Documents and Demonstrations

As several AIDS activists recalled, this was George’s famous phrase.
documents & demonstrations.

As George teaches us, research and activism – just as theory and practice – are deeply and inextricably connected. This is what his oft-cited phrase, “documents and demonstrations” helped to make visible: that the kind of research embodied in documents can only be developed through activism and moments of confrontation with ruling relations; and that, in turn, this research can help to develop more effective forms of activism. George also used this phrase to highlight the importance of producing documents for activists to present in their confrontation with ruling regimes, in order to push forward their demands through concrete, material changes (i.e., repealing the bawdy house section of the Criminal Code, or establishing an AIDS treatment registry and securing access to life-saving treatments for people living with HIV/AIDS).

Global Economic Sumit Flyer
Flyer for demonstration on Global Economic Summit, addressing demands for treatment access and information (available here).

When activists produce documents – briefing notes, media advisories, newsletters, articles, placards – they do so based on the research that they have conducted into the social organization of a ruling regime. The documents that AIDS activists produced, and the analysis those documents communicated to the world, grew out of what activists learned through their organizing. For example, it was through pushing for treatment information and access that activists learned about the lack of state responsibility for treatment information and treatment access, which in turn led activists to advocate for the Treatment Information Registry and the National AIDS Strategy. This reflexive relationship between research and activism, or documents and demonstrations, enabled AIDS ACTION NOW! members to pinpoint more effective directions for activism, that would bring about concrete changes in the social organization of HIV/AIDS treatment.

Toronto AIDS activists interviewed for the AAHP reflect on the idea and use of “documents & demonstrations”

“[George] was actually in practice more on the document side than the demonstration side, even though it was also really clear, you could write the best documents in the world, but without the agency or the force to bring them about or to get people to hear them or listen to them this was just not going to go anywhere. You always had to have really clear thought out documents. You couldn’t just sort of arrive there and not really know what you wanted to do. You had to put a lot of thought into it.” – Gary Kinsman, 2014, pp. 14-15

“So you used a combination of demonstrations and documents: demonstrations to get the attention, documents to actually get the change that you needed and to make evidence of why you needed it. I believe that was the first time that I had heard that particular theory of change. I was more of a kind of an activist background and you just make noise. And he was the person who kind of said, “Well, no, making noise is not sufficient.” – Glen Brown, 2014, p. 17

“…you had to have the capacity to frame things and shape it in a way that bureaucrats could understand and figure out how it could become actionable, as well as providing the political pressure on the street to make sure they didn’t forget about the whole thing.” – Tim McCaskell, 2014, p.16

“And George Smith came up with the phrase … ‘documents and demonstrations.’ It’s not just good enough to have a demonstration for rage or anger that you’re feeling, but you’ve got to ask, what is your demonstration going to accomplish? How is it going to help us move forward? Yes, you demonstrate because you’re angry. That’s fine. But what are your aims for the demonstration? Is it to get media attention? Is it to educate key stakeholders? Is it to do something else? Is it…” You know, da-da-da. And so we always had to have a policy document to go with our demonstration. Now, that policy document might just be a page with key issues, but our demonstrations became eventually guided by our policy documents so they worked together.” – Sean Hosein, 2014, p. 9