Occupy Wall Street, Robert Rafsky, and ACT UP

Very few people reading this page remember a man named Robert Rafsky, whose 15 minutes of fame passed before many of today’s activists were out of diapers. One of the activists in the early days of ACT UP, he became momentarily famous in 1992 for getting in Bill Clinton’s face during the New York Primary and demanding that Clinton address the AIDS crisis. The CBS show 60 Minutes did a segment on him.  He was a longtime public relations executive, and his claim to fame was that he and one of the other founding activists of ACT UP, Aldyn McKean, had both been activists in college during protests against the Vietnam War–and Rafsky had called out McKean for his ‘divisive tactics’, which Rafsky and others would embrace a few decades later.

But as Rafsky came closer to death (he passed away in 1993), he became increasingly impatient with action proposals being put up in ACT UP’s general meetings. He was adamant that the organization needed to support actions that weren’t just photogenic or popular or got them on the front page–the organization needed to back actions (‘zaps’ as they were called then) that moved the chains toward a cure.

Noam Chomsky recently spoke about Occupy Wall Street in glowing terms. But he acknowledged the tactical limitations of what can be done. There are enormous problems and people are unable to focus on the biggest one–joblessness and the pathological nature of the status quo in being unable to address it.

The recent events in Spain have perhaps refocused the movement on the bread and butter issue–the 1% who wrecked the economy are calling for ‘Austerity’ from the people who are suffering through high rates of unemployment and drastic cuts in pensions and health benefits. There are a whole set of issues that need attention–the fight over fracking, Stop and Frisk, the ripoff of NY taxpayers aka Barclays Center, et cetera. But these plans all come from the Empire. If you want to stop these plans, you can’t try to chop away at them like so many strands of kudzu–you have to go to the source. And going to the source means having a movement with a broad enough base to offer resistance a la the Solidarity movement in Poland.

What are you doing today to change the status quo?

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