Men Behaving Viciously

How ACT UP San Francisco spreads spit, fake blood, used cat litter, and potentially deadly misinformation through the AIDS community

Michael Bellefountaine pulls out a yellow ACT UP Planning Calendar. A face -- AIDS Foundation Director Pat Christen's -- is on the calendar, with a few slight alterations. Christen has been drawn to look like a cat. The calendar is a larger version of the stickers, captioned "Dump Fat Cat Pat," that ACT UP S.F. plastered throughout the Castro neighborhood a few months ago. Ronnie, the kitty-litter activist, and Kay, a woman with fluffy gray and mauve hair, facilitate the meeting.

Bellefountaine hands out proposed budgets for an animal rights protest to be held later this month, on World Animal Rights Day, in Atlanta. He is excited to announce that singer Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, who met ACT UP S.F. members last year at an animal rights protest in Washington, has just donated $5,000 to the group. Bellefountaine says the money will go toward the Atlanta trip. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) will pay his airfare, as they did last year for the D.C. trip.

The unusual connection between ACT UP S.F. and PETA originated two years ago, when ACT UP S.F. decided it would add animal research to the list of evils perpetrated by AIDS researchers and the pharmaceutical industry. The group has since joined forces with PETA to protest, among other things, the hyperpublicized transplant of baboon bone marrow into an Oakland man with AIDS -- a procedure that, incidentally, ACT UP Golden Gate supports.

Kay says she has done some research on the Atlanta police: "I heard the cops are wusses compared to San Francisco, so if you want to get arrested, you're going to have to work really hard!" she laughs. This prompts Medea, a woman with long, jet black and royal blue braids, to talk animatedly, and in full, bloody, intestinal detail, about the evils of animal vivisection.

Although there is a written agenda, the discussion meanders. Todd, the treasurer, encourages his colleagues to follow his example and engage in "bigot busting" -- that is, a spitting campaign directed against Mormons.

A few members take turns rubber-stamping Pat Christen's feline countenance on stacks of postage-paid remittance cards -- registration cards for an AIDS dance-a-thon sponsored by Mobilization Against AIDS. ACT UP S.F. is protesting the dance because income from the event, Todd says, will be used to pay the salaries of fat cats like Christen, who are, he claims, profiting from the AIDS epidemic.

ACT UP S.F. is discussing plans for obtaining news coverage of abysmal living conditions at a single resident occupancy hotel in the Tenderloin that houses indigent AIDS patients when the meeting is interrupted. A round-shouldered employee from the city's Department of Public Works sheepishly asks who is in charge; he needs to issue a citation and a bill for removing ACT UP S.F. stickers that have been plastered on city No Parking signs.

A half-dozen voices respond, one over another:
"No one's in charge."
"We're a consensus organization."
"Right now we're in the middle of a meeting."
"Right now we're fighting AIDS."

"If you're looking for someone to cite, you can fucking cite me, honey," says Bellefountaine finally, shooing an invisible fly with one hand. Then he adds an aside: "It's like the fucking Nazis."

The DPW man blinks helplessly at Bellefountaine and leaves without writing the citation.

Ends and Mean
Like all good zealots, Bellefountaine and Pasquarelli believe history will remember them fondly.

"People will soon start reflecting on this whole colossal blunder," Pasquarelli predicts. "People will no longer believe the hype of the pharmaceutical industry. People will see that AIDS was not what it was made out to be.

"They know we're right. I think that is scaring the hell out of so many people."

He and Bellefountaine see the community's loathing of ACT UP S.F. as a natural result of the group's good work -- part of the dialectic of history, if you will. They say the question of whether their tactics are violent is one for philosophers and theorists, not activists, to answer. He and Pasquarelli show no remorse for their actions because, Bellefountaine says, in this matter the ends really do justify the means. With the lives of tens of thousands on the line, not one of ACT UP S.F.'s actions has been too extreme. Not one.

"We are part of the dissenters' movement, honey," Bellefountaine says, waving away further questions with a dismissive flick of a hand. "We embrace it like it's a fucking royal title.

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