Women’s March 2018 – Las Vegas

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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I didn’t get Tricked

Last night I watched a documentary about sex trafficking on Netflix. I braced myself for the bias views that many documentaries show of sex work, and knew I was in for a frustrating watch just by the Trick blurb:

trickedThis in-depth documentary examines all sides of America’s sex-trafficking trade, which destroys lives as it generates $3 billion a year.

Reading that, I at least thought that all sides, as they stated, would be represented. Instead I sat in on an hour and 13 minutes of assaults, rapes, kidnappings and torture. That is sex-trafficking. What was frustrating was the lumping of all sex work as sex-trafficking. I expected an in-depth documentary stating it will “examine all sides of America’s sex-trafficking trade” would cover all sides of the $3 billion sex-trafficking trade, yet it did nothing more than show me what sadly happens across the world. This is why I am strong in my belief that stating all prostitution is sex-trafficking undermines real sex-trafficking. Personally, men making money off women as pimps has never been okay, but for Tricked to say all sex workers are sex slaves is erroneous.

Sex work is not sex-trafficking. Sex-trafficking is sex-trafficking!

Per Obama, shown at a press conference at the end of the documentary, sex-trafficking is human trafficking, and therefore modern slavery.

Lets be real. All sex work is not modern day slavery.

Beware:  This is where I will personalize this documentary.

To moralize sex work and state it is modern day slavery and sex trafficking is complete laziness on behalf of our lawmakers. Something must change.

“Criminalizing the sex industry creates ideal conditions for rampant exploitation and abuse of sex workers…[I]t is believed that trafficking in women, coercion and exploitation can only be stopped if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.”

Marjan Wijers
Chair of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings
in her article in the book Global Sex Workers
1998

I have experienced modern day slavery. Anyone who has spent any “quality” time incarcerated has experience with it. The closest I have ever got to human slavery and having a real pimp was when I was in jail (human slavery), and in the halfway house (my pimp). In jail I worked for $1 an hour. I had one of the highest paying jobs, on average the pay is 35-65 cents an hour. At the halfway house I gave all my money to them, my checks, my tips, and I had to jump through hoops to request up to $100 a week (never allowed more than $100 on you, otherwise they would take it, you would get a write-up, and would not see the money again. That was the policy). I was forced to work when sick. I had consequences for not working a minimum of 32 hours a week. Do you see the pimp correlations?

Human trafficking is defined in the U.N. Trafficking Protocol as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of adbuction, or fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

The definition on trafficking consists of three core elements:

1) The action of trafficking which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons

2) The means of trafficking which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability

3) The purpose of trafficking which is always exploitation. In the words of the Trafficking Protocol, article 3 “exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

My crime, Sex Trafficking, is because I was a sex-worker, and I have the ability to advertise, market, create websites, screen clients, book appointments, and schedule appointments. I worked with women of age, and they had their own keys to the incall location. I booked for a few women I never even met in person, after the necessary age identification and independent contractor agreements were signed. After watching Tricked I wonder why the State of Alaska found it so necessary to focus on me and what my sentencing judge called a “slick call girl operation” rather than real sex traffickers.

Alaska changed their prostitution laws in 2012. Alaska’s definition of “sex trafficking” is broad and vague. Federal sex trafficking laws focus on fraud, coercion, and the exploitation of minors. Alaska’s law, on the other hand, defines trafficking more broadly, to include those who work indoors, or who work together. Read a clear overview in its entirety here.

As I stated before, I have a Sex Trafficking charge, a class B felony. I was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 5.5 years. I am still incarcerated as I write this. I just made it to electronic monitoring, so now rather than the tax payers paying $140 and up a day to incarcerate me, I get to subsidize my incarceration, paying $400 a month to Department of Corrections rather than only the tax payers footing the entire bill.

This is Alaska’s sex-trafficking law in action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empowerment through Consequence

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I only became aware that I needed to stand up and voice my beliefs after realizing the personal consequences of unfair legislation.

I have been reading up on everything that I was unable to read about for the last three years. Binders, websites, resources. Luckily there is a lot out there.

A big BIG thank you to M. Dante.

I liken it very much to a baby taking her first steps, and peering up a huge stair case…the journey ahead. So, I will research, read, reach out, ponder and look within in order to learn how to continue on this very worthwhile journey before me.

It is easy enough because the way I have personally lived my life has been by a few rules:

Do the least harm to all I meet

I was raised that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, then keep your mouth shut. Over the years I have been able to generalize this. One of my fave quotes is “Even a fish could learn to stay out of trouble if it would keep its mouth shut.”  So very true.

I am usually the one sitting quietly on the side. I try not to say anything unless it brings some value to the conversation.

Disclaimer: If you are close friends or family this does not apply. I will continue to be a silly sing-a-song-that-I-hear-a-beat-to-and not know the words kinda chic.

Any positive moment is movement towards what is positive

Through my early readings I see many sex work advocates upset over legislation that doesn’t address exactly what they want. I keep in mind it is a process, and as long as we are going forward and not backwards, it is a step in the right direction.

This saved my ass when I was repeatedly denied requests I put in (mail with smudges, visits, passes, electronic monitoring, write up appeals…the list could go on). Although the outcome was not what I wanted (usually) I felt I was going forward just by requesting, questioning and trying to be heard, because I did get some answers that weren’t always “no’s”.

Standing together and not bickering amongst ourselves is a step towards change. Wasting time and energy against each other is what those who wish to dispel our cause wants. Ask some of the women I did time with, I was always talking about how we needed to support and be there for each other, not bicker, tell on or ostracize. That is what makes us weak, and by us, I mean women because it has been my personal experience that men call this b.s much sooner and work towards getting things done, not focusing on petty issues.

Tell my truth

Over time my truth has changed. I feel as if I have lived several lives, and you know what? I am okay with that. More than okay. I find my strength in that. It means I have a broader view of the world, of people and most importantly I am open to know myself. After all, I  see life as a journey towards who I authentically am as a person, woman, mother, friend and human. I define my journey, not any one else. I find empowerment through consequence.