I went to the Women’s March in Las Vegas in support of sex workers, incarcerated women and those that face prejudice based on their personal choices. I knew that to be a part of something far bigger than me would give me a chance to give back to something I could and never would be able to do alone.
We stood on the stage at Sam Boyd stadium in solidarity. Umbrellas, sex worker signs, red t-shirts emblazoned with “Rights not Rescue”. Arriving early, we set up our informational table and arranged various flyers. SWOP Behind Bars, SWUP, as well as some local sex worker support groups, were all represented at the table. Tech genius Rebel Rae had created an app the night before to use rather when someone was interested in staying connected or learning more about how to support sex worker rights. Yes. The night before. She, along with others (Emma) communicated for countless hours with the March organizers, had lost sleep for weeks and made the magic happen in order for sex workers to be able to come together here at the Women’s March Las Vegas 2018.
Rebel Rae and I in Las Vegas, 2018
The March was a battle cry, with notables such as Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, civil rights activist Rev. William Barber III and Cris Sardina, director of the Desiree Alliance, a sex worker-led network of organizations, communities and individuals across the US working in harm reduction, direct services, political advocacy and health services for sex workers, taking the stage. See Cris Sardina’s speech below.
I stood on stage, sign in arms, and shivered as the sun waned and the wind kicked up. The Las Vegas Women’s March co-chair Carmen Pere, Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, spoke early on, focused on white women’s responsibility to create space for people of color within the movement and in the political arena.
“If you don’t see your community at the table, make sure to pull up a chair,” Perez said. “And if you’re white, scootch your chair over a little. Make room for us.”
I nodded in agreement, knowing first hand how real discrimination and separation feels. Yes, I’m white, but I have never felt I had a place at the table. Growing up in State custody and foster homes, being a felon at an age before I could legally drink, and being a sex-worker (retired), I had always felt a seat at the table was beyond my reach, or at the very least, had felt like an imposter while I was in that seat. Sitting at the table at the Sex Trafficking workgroup, or at the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission workgroup, is uncomfortable. To move over because I am white is not only absurd but felt like I was once again being separated because I didn’t measure up or fit in. I didn’t see a way in from being set aside.
The process of empowerment cannot be simplistically defined in accordance with our own particular class interests. We must learn to lift as we climb. – Angela Davis
It would be hours until Cris Sardina would give her speech. We waited on the stage, cheering and supporting the speakers before her.
“Walk together to the finish line. ”
“Apathetic attitudes that refuse to do anything is violence.”
“Be loud with our votes.”
“Organize, show up and have a voice.”
“We must build an inclusive movement in this country.”
We held our red umbrellas, signs gripped in our hands as the prevailing cold wind whipped warmth out of many. Did we have a seat at the table? Three and a half hours into the Women’s March Cris Sardina took to the stage. See her speech, below. After a few minutes on the stand, the music kicked on to let her know to wrap it up. She wasn’t the only one given notice. Other speakers were given a musical push as well.
Cris Sardina’s speech:
I am a mother, I am a grandmother, I am a great-grandmother, and I am a sex worker.
As I stand here today, I look out and wonder how many of us, intentionally or unintentionally, place our boots on our sisters’ necks? That under the crushing weight of patriarchy, we divide, we separate, and we silence one another. The learned processes of morality and judgement and laws that holds us down, keep us from speaking with one another, keep us from standing together, and keep our gaze from envisioning a rights-based world where equality equals reality.
These teachings are deeply ingrained in the fabric of our herstories, and we cannot escape them. But now, we stand in a timed place of history that we must unlearn these belief systems. Because, if we pretend the hierarchy does not exist within us, we continue to divide and separate and silence one another. We will continue to center the selected few to the battle cry of #MeToo and #TimesUp and #AllWomen, and it becomes a moot point to those this very space loudly quiets down.
Our responsibilities are great to one another and we must ask ourselves the hard question of what has been accomplished untying the knots, if we continue to hold on tightly to the rope.
I want us to see the sex workers rights movement as part of the solution and not the problem. We are a strong and fierce community made up of every color, every race, every identity, every shape, every economy, every religion, and so much more. Sex workers have been to the United Nations, we’ve been to the White House, we’re currently in the 9th circuit fighting for full decriminalizaton, we’ve been given national and global audiences, and we get IT done!
When we literally lay down our bodies to be arrested on the Senate floor for healthcare, when criminalization still affects people who are living with HIV and AIDS, when the courts continuously hammer down on reproductive rights, health, & justice, when raped women still stand on she said/he said platforms, when accessible childcare is still absent, when trans voices are screaming to stop killing them, when women still pay the price of being a wife and mother versus a thriving career, when sex is criminalized in the legal and moral courts, when families become homeless because their paychecks cannot meet the rising cost of gentrifications, when women still take home less pay than men, when children go hungry in the most developed nation in the world, when people of color are incarcerated in the United States at percentages that far exceed any global percentages of incarceration, when blood for oil destroys native lands, when city waters are poisoned and undrinkable, when groups of people are deported for dreaming… When the government is brutally attacking everything we have fought for: On the front lines, you will be standing right next to a sex worker.
In my time, I have seen many things. I have lived through the generations that fought in the streets for the recognitions and rights we have today. And now, I live with the generation that will carry the same burning torch – farther and more furious. I applaud every woman here today. Stand in your truth not in your judgement. Stand with each other and ask one another “Is my boot on your neck?”
This is my truth as I live it. I no longer give anyone permission to see me as less than. Don’t dismiss my womanhood. I am a sex worker. I am allowed to be here.
Use your vote wisely! Live in your Truth! Burn it all down and Rise among the ashes!
I tell myself that all movements need time, to keep going and face the difficulties. That is what the work is. I’m new to this, having made parole only two months ago. Only recently could I tell my truth. I was outed as a sex worker in 2014, demonized as a sex trafficker. Still, I find myself wondering how others that have faced the same discriminatory practices, the same type of “thanks for your words, now kindly get off the mike…” are able to not only stand by as the sweeping of the speeches occur but are a part of the very broom.
The negative form of prejudice can lead to discrimination, although it is possible to be prejudiced and not act upon the attitudes. Those who practice discrimination do so to protect opportunities for themselves by denying access to those whom they believe do not deserve the same treatment as everyone else.
The time to marginalize and separate further is over. To allow on stage, but not finish our words, to claim to hear and include but continue to push back when someone more “important” or “relevant” wants to speak, only further oppresses. To marginalize, alienate, and exclude a people who have had no choice but to struggle for our legitimacy and existence is deeply wrong.
The violence sex workers are subjected to, and our limited access to justice, is enabled by social attitudes that position sex workers as second-class citizens. In the end, we were on that stage. It all begins somewhere, and long before I was involved in sex worker rights, someone was setting the stage for our voices to be heard.
Now is the time sex worker rights movement becomes more than just random upset individuals; we have been organized and strategic for some time now. Still, understanding that did not help me, when the next day I would be sick in a hotel bed, shivering, hot and nauseated. It was worth it, being a part of, rather than apart from.
In a perfect world, sex worker rights wouldn’t have to be something that receives criticism. In my perfect world Angela Davis, someone who inspires me to keep it pushing in times of emotional discomfort, would be there in attendance. On stage.
No such luck. Next time, maybe.
Support sex workers rights! Rights, not rescue.
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