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Today is:
Talking ACT UP with Samantha Sitrin
Interview by Clayton Ruley
Editor's Note: Samantha Sitrin is a dedicated member ACT UP Philadelphia and loves to help make positive change in the world. She came from humble beginnings to the big city and got involved in a worthy cause that advocates for HIV/AIDS. She dedicates her time and energy to make this world a better place. (GC): What & how are you doing as you answer these questions?

Samantha Sitrin (SS): Drinking coffee & enjoying the snowstorm

GC: How did you get to Philadelphia and get involved in the work of Act-Up?

SS: I'd been living in NY & working on social justice issues where it just seemed like no matter the amazing work and passion that people were putting into organizing, no impact was made- that was not entirly true, but it was the feeling that a lot of us had when the war in Iraq began.


GC: Can you give people a brief introduction to the work of ACT UP and ACT UP Philadelphia?

SS: ACT UP is the AIDS coalition to unleash power. AIDS is political- it is government inaction and inequality that fuel this crisis. Marginalized groups, such as; Queer folks, Communities of Color, Women, Transgendered people, and poorer communities; face structural barriers to accessing resources. Housing, HIV prevention tools such as condoms & education, medical access & insurance are systemically denied certain groups, either intentially because of racism, homophobia and religous prudery, or intentionally because distributing resources such as treatment, housing and education cuts into the profits of multi-national companies.

We are a 20 year old organization that began as furious activists refused to die in silence, protesting to demand research, treatment & prevention. ACT UP is about organizing to end AIDS through changing relationships to power.

GC: What has ACT UP Philly been up to recently and what's the biggest concern your organization is working on right now?

SS: Housing- as it stands people can't get housing until they have an AIDS diagnosis. This means people have to get very sick before housing is provided, which defeats the purpose of providing housing as a means to keep people safe. Even if people do have an AIDS diagnosis, they are not necessarily provided with housing. There is not enough low income housing for People Living With HIV/AIDS (or anyone poor!) in Philadelphia. There are too many bureaucratic hoops to jump through, including providing photo ID, social security card, proof of income, a medical assessment, a mental health assessment, a drug and alcohol assessment and many other things (including a "proof" of homelessness).

Syringe Exchange - people who use drugs are going to share needle and be at risk for HIV unless there are sites where needles are distributed. As it stands in Pa., people need a prescription to pick up syringes at the pharmacy. In Philadelphia we have a syringe exchange through Prevention Point: that came from the illegal syringe exchange run by members of ACT UP and also through the organizing that ACT UP members did in the early 90's.

Global Fund - The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a partnership that came out of grassroots organizing to direct money to address the three diseases in poor countries. To date, the Fund has committed to $15 billion worth of grants in 140 countries, and has saved an estimated 2.5 million lives.

The Fund’s model for financing AIDS, TB, and malaria programs is different than anything that previously existed. Instead of rich countries dictating how aid money can be spent, countries applying to the Fund for grants develop proposals based on local needs.

Currently, the fund is underfunded, and "first world" nations are not paying thier share. We must push our leaders to fund the Global Fund.


GC: How important is civic engagement and have you seen a difference in peoples' attitudes during and after the last election?

SS: There deffinitly has been a lot of excitement from a lot of folks, but I have also seen people we work with who don't have consistant access to housing less than confident that a change in president can or will directly affect thier lives.

ACT UP, downtown in Philly, doing a Sarah Palin Rally circa late 2008

GC: How do people get involved with ACT UP? Please give us your website and Philly info.

SS: ACT UP meets every monday at St. Lukes' church at 6pm. St. Lukes' is at 13th street between pine and spruce.

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Samantha Sitrin looks out the window



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