 18 Dec 2020
A global pandemic. An afflicted, angry group. A seemingly indifferent government. Reporter Tracie Hunte wanted to understand this moment of pain and confusion by looking back 30 years, and she found a complicated answer to a simple question: When nothing seems to work, how do you make change?
This episode was reported by Tracie Hunte, and produced by Annie McEwen and Tobin Low. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly.
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You're the only reason we can do it. We do now for the show. Before we start just letting you know there is some explicit language in this story. OK. You're listening to Radiolab Radio from WNYC. Hello, this is Radiolab, I'm Lulu Miller, and today we have a story from reporter Tracy Hunt. Where does the story start?
Um, so I'm going to start you off in New York City, June 25th, 1989. It was the gay pride parade, but it was also the very first time that David Robinson ever laid eyes on Warren Krauss.
I noticed this guy I thought was incredibly hot, marching by with a group of people. He was shirtless and muscly and he had blonde hair. But it was buzz like really short, except these two like what Wolverine had, OK? They're almost like these little things up there. If you just look amazing. I remember just thinking, oh, my gosh. But here he is marching by with a group of people and I remember thinking, oh, well, I'll never see him again.
But the next day, David, was that an AIDS activist meeting?
And who should be in the front row with this guy? So, yeah, and he invited me to have lunch with him the next day at the apartment where he was staying. And I did go over there and we didn't, in fact, have lunch. We had a lovely, lovely time right away.
David was like, OK, this is it. You're the one. He had grown up on a small dairy farm in Connecticut. It had been a very joyless and sometimes abusive upbringing. He was kicked out at 17 for being gay and he ended up having his own. And I know just a unique way of being in the world, so it's a little hard to talk about because. I feel like I cheated so, so badly. Warren had told David when they first got together that he was HIV positive and it was less than half a year after we moved out to San Francisco that the infection started coming fast and furious.
By the last several. Months of his life, he was just pretty much homebound last two months, he had dementia. The last thing he got ended up causing dementia and he was he was in the hospital for much of that time. I took him home his last months until he had dementia. He was really angry. David and Warren would sit around their apartment talking about that anger and talking about the fact that they both knew Warren was going to die.
You know, we would talk and he would express that it was his wish to, you know, make a difference beyond his death. Warren died April 1992. You know, this is a moment when the AIDS epidemic has been going on now for about 10 years, research into treatments had basically stalled. There was no cure in sight. More and more people were getting sick and dying.
We are in the middle of a fucking cold.
And it looked like the Bush administration was just not paying attention.
40 million infected people is a fucking plague and nobody it.
And people like Larry Kramer, who co-founded Act Up, an activist group that David was a part of. They were at their wits end.
We are in the worst shape we have ever, ever, ever been in. They spent years protesting and demonstrating and just trying to get people to pay attention, trying to get the government to just do something. Nobody knows what to do next. And that was David's question to what do I do next? What would Warren want me to do? He wanted to be able to continue to make a difference even after he died.
And so David was sitting in their San Francisco apartment alone with a box of Warren's ashes.
And inside was just, you know, the plastic bag with the ashes and bone chips.
And and eventually he decided that he needed to use what was left of Warren's body to make people pay attention.
Senator Obama of 1992, David, at about 150 other people, many of the members of Act Up met in D.C. right in front of the Capitol, you know, I remember them lining up with these other people and some were people I knew very well from archtop and some were people I had never met.
I mean, it was so visceral. Butler, a student at the time, the drama and the people. Remember it being hot, Alexis Danzig's, she had lost her father to AIDS and the crunch of the gravel under our feet as we walk down the mall, they started marching down the path along the DC mall. And as they marched, they started to chants of bringing that we're bringing our dead to your door. We won't take it anymore. One of my strongest memories is just a house myself.
I lost my voice and just thought that I was in a line of people who were carrying their beloved person's ashes in a variety of different kinds of vessels. Some had ashes in a baggie. What was your ashes? And I had I had created a box. It was painted black with gold line drawings on it. And then for, like the last section of the markets, we were getting closer to the White House.
Just remember, almost a grim feeling. It is the White House came into view. They could see a line of mounted police the police had prepared by filling up on their forces 20 feet away from the White House gate surrounding the entire perimeter of the White House.
When you look at videos of this, it's terrifying. These cops like high up on their horses and it looks like the horses are going to stampede them or something. But the protesters had a strategy. The Romans called it the Cunio Saraj. They formed a triangle with a couple of people up in front pointing directly at the mounted police. Behind them are all the people carrying the ashes. You've got to do is get the front of the triangle through the straight line of the enemy and they begin to turn around to see what's happening.
The protesters got the tip of that triangle between two of the mounted police and pushed through, and that gave everyone else an opening to get over the line, us, the people who had access to get right up to the fence.
All of a sudden, I remember being at the fence physically crammed into one another as we all tried to get as close as possible. Things became very quick and very slow all at the same time. The people with the arms began to curl those ashes onto the lawn. I remember opening this box and reaching in and the feel of the bag and turning it over and shaking it. I shook the box out and feeling. Seeing. These asked, is this wave of ash in the air?
Some of them just falling and some going in, the wind wafted back over us and began to codas. That's some getting on, like are the feel of those ashes even a taste of them on your face and lips? I can remember having to clean my glasses because I couldn't see. It was somewhere in the process of this that I went from that grim feeling to justice. Fierce. I have a feeling like an embodiment of. This incredible release of energy out into the universe.
Wow, God, I had never heard about this. Yeah, I didn't know this happened. Yeah, I think when I first heard this, I think the dominant thing that I was, like, feeling and thinking was that so metal.
Like, it's so like I just I can't think of it, like more pure response to that sort of anger and that disgrace. Yeah. But at the same time, you know, it just it just didn't there wasn't any meaningful response from the White House.
It didn't get a lot of media attention at the time. And I think if you weren't in DC that day, at that moment, you probably wouldn't have known it that had happened.
And it's like, how loud do you have to like, what does it take? Yeah, and honestly, that's the thing about act up the group that David was part of that made the Ashes action happen, because when you look at all the other things that accepted, they're just constantly trying to punch through and get people to see them. Like, for example, they did this in at St. Patrick's Cathedral. What did that look like?
This is Jesus Christ I in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday.
We're here reporting on some of the people I talked to. They said that the plan was to go into St. Patrick's Cathedral, just lie down like they were dying or dead, you know, simple, quiet.
But some of the protesters went off script. I got like someone smashed a communion wafers. Stop. Someone else started heckling the priests. And I like the Ashes action. This one got a lot of attention. But not good attention when people from act up started standing on pews and screaming. It really alienated the people who are praying, I saw people get very angry and upset.
You know, when I learned this, I could not think about our current moments, you know, coronaviruses happening and then the protests of the summer started to happen. This expression of the grief and anger that people were carrying with them, they were all these conversations about what's the right way to protest. Can a protest actually hurt the movement that you're protesting for, like by being to just extreme or like two in your face or, you know, I just.
I was wondering, and I know I'm not really supposed to wonder this because I'm a journalist and, you know, journalists are just supposed to cover these sorts of things. But, you know, I feel like any citizen or activist or anybody has this question in their heart, which is like what would work, what would make, you know, how do you make change? And the amazing thing about the early AIDS movement is that there are so many different kinds of protests going on that it's just like this perfect little petri dish for this question.
What do you mean? Well, OK, so just to get started, let's go back to that very same day that the active activists were doing the Ashes demonstration.
Because right next to where they were marching on the mall, there was another demonstration unfurling the AIDS quilt. Gary Barnhill, I've heard of that one. Yes, yes.
David Caldara, they did these showings of the quilt, you know, every few years, Campbell. James Martin case that day in 1992, there were Paul Castro, 20000 of these, three by six foot sections of Bill Cathcart. Bob Greenwood that had Barbie dolls and leather jackets and soccer trophies, Douglas, all these mementos of people that had died.
Felix Balada Munoz. There were no speeches or anything like that, just.
Nicasio Tavano got people reading names marked s for each person with their own patch of quilt, Billy Allen, Dan Allen, Clayton Berry, made by family members or loved ones, Raymond Case, Dave Castle, you you think of your grandmother taking care of you when you're sick.
You think of chicken soup and tucked in in bed. So I ended up talking to Mike Smith. My name is Mike Smith. I'm the co-founder of the AIDS Quilt.
He was there from the beginning and he told me that when the cult first started, it also came from an angry place if you back up to its inception.
Many of the earliest panels were made out of anger and desperation. Probably the best known of the angry ones is literally white vinyl with red oil paint and the red kind of ran down in drips along the bottom, he says. Ronald Reagan, his blood is on your hands.
But then about four weeks before the display, we had some coverage in The New Yorker and a few other, Mike says right before the display 1987, they had been putting out newsletters and doing all kinds of press.
We'd said, if you get us a panel by October, by September 15th, we would get it into the event on the mall a month later. And on the three days around September 15th, we had eight hundred pieces of overnight. Now. Oh, wow.
From every state. And they weren't from the gay men in the urban core, they were from others, it was all these like Midwestern ladies whose sons died of AIDS and they had no one to talk about it with. They couldn't really talk about it, maybe with their families.
They couldn't even tell their church group what their son had died of. First of all, how much how isolated and desolate do have to be to create a beautiful, loving fabric memorial for your son and then box it up and send it to a bunch of gay men you don't know three thousand miles away.
But we tapped into this nationwide sense of grief, and that's when the panels he was named started to get really, really beautiful bomber jackets and high school track medals and things that mom put on that really tell the story of the person.
And it changed everything. By the time we got the quilt out there on the mall, this wasn't a protest banner. It was literally all of America saying, wake up, our sons are dying. You know, when it came to talk about media attention, there was like a ton of media attention on the AIDS quilt. Good morning.
It's sunrise here in Washington, D.C. I'm at the Capitol Mall where the names Project AIDS Quilt is to be unveiled.
A quilt, a dark reminder of AIDS and its victims was unfurled, each panel representing a deaf and it cracked open some political movement.
I've got two thirds of the members of Congress at some point had a mother standing in their office with a quilt panel. And within a few years, the Ryan White Act provided two billion dollars to sustain public health systems in hospitals across the country that were buckling from the weight of all of these dying people and the fact that we could do it in a way that was also colorful and loving and warm and spoke to middle America, made us a little bit of a Trojan horse, but not everyone agreed with that approach.
Not a sad one. Kind of beautiful, but it's not beautiful. It's ugly.
And, you know, one thing that members were reacting to at the time was that a lot of the funerals of people who died of AIDS there being covered in like the art section of a lot of major newspapers. And as one person told me, it was sort of like the world was seeing their deaths as aesthetic events and not as political events, like instead of their deaths being treated as news and politics, it was just a cultural event or something.
And David in particular felt like that was what was happening with the quilt.
I think the quilt itself does good stuff and it's moving still. It's like making something beautiful out of the epidemic.
Once I saw that the people who organized the quilt and the quilt showings would allow anyone to read names, including President Bush, it was just so clear to me that we needed. To demonstrate what? The actual result of AIDS was there was nothing beautiful about it. This is what I'm left with. I've got a box full of ashes and bone chips. You know, there's no beauty in that.
I know. I was. Adamant that I didn't want this to be symbolic, the power and what we were doing was the utterly unvarnished truth. And I guess, you know, when I think about these two approaches, maybe it's sort of a false choice and you need both or whatever, but it feels like a dilemma. I'm I know that I feel pulled towards the raw truth and expression of anger in the Ashes action. Yeah, but I can also see the beauty of the quilt and the pragmatic political power it had made.
And in the midst of our current moments of pain and protest, I think that's a real question, especially for the people in pain. Like where do you put your energy? Yeah, but what I found and we'll get right into this after the break, is a couple of moments in this movement that just totally unraveled that question.
All right. More in just a moment.
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This is Radiolab, I'm Lulu Miller, and we are back with our story about protests from Tracy Hunt. OK, so I'm starting a whole new story now. OK. And this is getting it like. If you're trying to push a government or the world to pay attention and make change, how do you do that? How do you do that while also being true to yourself, your experience, your emotions, your ideals? Right.
So I was looking for parallels to what we're going through now, and a familiar name popped up. Hello. Good morning. Sorry. Dr. Anthony Fauci, I wasn't expecting you to pick up the Fouche the foul charges in this story.
Well, I'm here.
If you want me to go away, I'll leave. No, no, do not. Please don't go away.
The Fouche is actually a big part of the story. Well, I mean, yeah, back in the 80s, early in the AIDS crisis, he had the exact same job that he has now. Like, truly the same title, the exact same title job, everything.
Wahhab, the head of Nihat. And back then he was studying immunology with the molecular architecture of fevers.
Then he heard about this weird disease, HIV AIDS, before we knew his HIV, that in the United States at the time was afflicting mostly white young gay men.
You know, who would have thought back in the 80s that you would have seventy eight million infections and thirty seven million deaths from a disease that no one wanted to pay attention to?
His mentors at the time were like, what are you doing? You're on this path to success. Why do you want to work with AIDS patients?
But I had a great deal of empathy for these gay young men, so he ignored his mentors.
Now let's go to the lecture and join Dr. Anthony Fauci as he talks about AIDS. And he turned his career to focus almost completely on AIDS research.
I'm working directly on on AIDS, both clinically and from the basic science. It was a transforming time in my life as the amount of effort and energy that's being put into it by biomedical science, as a scientist and as a physician taking care of these patients.
And under his guidance, the NIH started to make huge leaps and bounds in AIDS research.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is hopeful that the answer to this dreaded disease may be in sight. You know, you hear that story like, well, Foushee, great man, a great man then. A great man now. So brave. Wow, OK.
AIDS activists at the time, stupidity and incompetence didn't fuck with Valge like that.
Can I read you a little of Larry Kramer's open letter to you? Because it's so mean. So I feel like I have to ask permission first.
No, no, no. I mean, that was the famous San Francisco Examiner. Open letter to an incompetent idiot. Yeah.
It's like Anthony Fauci, you are a murderer. Your refusal to hear the screams of AIDS activists early in the crisis resulted in the deaths of thousands of queers with two hundred and seventy thousand dead from AIDS and millions more infected with HIV. You should not be honored at a dinner.
You should be put before a firing squad. Right that. That I would say he was trying to gain my attention and he certainly accomplish this goal, he got my attention. Wow.
Yes, that letter was published in 1988. But OK, so before we go on with Fauji, like, so was he doing that? Like he made this move to go work on it, but then was he somehow doing something, something very dangerous?
Yeah, well, there were there were a bunch of issues. This is Peter Stehly, long term AIDS activist and LGBTQ rights activist.
He was a big time member of the community. And he says that, sure, yes, Dr. Foushee was doing a lot of work on AIDS, but he was head of Naiad and they were the primary institute at NIH.
They handled the bulk of AIDS research back then. So in essence, he was the head of AIDS research for the US government.
And we had problems with that effort back in the 80s.
The drug trials that they were running, they had a pretty disgraceful track record of not enrolling.
The full diversity of patients tended to be really white and really male, even though the numbers of infected women and African-Americans was increasing. And so, like, we're getting drugs that we don't even know if they work on anyone who's not a gay white man. And the board was also making all these decisions without the input of people who actually were living with AIDS.
You know, the boy was just these doctors and researchers who were playing it kind of safe, frankly.
You know, we had AZT, we had the first drug, but AZT was toxic.
It had all these terrible side effects. And Peter Staley and others thought that there were lots of other drugs out there that could be even more useful.
And we wanted a robust research effort on those drugs.
But Fauci and his team, they just started testing the wazoo at AZT.
And the few times when they did have a new drug, it took years and years for it to make it to anybody with AIDS who could actually benefit from it. And activists were like, people are dying now. He's not moving fast enough on the things we want. So they put together a list of demands and they set their sights on Falchi. It's time to storm the NIH.
OK, enact a plan that can't be as simple as showing up on a beautiful, crisp morning in Bethesda, Maryland, onto the Sareen campus of the NIH.
All these people, over a thousand demonstrators from all around the country, showed up and started marching. The cops were already cops on horseback. They were quite prepared. They were also TV cameras and reporters. And Peter knew that if we'd put on a really big fancy display that gives the media a really colorful picture, you increased your odds of appearing on the front page. And he had these colored smoke bombs, the surplus military smoke grenades hidden behind protest signs on the top of a really long bamboo poles.
So they marched along with others.
But then at the right moment, all at the same time, we dropped our poles, ripped off the signs, pulled the pins up these things, and then raised the poles back up. And these blue images of the red or blue, purple and pinks and greens started pouring out of the top of these poles and beneath this massive rainbow war cloud they charged through the crowd.
And the crowd erupted and then it was just an entire day of well orchestrated chaos.
This was a major day of protest by those activists in this country. What they mean, everywhere you looked, something was happening outside.
People were giving speeches, medication, properties, black women talking about their experiences living with AIDS institutions. They were people dressed up in lab coats. You don't fit our profile making fun of scientists. I guess there are singing diamonds. One section of the line was transformed into a graveyard. Air horns punctured the noise of the crowd. Basically, what we're doing is blasting the horns every 12 minutes to remind people that statistically right now, every 12 minutes, someone in America is dying from AIDS.
And at the center of all this noise and color. Stood for people dressed in hooded black robes and they carried a black coffin that had the words, fuck you, Foushee written on its side. They also had a really giant head impaled on a spike and there was blood coming out of his ears, nose and mouth in his eyes. And then they burned him in effigy, they burned him in effigy. Yes, No Secrets Act Up was publicly taking that list of demands without shaking it and his face and nailing it to his door.
Wow, that is intense. Yeah. And Forkin is sitting up in his office, several floors up, looking out the window. They were really confronting me in a very, very aggressive way. And as he was taking it all in, I saw from my window amidst all this chaos, the slight figure of Peter Staley get boosted up onto this ledge above the front door of the building. Yeah, I got on the overhead. You could see that he was on this little overhang and started hanging up banners and the crowd cheered.
But the cops were having none of it that day and the police were going to climb up and get it. They launched a few of their own up under the overhang, tackled me. The police are like scrambling, lowered down with the hands of a dozen cops and they had to take him to the police van. And the police van is like in the back of the building. And because the building is now surrounded by activists, the only way to get him to the back of the building is to take him.
Through the building, so they handcuffed me behind my back and an officer grabbed my elbow and started pulling me through the first floor, building three one. And as we're going down this wide corridor, I see that familiar white lab coat on, that short scientists coming towards me.
He had handcuffs behind his back and this police officer was taking them away. And he passed me and he said, Tony.
And he goes, Peter and Tony said, Are you all right? I said, Yeah, yeah. Just doing my job. How about you? And they said, well, we're trying to keep operating under these conditions. And I said, well, good luck with that. We'll talk tomorrow.
And I said, OK, Peter, see you later. And the cop looked at me like, what the hell is going on here? Wait, they know each other?
Yeah. And this is the first little piece of the puzzle in explaining why this action was so different from the Ashes action or even the quilt.
And to show you what I mean by that, we have to go back two years to nineteen eighty eight to that letter that Larry Kramer wrote to Foushee, where he called a murderer to remember that the whole murder thing.
Of course. Of course. I mean, Dr. Thought you saw that letter. He thought if somebody is that angry to be able to print that in a national newspaper. I mean, I got to find out what is it that has stimulated him to do that.
So he just called this guy who calls him a murderer and called him on the phone and said, let's figure this out.
And despite their differences, we know we came to an agreement that we both had the same common goal.
Yeah, well, I'm I'm really surprised by that because, like, you know, I'm thinking of, like, this story my day and age protest when people literally have, like, pictures of your heads out of your head on a stake and saying, you know, if you foushee well, no one was really able to listen to the message because they were too put off by the tactics.
And I think the thing that I was able to do was to separate the attacks on me as a symbolic representative of the federal government that they felt was ignoring their needs. Dr. Foushee, I wonder if I can follow up on that.
That's our host. And I'm afraid he was sitting in on the interview with Pouchy.
It's kind of an extraordinary emotional jujitsu that you're describing. I mean, people are saying horrible things which could be read symbolically about about a person in a role or could be taken quite personally.
And you're saying everybody around you is taking it quite personally, but you somehow were able to shift posture, right.
Do you have any recollection of how you did it? Like what specifically got you out of defense and into receptive mode?
You know, I think it's a complicated thing. Might it really dates back to my family. My mother and father were very much people who were quite tolerant of different opinions. And part of not only my background, but the Jesuit training, both in high school and in college, is that you care about people no matter who they are. And you keep an open mind to opinions. Hmm. Once you become defensive and push back, you never hear what their message is.
And once you listened to what their concern was, I got this feeling that, goodness, they're right. Well, it is so hard to picture a person in power responding like that today, you know, it seems like when someone spits on your face and says awful things about you, the.
May and move, you see, is people screaming back louder or like blocking you on social media, not acknowledging or hating back.
Yeah, I mean, there's a part of me like when I hear this story where I'm just like, you know, that's like a really easy way to make himself look good. But at the same time, you know, even me who's, like, cynical, can't deny the fact that that was like a pretty cool move on stoutest part to turn that moment into a moment for like a conversation. And after that initial phone call, Larry Kramer actually connected Dr.
Fauci with Peter Staley and a couple of other activist.
Foushee swung his office door open. I said it's time for me to put the theatrics aside and listen to what they're saying.
And we had a very healthy back and forth.
And, you know, a little while after that, those phone calls turned into dinner parties, these famous dinners we would have with him in Washington, sitting down around the dinner table of my deputy at the time, Jim Hill.
They discuss ideas, strategy, medicine, how we can continue the dialogue of coming to some common ground.
And now this is all still before Peter and others stormed the NIH.
And this is actually where Peter would bring up the list of demands like Kate.
Dr. Fauci, could you please pass the salt?
And also, we think that you really need to diversify your trials here.
Dr. Fauci, this guy is so good at what you put in it up. But you know what's not good, is it? Let's start testing more drugs and foushee. Well, you know, he kind of passed the buck.
I mean, I had a lot of pushback from my own colleagues in the scientific community. He just had a lot of excuses.
We were sick of hearing from him. Tell us for over a year, dinner after dinner, after dinner.
I understand you. I agree with you, but I can't convince the executive committee. And we were like, screw that.
Peter and others were like, you know what? Empathy and listening and dinners, it's not enough.
So it was actually at one of these dinners, Peter told Dr. Falchi. So, Tony, I got bad news for you. A couple of months we're going to descend on your campus with a massive demonstration to push these issues.
And what do you say said, wait a minute, we're sitting we're sitting here having dinner and sharing a glass of Grigio. You're going to storm the NIH. What are you talking about? He tried to talk us out of it. No, I did. You know, I said, are you sure that this is going to be a productive thing?
Kept pleading that you needed a little more time. And we said, well, you got a couple of months. I said, OK, fine, thanks an awful lot. Couple of months later.
Thousand people show up to his door with his head on a spike. Yeah, well, what happened? What did happen was that tons of wood. Did the media pick it up? There was a lot of media attention. And thanks to Pieter's colored smoke bombs, it actually did make the front page of a couple of newspapers. But a lot of the media attention was not sympathetic, was just like, look at these pathetic look at these crazies who showed up at the NIH.
But the thing that makes this protest different from the Ashes action or even the quilt is that they were saying, fuck you to somebody who was actually sympathetic to them.
That demonstration was more about putting him between a rock and a hard place. We were the rock and a hard place was the executive committee of the ACTU.
This was about giving Foushee a very public boot in the ass.
We wanted to make it politically difficult for them to ignore him and us. And so he got squeezed by act up.
And that squeeze is apparently exactly what he needed because he did kind of what we were hoping he'd do.
You push the hard and within a few months of that demonstration, the ACTU executive committee caved.
They got pretty much everything they wanted. Like on that list, they got it all. Yeah, Jim decided to open up all of their committed activists and other people with AIDS were added to the panels. We got voting membership on the executive committee.
They did diversify the people that they were testing. They did begin to start testing drugs that weren't AZT.
And we started to reformat and refocus the clinical trials and the conducting of clinical trials towards HIV AIDS.
They got they got what they needed. Wow. Yeah.
That is so not a story I feel like you ever hear. Yeah. But to be clear, the storm the night action happened in 1990. It wasn't until 1996 that they actually had the drug cocktail that was giving people living with AIDS a much longer life. And so it was actually after the storm, the age action that Larry Kramer was giving these angry speeches about how desperate the situation was. And David and Alexis throwing their loved one's ashes on the White House lawn.
That happened after storm the NIH and, you know. You can certainly point to the Ashes action and other political funerals that act up did during that time period as like, you know, not being as effective as storm the NIH. But when the situation is so dire and things are so dark and people are so desperate, maybe that moment called for a different kind of demonstration.
That is exactly right. And this is me as a media scholar talking and a rather radical one.
This is Alexandra Yuhas. She is a professor of film at Brooklyn College and she worked in ACTTAB. I don't know that.
Your media maker. One goal is to, quote, unquote, change someone's mind. Yeah, OK, that's a real goal and you make certain kind of work to quote unquote, change somebody's mind. There was an organization at this time that I knew called AIDS Films, and they made a number of short narratives, highly polished films. And those were definitely change mind kind of films, because they were they were feel good.
They looked familiar. Now, that's a reasonable goal, but I'm not sure that stopped the church or the Ashes action or political funerals.
The goal is to change someone's mind. The goal is to express your anger. The goal is to express your desperation. The goal is to say no. The goal is to say this is wrong. Mm hmm.
Those actions by act up were to express defiance and to put defiance on the map. You know, she was like, protest is about like making sure that this thing is never going to go away. And I kind of had like a moment like that because I was talking on the phone with a friend. And all of a sudden I was I heard outside my window say his name, George Floyd.
And part of me was like, again, really? Did you really think that for a second? Yes, I should say that where I live, like they were protests almost every day during the summer. And so I had actually gone a few months without hearing any. And then it was happening outside my window. And and I did have that reaction and that I was like, wait, what am I annoyed with? What am I really annoyed with?
And I really like what I'm really annoyed with is the fact that another black man was killed in Philadelphia and that's why the protest was happening again. And I also realize that, you know, it was a reminder. You know, we're not done. And David and Alexis and all the other people involved in act up every week, it was like another action and it was another funeral. And then there was like another action kept going and going and going.
And there hadn't been really any moment to, like, just stop and assess the trauma they've gone through. But after they made it through the mounted police to the fence and nearby. Let go of those ashes, this incredible release of energy out into the universe. They say there was this moment. The magnitude of what had just happened hit me. I just began to sob convulsively. One of our top slogans had been Turn Your Grief into rage, Larry Kramer was very fond of saying that.
To really experience our grief. Like, if Warren I one hundred percent knew then and know now, he would have approved and, you know, been proud. This was my friend Kevin Michael Kek. He was 28 years old. And he died on Halloween, nineteen ninety one, the main reason I'm here is to scatter my own ashes. I'm going to die of AIDS and probably two years, and that is why I'm here. I'm here on behalf of my father.
Alan Danzig died when he was fifty seven years old. I really needed this. My name is Eric Sawyer, and I'm scared, scared of the ashes of Larry Kert, Larry, Kurt was 60 years old. He was the original Tony in West Side Story on Broadway in 1957. Larry was to have his last professional performance at the White House. He was invited to a party to sing with Carol Lawrence. They were going to sing somewhere. There's a place for us.
And he planned to come out as a person with AIDS. And when the White House administration found out he was going to do that, they conveniently lost his music just before he was to go on. I came to scatter the ashes of my lover, Michael Peppler truthteller, and scattered all of his ashes that I had, but I was sitting at breakfast with his sister and I told her about this demonstration. Her eyes lit up and she said, Hey, do you want some ashes?
So I love you like you would have wanted to be where you now are. Reporter Tracy Hunt. This episode was produced by Tobin Lowe and Annie McKewon, special thanks to Elsa, Honasan, Joy Apicella, Deborah Levine, Theodore Curre, Ben McGlaughlin, Katherine Gund at Devah TV for the use of the NIH protest footage and Catherine Fall for additional archival research. And before we go, we have to share that. Traci has just wrapped up her time with us.
In the short bit of time I got to be here. Working with her completely changed me as a reporter and how I see teamwork going. I miss her so much and I know Dad wants to say something. This story, unfortunately for us, is Tracy's last story with Radiolab. She has been with the show for about four years. You heard her in stories from Syria to square dancing to the Nina Simone story this summer. And she's left quite a mark on all of us.
And we're so proud to have worked with you. Tracy. Tracy is moving really just down the hall from us, the virtual hall for the time being, but soon to be actual hall. We all hope to work on a the new collaboration with The Atlantic, the WNYC Atlantic collaboration that's being hosted by more perfect alum Julia Longoria. So we're happy that you'll be close by, still kind of in the family. And we're going to keep trying our best to create excuses for her to come make radio with us.
We love you, Tracy, and we wish you the best.
Hi, this is Krishnamoorthi from Pasadena, California. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is edited by Susan Reeler, Lulu Miller and moderniser co-host. Dolinsky is our director of Sound Design. Susie Lichtenberg is our executive producer. Our staff includes Simon, include Jeremy Bloom, Becca Gressler, Richard Kucik, David Gabal, Mick Keelty, Govan Law, Annie McEwen, Sakari Area and Backwaters and Molly Vegeta with help from Cima, Olia Chater, Steinback and Johnny Morse.
A fact checker is Michelle.