When things turn bad, when all your worst fears come true, when that thing you always said could never happen actually does, sometimes the only option left is to square your shoulders, takes a deep breath, and yell with all your might. Trust us- it can feel really, really good.
Once you’re all screamed out, take some of that excess energy and check out a YELL zine. YELL, or the Youth Education Life Line, is an affinity group within ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. YELL was founded in 1989 as the youth arm of ACT UP, to work on AIDS issues facing young people, especially AIDS education. Based out of NYC, YELL was born in response to the failings of the public education system to educate its students about HIV and AIDS, and the largely unaddressed issue of HIV transmission between young people.. At the time of publishing YELL #1, (1994) AIDS was the leading cause of death for NYC women 25-34, and “since the average incubation period for HIV to progress to AIDS is 10.5 years, most of these people were probably infected as teens.”
Despite (or perhaps because of) this grim reality, the pages of YELL #1 are full of humor and fun, as well as the spirit of punk rebelliousness and fierce strength. Its splashy pages feature pictures of Big Bird, Lucille Ball, Queen Latifah, Bart Simpson and Rupaul, all with mouths open wide and, clearly, voices up. The newsprint-style of this zine gives it the urgency it needs, along with a sense of pragmatism. Far from pandering or condescending, as so many youth-oriented publications do, YELL feels like it had actual teens on staff. Frank and effective guides on condom use and infection risk are mixed with articles about the triumphs and challenges facing youth AIDS activists in the 90s.
It’s easy to get discouraged. Easy, and understandable. At times like these, it can be helpful to look back and see how others handled times of crisis. YELL is unfortunately, at the moment, defunct. However, its achievements (as listed near the beginning of YELL #1) are nothing short of inspiring. From handing out condoms and safer sex literature to over 45,000 NYC students, to enacting change in NYC public education policy, to representing youth interests at the international conference on AIDS, it’s clear the body of this organization was just as energetic as its publication.
And that’s the thing- when you raise your voice, the rest of you is sure to follow. The worst thing is to stay paralyzed. If you get active by volunteering time or money, that’s amazing. If you do it simply by existing in the world as a queer person or a POC, or a staunch and vocal ally, that’s amazing too. Maybe, right now, all we can do is yell- and maybe, for now, that’s enough.