To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I have stated many times in this blog, in interviews, and in public speech, I am firmly convinced that criminalization of sex work in the United States will only end by judicial fiat. Some people have (either sincerely or willfully) misinterpreted this position to mean that I prefer it that way, but that is not the case; it’s simply that it is the only realistic strategy open to us. History has demonstrated over and over again that the vast majority of politicians are self-centered, morally retarded pigs whose actions are never determined by what is right, but only by what will get them re-elected; they can be counted on never to defend the rights of the weak against the powerful until it becomes politically popular for them to do so. Democrats pretended to oppose George Bush’s various police-state actions on principle, but once their man was in the White House doing exactly the same things they suddenly stopped speaking up. And the recent reversals on same-sex marriage are a striking example; hundreds of politicians who had vowed to fight it forever had a sudden change of heart as soon as it became politically expedient for them to do so. Even then, the issue had to be reframed as being about wholesome “love” rather than dirty, nasty sex; had that not been done the puritans would still be fighting it just as viciously as they attack all sexual expression.
The rights to birth control, to abortion, to non-vaginal sex, to view sexual materials, etc have all been won by court decisions; had these things been left to politicians they would all still be illegal (as we have seen repeatedly demonstrated in the cases of abortion and “obscenity”). Furthermore, it would be absolutely impossible to stop every little tin god with a title in every state, county and city in the US from working to enact laws favored by loudmouthed busybodies and designed to abrogate the rights of oppressed minorities and docile, silent majorities alike. The only way to stop politicians from gaining power and money at the expense of those they criminalize is for a more powerful entity to prevent them from doing so, and that generally requires the decision of a higher-level court. State supreme courts can put a halt to the oppressive schemes of all politicians in their state; federal district courts can do so over several states at once; and the US Supreme Court can quash the power-madness of any politician, even the President and Congress.
For years, I’ve been hoping for the sex work version of Eisenstadt v. Baird, Roe v. Wade or Lawrence v. Texas, and perhaps it is now on the horizon. Last week Maxine Doogan of the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project contacted me to help publicize the group’s direct legal challenge to prostitution law in California. She provided this background summary:
As soon as we lost Proposition K I called Margo St. James. She pointed us to Coyote vs Roberts, the case which decriminalized indoor prostitution in Rhode Island; we won’t be settling out of court as they did, because we want the highest court’s ruling we can get so as to help as many people as possible. Also, a court ruling would have enduring effects, while a settlement would put us at the mercy of legislators (as in Rhode Island, which recriminalized in 2009). Our next step was to file for non-profit status (which took 3 years); Larry Cohen and I become founding members of ESPLERP, and now donations are anonymous and tax deductible.
Our case is about having our commercial sexual privacy legally noticed and protected by the courts. Our plaintiffs’ privacy will be protected during the proceedings; we have a customer plaintiff, prospective worker plaintiffs and a union plaintiff (to cover our right to associate without being prosecuted for conspiracy). Louis Sirkin will be representing us; he came highly recommended by the Free Speech Coalition due to his victory in Ashcroft vs Free Speech Coalition. It is both his belief and ours that asking the highest court to strike down anti-prostitution laws is vital to ending the American war on sex and the expansion of ridiculous anti-trafficking laws such as Proposition 35. What we would really like to get is a summary judgement based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because a long trial would be much harder in the US than in Canada; though our case is similar to Bedford vs Canada, the two countries’ respective constitutions and the way anti-prostitution laws are written (state by state as opposed to nationally) and enforced (local district attorneys rather than provincial) are different. Getting that judgment would be the beginning of the end of all the discriminatory laws against our class. It won’t be overnight magic; it will probably take much more litigation to force police and prosecutors to stop arresting and charging us.
This will of course require a large war chest; it’s always been about the money and always will be. We’ve asked certain groups like OSI for support and I’ve not received any response from them, so though we’ve launched our own GoFundMe page I’d welcome any suggestions about how to secure additional funding. Even though groups like the ACLU and Open Society Foundation regularly throw us under the bus, I don’t mind asking; the worst they can do is to refuse. I’m not going to waste any more time reaching out to non-funding groups, though; getting them to return my phone calls, emails or FaceBook messages on any issue over the past several years has never been fruitful (if I wrote a book about the subject, it would be called Nobody Home).
We at the Erotic Service Providers organize like our lives depend on it because they do. Many of us have suffered greatly under criminalization – we’ve been arrested, jailed, and lost our ability to pay our rent and provide for ourselves and our children. Our lives have been shattered when we’re held hostage for years in court proceedings where we are publically humiliated by officials and the press, and we don’t want one more person to suffer that fate.
Readers often ask how they can help, and to whom they can donate; I don’t think I need to tell you how important this is. Maxine believes that once the case is filed, there are several organizations which will support it with amicus curiae briefs; they’re just waiting for us to make the first move. The goal for the funding drive is $60,000, and I plan to do my part next week; I’d like you all to please consider making a donation as well. As Maxine says, this isn’t going to be a magical solution, but it’s a necessary first step; civil rights are not won at a single stroke, but by a long series of judgments which clear out successively-larger areas of breathing room. Sex workers in other countries have led the way, and now it’s our turn to claim the rights to privacy, sexual agency and productive labor which are violated by prohibitionist laws.