So, we did a die-in that actually said, “Dying of denial of drugs” or whatever, right. And I think it was for that conference that we produced this flyer that was headlined, “There can be no consensus without the involvement of people living with AIDS and HIV.” And we leafleted everyone.
– Gary Kinsman (AAHP interview transcript, p. 14)
Like Gary Kinsman quoted above, AIDS activists across Canada have reflected on putting their bodies on the line to extend the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. In his AAHP interview, Kinsman describes engaging in direct action that was “technically against the rules” but that would “have a media impact” (AAHP interview transcript, p. 12). The die-in is a fitting example.
The image above shows AIDS activists staging a die-in in a downtown Toronto intersection. Some are playing dead while others are tracing chalk outlines. Some are walking through while others are standing still. Looking at the image, I am struck by the chalk outlines and by the placards that – if I had to guess and if I try to zoom in! – appear to read “Full funding for AIDS cure research.” I am struck by the number of people coming together, claiming space, and working for change. I am struck by the sheer physicality of the die-in.
And, while looking for more on die-ins, I was happy to come across Daniel Ross’ piece, “The Die-In: A Brief Social History” (2015). Ross traces the 50-year history of the die-in, explicating how it has been used to work for change and to call attention to death. He writes:
Most die-ins happened in the following way: a surprise take-over of a busy public place by protesters; a theatrical “death,” often with props like coffins or bloodstained rags; and a hasty departure, sometimes facilitated by the police. There might be slogans or singing, but the shock value was in silence.
Surprise, shock, silence. Ross traces the ways the die-in (a coordinated, non-violent, direct action initiative!) has been used to make change. To my delight, Ross also gives a shout out to the work of Toronto-based AIDS activists (in the comment section). Check out his beautiful piece at ActiveHistory.ca (and follow @ActiveHist on Twitter while your at it!). Oh, and, please comment below if you have any information about the die-in above or about what the placards actually said!
Posted by Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos)
Research Assistant, AIDS Activist History Project