ACT UP Milwaukee Records, 1990-1996


ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) formed in New York in March 1987, following a speech by activist Larry Kramer calling for civil rights style demonstrations to protest the lack of government activity on AIDS. ACT UP Milwaukee's organizing meeting took place on August 18-19, 1989, when it hosted ACT UP New York and prepared for its first action. On August 25, the group demonstrated in front of the Federal Building to protest the federal and state governments' inadequate response to the AIDS epidemic. ACT UP Milwaukee described itself as "a diverse group of individuals united in anger and compassion and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis."

Many of ACT UP Milwaukee's actions focused on protecting the rights of HIV+ individuals, such as Dennis Hill. In 1991, Hill was arrested on a traffic violation and spent forty-eight hours in the Racine County jail. At the time, he was suffering from the advanced stages of AIDS. Milwaukee AIDS Project (MAP) staff found Hill in a cell, lying in his own feces and vomit. He died several days later. ACT UP Milwaukee staged many protests and letter writing campaigns around the issue of Hill's treatment by Racine County police. In 1990, ACT UP Milwaukee surveyed 200 area dentists to determine if they would accept HIV+ patients. About a third said they would not. In response, the group worked with the Wisconsin Dental Association and the Marquette University School of Dentistry to improve access to dental services.

During its short existence, ACT UP Milwaukee organized around numerous other issues, including the Marlboro/Miller boycott in 1991 (the parent corporation, Philip Morris Companies, Inc. was a major contributor to Senator Jessie Helms political campaign), the Cryptosporidium outbreak in 1993 that resulted in the deaths of several HIV+ individuals, and increased funding for AIDS services and education.

During its heyday, the organization had about 25 active members. By the mid-1990s, ACT UP Milwaukee--like most ACT UP chapters across the United States and Europe--was defunct.