Excerpted from a talk given by Red S. for the DSA NYC’s Strike & Labor Solidarity working group. Red currently organizes with the Support Ho(s)e Collective, coordinates the Justice for Alisha Walker defense campaign and actively works with Survived & Punished New York City. They are also co-organizing nationwide efforts against Fosta/Sesta under the banner of #SurvivorsAgainstSESTA and #LetUsSurvive to highlight the resistance of sex workers and survivors–specifically helping to coordinate and signal boost organizing efforts for International Whores Day on June 2nd. (Printed at Common Notions.)
For most sex-working people laboring means constant precarity; and it means advocating for immediate survival. Sex workers have this in common with other marginalized and criminalized working people, and those whose work isn’t seen as work. Recently there has been a shift in language, moving away from mere survival towards a desire to demand more and a desire to thrive. This is a hell of a shift in community spaces and in the media. Sex workers are shifting the narrative, demanding to not just be seen as human beings, but angry, complicated, resilient human beings.
With a narrative shift like this happening in the mainstream, or at least in the independent media, we should be bold. We should keep pushing and demanding people expand their horizons of what is possible to achieve through struggle. For a left that is infatuated with raising humanity’s horizon line to seek alternative economic structures in the immediate–socialism– to hopefully work toward the radical transformation of society–full communism/anarchism– ushering in (among other so-called utopian socialist ideas) the abolition of money and private property, the nuclear family, etc I kinda think calling a harm reduction and an intrinsically pro-worker position like decrim “pie in the sky” or “niche issue,” is bullshit.
We need to organize around the decriminalization of all erotic labor. No worker should be criminalized for the work that they do (except cops and prison guards, for whom I offer no job protection in my labor philosophy/analysis). All workers deserve the right to organize freely without harassment or fear of violent reprisal. As long as we live under a system that requires us to labor for a wage, workers deserve the opportunity to pursue safe and equitable work environments. As radicals, socialists, anarchists, Marxists, we must proceed from this position of workers’ building collective power amongst workers and the unemployed.
Decriminalization as a goal and practical organizing position necessarily requires harm reduction strategies that inform what tactics we may engage in when defending and supporting worker-led struggles.
What decriminalization should look like:
- Immediate moratorium on arrests/raids of sex workers and clients
- Revocation of punitive laws surrounding sex work
- Immediate channeling of all county, state police funds for prostitution arrests into actual harm reduction programs that have sex worker input and oversight. Yes, this would be a deliberate move toward defunding and divesting from the police.
- Immediate release of all sex workers who are incarcerated for prostitution charges or charges relating to their self-defense while performing erotic labor.
- Policy-based and nuanced decoupling of sex work from labor trafficking; and the expansion of cash assistance, housing assistance, visa/asylum assistance to all those who are survivors of trafficking violence without forced victimizing language that’s currently required to access these emergency services.
- Inclusion of ‘sex worker’ as a potential protected category to combat the discrimination workers experience when being barred from public services (accessing health care, recourse to challenge police violence, affordable housing programs etc).
Decriminalization would mean a cultural shift as well as a policy shift. Demanding decriminalization and anti-carceral harm reduction tactics, broadly speaking, directly challenges the whorephobia of the state and society. That is exactly the approach and organizing for sex workers’ power we must be engaged in.
Art work above by Micah Bazant. Full image below: