Prev Next

Why the speech matters

Remember that someday the AIDS crisis will be over. And when that day has come and gone there will be people alive who will hear that once there was a terrible disease, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and in some cases died so others might live and be free.

Vito Russo’s extraordinary 1988 speech, “Why We Fight,” was delivered at two key AIDS activist demonstrations: first, on May 9 in Albany, New York, as part of the nationally coordinated Nine Days of Protest, the first event of the recently established national coalition of AIDS activist organizations, many of them ACT UP chapters, self-named as ACT NOW (AIDS Coalition to Network, Organize, and Win); and second, five months later, on October 10 in Washington, DC, on the eve of the Seize Control of the FDA protest.

The 11-minute speech addresses a number of major activist concerns including the failure of the U.S. government and media to respond to AIDS effectively. Russo was also concerned with motivating and mobilizing people into AIDS activism. Throughout the speech, Russo interjects his own experience as a person with AIDS, as well as his involvement with AIDS activism, to bring his audience up to date on the politics and the state of AIDS in America which at the time were indeed very grim.  This rhetorical masterpiece is a powerful call to action that still resonates today.

Read the entire speech