In 1983, the novelist, playwright and pioneering AIDS activist Larry Kramer who died in March wrote an essay for the New York Native entitled “1,112 and Counting.” Referring to the HIV death toll at the time, Kramer was sounding the alarm and practically screaming through the page that “If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble.”
It is now mid-July 2020 and we have 123 times that many Americans dead from COVID-19. If 1,112 dead was supposed to “scare the shit out of (us),” than what is 137,000 and counting supposed to do?
None of this had to happen to this degree. Other countries around the world enacted legitimate lockdowns and stuck to them long enough to drastically reduce infection rates. The latest daily figures in the U.S. surpassed the total confirmed cases seen in Wuhan, China. Again, we are seeing a Wuhan a day in new cases in America.
In the next few weeks, public schools and universities will be open with little to no state or federal guidelines. Additionally, federal and state eviction moratoriums will expire this month, leading to 20-28 million new homeless Americans. So I ask, why the hell are we not all screaming?
The AIDS activist Gregg Gonsalves wrote in the Nation that “Our lives depend on disruption now. Indeed, our survival hinges on making it impossible for our leaders to ignore us.” The tactics used by members of ACT UP such as mass “die-ins” outside the FDA or locking themselves to the NYSE, drew upon what the media loves the most, spectacle and theatrics, to push home a dire message.
What it took was a solid group of young people to call out the local, state and federal government as if their lives depended on it. It did then, and it does now. As we have seen with the recent Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S., civil resistance works with masks and six feet of distance. When this is all over and we look back on this plague, will we be able to truthfully tell ourselves that we did all we could do?
In the last interview Larry Kramer gave to the New York Times two months before he died, he said that this time of COVID-19 called for its own Larry Kramer to bring about rage. “I wish it could be me,” he replied. “I don’t know how. I would like to have a big movement. But I’m not quite sure how to do that.”
The Great Work Begins.
Rob Rankin is a second-year doctoral student in music composition.