Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Political Science

First Advisor

Michaele Ferguson

Second Advisor

Jennifer Fitzgerald

Third Advisor

Lorraine Bayard de Volo


A common narrative in American political discourse suggests that anger, no matter its cause, manifestation, or degree, is inherently dangerous and should have no role in the public sphere. This research challenges the idea that anger cannot—or should not—have a legitimate role in political action, using the direct-action anti-AIDS activism of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) as a case study. Drawing on interviews of former ACT UP members collected in the ACT UP Oral History Project, as well as more general analyses of anger in other social movements, this paper examines the multiple dimensions of anger at work in ACT UP, and argues that, while internally focused anger can be damaging or destructive to political and social activism, anger aimed externally is often underestimated and unfairly maligned as a powerful force for change. The paper discusses how different modalities of anger shaped several different aspects of ACT UP’s work, including its formation and eventual dissolution, its tactics at specific actions, and its ability to mobilize people in a context of nearly unimaginable illness, death, and grief. The paper concludes by evaluating the effectiveness of ACT UP’s use of political anger and discussing the broader implications of using anger in political activism.