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ActUp groups "Zap" 2000 Campaigns
Woman at microphone

Chapter 1: ActUp Protest at the RNC

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By Stew Harris

Washington DC -- After 16 hours on the road, the 10 ActUp demonstrators were being turned away without getting into presidential contender Al Gore's announcement speech in Carthage, Tennessee, June 16, 2000.

They had piled into vans in New York City the day before with the plans to disrupt the speech as a way to draw attention to what they saw as the candidate's pro drug company policies. They had been told tickets were not needed to get into the event. But when they arrived, the event had been hermetically sealed for all but a chosen few in possession of precious tickets.

That is when Mark Milano swung into action. He stripped down to a T-shirt which said "Columbia Students for Gore" and began begging for entry."

Eventually, a young woman with a sweet Tennessee accent took pity and swung open a gate for Milano and his band of New Yorkers.

The rest, is activist history: As Gore pronounced himself a candidate, the activists exposed yet another T-shirt bearing the message: "Gore's Greed Kills." Jeers from the crowd drowned out the ActUp demonstrators as they were roughly hustled out the door. One of Milano's compatriots suffered a fat lip while another had a tooth chipped.

"We were just a few feet away from him and in front of the cameras," Milano recalls. "You could see on the tape he is flustered and pissed. He does not want this happening."

Indeed, that clip was played on virtually every network news broadcast that night. Emboldened by their success, ActUp hit Gore again in New Hampshire and one more time in New York City.

The activists were alleging that Gore was fronting for U.S. drug companies to keep South Africa from exercising trade powers that could make cheaper drugs available to poor AIDS victims.

Their campaign of "zaps," as they became known, were so effective that drug industry money stopped flowing to Gore. That April, the White House announced an executive order saying it would not stand in the way of other countries trying to provide cheaper medicines to their people.

And by August, Gore had come 180 degrees and was attacking drug industry attempts to extend patents on drugs such as the allergy fighter Claritin and arthritis drug Lodine.

"I'm all for them making profits and having more research and whatnot," Gore said on a campaign stop in Tallahassee, Fla. August 29, 2000, " But I'm not going to stand by if they behave in an unfair way."

"That really showed that you don't need huge numbers if you choose your strategy well," Milano told CameraOne.

By the fall, ActUp had turned its attention to George W. Bush. On October 13, hundreds of AIDS activists from New York and Philadelphia staged a mock "funeral procession" outside the Republican National Convention on Capital Hill.

Milano was there, too. "George hasn't even mentioned the word AIDS," he told television reporter on the scene.

Several demonstrators were arrested after sitting down in the middle of the First Street with black coffins and chanting "AIDS is a disaster, Bush will spread it faster."

Their message: "Bush has one of the worst AIDS records of any elected official in the United States. As governor of Texas, he has refused to even say the word AIDS," a press release from ActUp says.

Earlier that month, Milano went to a private Bush fundraiser in Bethlehem, Pa. where he penetrated security by simply answering "yes" when asked if he was there for the event.

"I had a rubber chicken dinner with Republicans for about an hour. During his speech I said: 'George Bush, you are a drug company puppet. You sold out people with AIDS to big corporations and you never even said the word AIDS during your administration.'"

Milano was immediately dragged out of the function, but he was not arrested. "That was my first time in the den of the enemy."

ActUp has been criticized for sometimes lying to gain access. But Milano is undeterred: "I guess we feel justified," Milano said in an e-mail. "And often, they're not lies at all. When I was asked, 'Are you here for the Bush fundraiser?' I could honestly say I was - just not in the way they thought!"

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