The festive period has come early! UKIP has been forced out of its South London office due to activists from AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) dumping half a ton of fresh, steaming fertilizer on the doorstep of their London office on World AIDS Day. I’m trying to be sympathetic, and polite, but UKIP doesn’t make it easy for us.
We did this in reaction to bulls**t anti-migrant statements by Nigel Farage who, in response to a question about which kinds of people should be allowed to enter the United Kingdom, “people who don’t have HIV, to be frank. That’s a good start.” UKIP’s impromptu eviction reinforces our original message: what goes around comes around. If you marginalize and exclude people from support, it will come right back at you. Figurative bulls**t leads to literal bulls**t.
UKIP local chairman Winston McKenzie told Steven Downes of Inside Croydon that the protest was “the last straw” for their owners and that “any meetings that were scheduled for December are now cancelled with immediate effect.” UKIP will have to find a new home. Local resident Anne Slattery responded, “we can’t say we’re overcome with sympathy, having heard UKIP are being evicted from this local London office. They’ve expended a great deal of energy sowing division between neighbours and hostility against minorities. Croydon will be a lot better off without them.” Personally, I’m with Anne. This is not just a victory for the ordinary public. It is also a success for direct action protest in times of severe austerity and right-wing extremism. Every meeting that UKIP can’t have as a result of this means that business can’t go on as usual. Less xenophobia is being unleashed, less prejudiced bile is being spewed against HIV-positive migrants, less sexist statements are being uttered against breastfeeding mothers, and a whole lot more.
It is still rare for us to openly discuss the meaning of HIV stigma on our common social psyche. We at ACT UP dumped this bulls**it partially to bring it out onto the public stage. It is not just the cracked smiles of doctors worried about the breakdown of HIV services in the NHS, or the cautiousness of worried parents and friends who were defined by the HIV scare of the 1980. We have carved out a place in our minds for people infected with HIV, and once you enter it, you simply expect sadness. It’s the kind of sadness that one associates with disasters and ticking time bombs. It is crucial that we stand our ground, and communicate our private pain with firm public action. We also have to remain intimate with the world, because we cannot possibly brave the horrors of isolation and prejudice without remembering life’s great beauty.
For me, it is fitting that we launched this protest early into Chanukah, a holiday that is steeped in themes of the Jewish people overcoming oppression and celebrating their survival and freedom. Chanukah teaches us about our strength, and though I am not religious, the holiday provides me with spiritual ammunition to create a better world. I was born to a long line of European Jews, many of whom were exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust. As a child, I learned that Jews have been persecuted, expelled, and massacred for millennia. Under the Nazis, my own grandparents were hunted down and bludgeoned by those who decided that Jews and many other groups had no right to this planet. I’ve applied my understanding of this prejudice to the other great tragedies of our time, and consider myself lucky to be raised by two violent and tragic issues of the modern age: genocide and HIV prejudice.
If we want to create change and challenge injustice, we can’t wait for politicians to act. We have to make them act. People are not receiving the treatment they need due a slash in social services and NHS staff, resulting in poor treatment, internalized stigma, disempowerment, and isolation. This results in a “Second Silence” due to the compounding problems of budget cuts, rising transmission levels, and the general belief that HIV was resolved in the 1980s when Mark Fowler sped out of Eastenders on his motorbike. Democracy is more than voting every so often, and must include direct action. Over the past year, ACT UP UK has reassembled to help put HIV back up on the political agenda. We aren’t short of ideas, based on archives and the talent that we have access to, such as ACT UP Paris’ action of putting a giant condom on the Paris obelisk. We stand on the shoulders of creative genius. Here in London, we’ve occupied the front of the Home Office in a huge dance-a-thin protest at their desires for doctors to help enforce border regulations, and ramped up pressure on the government to support pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) on the scale we all need.
Life is beautiful, and during this festive period, I’m going to be eating, drinking, spending time with loved ones, planning more protests, and hoping that Santa comes down the chimney with plenty of menorahs and sacks of bulls**t.
Photograph courtesy of the author.