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Castro Die-In Demands Housing for All
About 50 activists demonstrated under sunny skies in the Castro on March 29, commemorating the 20th anniversary of ACT UP and demanding housing and healthcare for all.
Protesters gathered at noon at Castro and 18th Streets -- the heart of a neighborhood dubbed the “AIDS Eviction Capital of the World” due to rising real estate values and a wave of speculation that has driven out people with AIDS, youth, seniors, and others with low or fixed incomes.
Organized by Gay Shame, longtime activist Michael Petrelis, and the newly formed ACT UP/Bay Area, the action drew mostly young people, with a smattering of older activists from the original ACT UP era of the late 1980s/early 1990s and even back to the early days of the gay liberation movement in the 1970s.
“The legacy of evictions is part of the cultural history of the Castro,” said Mary Mortgage of Gay Shame. “There’s been a huge cultural erasure. We’re holding real estate companies accountable for making profits off the eviction of protected tenants.”
One such company, Coldwell Banker at 2355 Market, became the scene of a die-in after protesters march up Castro Street chanting, “ACT UP! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!”
Veteran activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca echoed the theme of eviction as part of the neighborhood’s history, recalling that gay pioneer Harvey Milk himself was pushed out of his Castro Street camera store and apartment after rents tripled in the late 1970s. After a lull during the worst years of the AIDS crisis, gentrification intensified once again with the dot-com boom in the late 1990s.
“The real estate industry has raped and pillaged the Castro for decades,” Mecca said. “We need a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Castro. Realtors do not own San Francisco. We own San Francisco!”
About 20 activists died-in on the sidewalk outside Coldwell Banker, as others outlined their bodies in chalk; the protest ended with no arrests.
“We need money for AIDS, housing, and healthcare, not for war,” said Petrelis, calling for a new wave of activism. “We need to get off our computers and get back into the streets again.”
Across the country, a coalition including ACT UP/New York and Housing Works also held a commemorative march demanding universal health care, drug price controls, and improved city services for people with AIDS. Various reports put the turnout at between 500 and 1000, and about 25 activists were arrested after die-in in front of the golden bull statue on Wall Street in lower Manhattan, were ACT UP held its first-ever demonstration in March 1987.
Among the protesters was Larry Kramer, who 20 years ago inspired the formation of ACT UP with a speech at the New York LGBT Center. Speaking there again this past March 13, he recalled the group’s history and called for a new “ACT UP Army” to fight gay oppression.
“We don’t say fuck you, fuck you, fuck you anymore. At least so anyone can hear,” he lamented. “Well the evil things that made me angry then still make me angry now. I keep asking around, doesn’t anything make you angry, too? Doesn’t anything make anyone angry?”
[Gay Shame will hold a follow-up meeting at 5:30 pm on Saturday, April 31 at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia Street in San Francisco.]