"Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent."
- James Baldwin
I arrived at 35th and Madison Avenue in Manhattan just before 6:30pm on July 23, 2018, to support a quickly-organized protest which arose because of a situation I "watched" develop on-line among civil rights activists I follow on Twiiter (please note, there is a typo in this tweet below, later corrected, re: the date)
Sharing thoughts tomorrow, 7/22 at the sex workers & allies circle - 7pm in front of 209 Madison Ave:@thejessicaraven @TS_Candii@gildamerlot@asiannomad @anarkriminology— Red Canary 红莺歌 🌹🍚 (@RedCanarySong) July 22, 2019
We are survivors, immigrants & QTPoC sex workers organizing against violence & exploitation. https://t.co/nKt8lnyQmE
I have done a tiny bit of volunteer work for Red Canary Song, grass-roots street-level organizers supporting harm reduction among Chinese migrant massage parlor workers in Queens. I follow them and many of their peer organizations and allied activists on Twitter.
You can read a first-hand account of what led to this direct action (a "Community Circle" on the public sidewalk outside the church) here. Kindly regard that as the official record of what happened and why. I witnessed the events described therein that were outside the church (I never went in myself). That is a truthful telling of the events I witnessed.
The gist of what I heard before arriving was that Jessica Raven had been asked to be on a panel, she initially agreed, but when she learned more about who else was involved and about some subsequent changes to the panel she wanted to reconsider her participation.
In other words, it was about consent. She had consented to be involved in something different. The hypocrisy of the consent of a sex worker being dismissed at an event describing itself as "rescue" for the "sex trafficked" is astonishing all by itself, but it turned out to be just the tip of this proverbial iceberg of hateful ignorance.
What got me off my ass was that they left her name on the promotional materials for the event. That seemed to be a Nixon-esque/Trump-esque political set-up to me. They wanted to claim that the "other side" refused to show up, perhaps not wanting to darken the doors of a Christian church. I could see the story in the NY Post.
Of course, I had no idea what the anti-trafficking activists inside the church had planned, if anything, but I took Ms. Raven at her word. She really didn't have anything to gain by proving herself to an unreliable advocate. What mattered to me was that these people inside this grand Episcopal church weren't operating in good faith concerning harm reduction among sex workers. That is never okay with me. This is a community that is vulnerable to violence from law enforcement, their customers, the management of their places of business, their landlords, the neighbors, Uber drivers, other Uber passengers, and every other sociopathic influence we all are threatened by. If we can't protect sex workers, no one is safe.
Think what you want about sex work, but harm reduction in this community is a genuine public health (PTSD, etc.), civil rights, and human rights issue. I've been standing up with my body and voice for these issues for more than forty years. This cover may be different, but the book reads the same. So, I got my tired old ass down there with a red umbrella (the polemic symbol of sex worker harm reduction) to publicly register with my physical body and voice that this is not okay. I can't do much, but I can bring this body.
And let's be crystal effing clear. The "not okay" in this case is leaving sex workers out of the discussion about reducing harm in their own community. It's okay to have a view that is different than my own, that will either make me smarter or more certain. It is not okay to turn all of this into another way to co-mingle Church and State in this country. I've had it with that. Do we have a Constitution or don't we? "Congress shall make no laws..." is how the relevant section begins. This is my most precious possession. Do not tread on me.
We all know George Carlin said it best, and I paraphrase...
Selling stuff is legal. Fucking is legal. Why is selling fucking not legal?
It really is that simple. Without a religious objection, there is absolutely no reason to have any laws about sex work at all other than general adherence to the uniform commercial code (i.e., fair commerce). Every culture in every age in every corner of this tiny blue speck of dust hurtling through cruel and empty space has had sex work since the dawn of human community. Laws that harm sex workers for freely choosing their own path to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness are unjust laws. We have a duty as a free people to disobey them and work for their repeal.
As the evening wore on, it became clear the people inside the church were actually seeking more effective ways to police consensual sex. They summoned a small NYPD crowd control deployment without any public safety justification whatsoever. People are permitted to peaceably assemble on public sidewalks as long they do not impede foot traffic. We didn't. I was there. People were walking by the entire time.
Who is that handsome devil with the red umbrella?
Sex workers need #RightsNotRescue. I may no longer be on @IncarnationNY’s panel on “decriminalizing pimps and johns,” but I’m still available tonight & we intend to have our voices heard. ✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/E1DSNsXwwI— Jessica Raven (@thejessicaraven) July 23, 2019
There were at least two police officers (not pictured, they were up near the door to the church, which we never approached) present for each of us, maybe even three, I didn't count. Calling out this crowd-control squad was simple political intimidation using my tax dollars. There was no public safety issue. We didn't even have a bull horn.
As I left, I briefly spoke with two of the NYPD officers out front. I thanked them for coming out "to keep us all safe."
Their reply was "No problem, buddy. Glad to do it."
By that time, these officers had seen with their own eyes that all of the disruption to public order and civility came from the people inside the church. Our group was just talking to each other--sharing strength, wisdom, and hope with each other up until the verbal assault described in Jessica Raven's article. I'm guessing their threat-assessment for our little group was "very low."
It was both tragic and comic that all this happened on the literal and figurative doorstep of a Christian church. They threw Jesus out of this church. A central tenent of Christian ethics is that one treats those socially-disadvantaged, disposssed, vulnerable, and poorest among us as if they were Jesus Christ himself. Look up Matthew 25:40.
The work of social justice that Jesus championed thousands of years ago is still unfinished today. The Episocopal Church of the Incarnation in New York City escorted these sex workers out of the building and refused to call them by their own name. Jesus would have been out there on that sidewalk with us.