Politics & Law

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Creating Change: Solidarity, Human Rights, and the Smell of New Ideas

Exactly one week ago I was preparing for a workshop at Creating Change in Minneapolis. The session was led by Ricci Levy, Executive Director of Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and consisted of a panel and story telling exercises.

Our goal was to show how powerful story telling is for building empathy and connection with a group of people and communicating about the kinds of change that you care about. Robert Perez, of Fenton (a stellar communications firm) talked about story telling in general terms and offered examples. I talked about the problems of jargon and identity politics. Ignacio Rivera, performance artist and educator, talked about the need to introduce new language and educate people. Carmen Vazquez, long-time activist and advocate for sexual liberation and human rights, talked about the need to communicate about desire, sex, and connection. Then participants had a chance to identify changes they wanted to see, and to begin to create stories that would help them talk about those changes. It was a powerful session.

This is what I said.

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Sex Workers Stop Traffick

Originally posted by Stacey Swimme of Sex Workers Outreach Project and Bound, Not Gagged, and reprinted here in its entirety:

Red Umbrella with Only Rights Can Stop The Wrongs Sex Workers Outreach Project USA, a social justice and anti-violence project by and for sex workers, decries trafficking and demands protections for workers.

In the debate regarding the coercive shutdown of the Craigslist adult services sections the voices of sex workers have been conspicuously overlooked. Trafficking is not sex work. Real traffickers and child abusers must be stopped. Sex workers are in a unique position to help end trafficking, if our perspectives are taken into account.

Based on our extensive knowledge and experience with the sex industry, SWOP calls on elected officials and members of law enforcement to pursue a sane and effective approach to ending trafficking.

The conflation of consensual sex work with rape is a disservice to both victims of trafficking and to sex workers. Persecuting consenting adults for exchanging sex for money is a waste of precious resources that could better be used providing services and legal protections for minors and others who have been abused.

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Sexual Freedom Day 2010 - I'll be there. Will you?

Woodhull Sexual Freedom Day announcement

 I'll be attending Woodhull Freedom Foundation's Sexual Freedom Day at the Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday, September 23 2010. It's going to be an exciting day. If you're in the area you should join us. From the announcement:

The day-long program reflects Woodhull Freedom Foundation's mission to affirm sexual feedom as a fundamental human right, highlighting the intersections between government policy and lawmaking, marriage, reproductive rights, personal relationships, child rearing, sexual orientation, gender identification, sexual expression, and sexual practice.

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Homophobia is bad for your brain

I just read a story in the New York Times, written by Tamar Lewin, that was both touching and infuriating. It concerned a change noted recently by staffers at the GI Rights Hotline, a number for people to call if they want help becoming conscientious objectors.

The touching part of the story came in the descriptions of the work done by those who staff the hotline. Since conscientious objector status is decided based on a person's beliefs, and since a caller's beliefs and a staffer's beliefs might be quite different, it can be a challenging job and these workers come across as very dedicated to helping people despite conflicting belief systems. It was also touching to read the concerns they shared about those who never make it to the hotline, speculating that many of those who desert or who kill themselves are people who are "struggling with their conscience."

The infuriating part comes in when people apply their beliefs in illogical ways. Specifically, the change on which the article reports is the new growth in calls by people who want conscientious objector status because they cannot in good conscience serve in the military with people who are gay. Lewin explains in her article that this objection on the face of it fails the conscienctious objector test, in which a person must clearly object to participating in all war as a result of some deeply held moral, ethical, or religious belief. She quotes J. E. McNeil, a long-time staffer of the hotline, who explains that “In the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation, they’re not opposed to participating in war, they’re opposed to who they’re participating with”.

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First Amendment Win: Schools may require clubs be open to all students, including LGBT students.

Free Speech Use It Or Lose It signSome good news from the US Supreme Court this week: Schools do not have to tolerate discrimination. Sound like a radical decision? If you believe the dissenters you'd think that free speech as we know it is about to fall to pieces. Don't be fooled.

The question was whether or not a student organization that intended to exclude gay and lesbian students was entitled to official recognition as a student club, a status which would entitle them to use of school resources (funding, computers, facilities), and use of the school's name and logo. The school is Hastings College of the Law and the student organization is the Christian Legal Society.

Lawyers for Hastings argued that it was simply enforcing a policy that required all official student organizations to be open to all Hastings students. (Actually, as the editorial page of the New York Times points out, first they asserted that the club violated their nondiscrimination policy, then later shifted strategies to focus on the narrower "all comers" policy which says that student clubs must be open to all interested students.) Lawyers for the CLS students argued that the policy in question violated students' rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

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Allies

I've been thinking a lot about the term "allies" as it is used in social movements these days. I particularly think about it as used in the sex worker rights movement, in the LGBT rights movement because of the way that "ally" has become an identity term instead of a political description. Then I came across this statement about allies in an entirely different context and wanted to share it here. It says almost everything I've wanted to say and been unable to find the words for:

Allies in the culture wars aren’t appreciably different than military or political allies, but somehow, the meaning of the word has changed online. We’ve gone from “In everyday English usage, allies are people, groups, or nations that have joined together in an association for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out between them” to the assumption that the act of alliance comes with specific obligations and that people are “bad allies” or not allies at all if particular things are done or left undone.

 This isn’t true, of course. There is nothing about an alliance that requires that one of the parties give up its sovereignty, or there would be many fewer alliances. Alliance is not allegiance. We do not set aside our own concerns and our own marginalization because we care about someone else’s. We don’t let someone else set the terms of our participation in the public sphere, simply because they call us allies, without going through the tricky act of negotiation. We don’t give up our autonomy as allies any more than we would, by giving aid that isn’t wanted or needed, usurp the autonomy of those we aim to help.

 Student groups and others who are working to recruit allies understand this. They talk about the behavior of “ideal allies,” presenting aspirational goals and actions that can be adopted by allies. They recognize that learning will need to occur, and continue to occur, throughout the experience of being an ally, saying, “Ask lots of questions and talk honestly about what you do know, what you don’t know, and what you’d like to learn.” They don’t expect perfection, and they demand expect monolithic behavior.

Thanks are due to Stephanie Zvan, whose words these are. You can find her at Quiche Moraine and Almost Diamonds

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In NY? Help Victims of Trafficking - One step toward justice!

It's about time! From the the Change.org petition site:

On June 15, 2010 the New York State senate passed a bill that, effective as soon as Governor Paterson signs it, enables survivors of human trafficking to vacate their convictions for prostitution-related offenses. This amendment to New York State Criminal Procedure Law grants those who were trafficked into commercial sex the opportunity to start over with a clean slate.

The Sex Workers Project (SWP) worked closely with Assembly Member Richard Gottfried to draft and introduce the bill in April 2009, which is also sponsored by Senator Thomas Duane. Supporters include the New York City Bar Association, the New York Anti-Trafficking Network, and Sex Workers Action New York.

The new legislation empowers survivors of trafficking by allowing them to move on with their lives, and function in society without the stigma of past exploitation. Survivors have a better chance of escaping re-victimization or further coercion when they do not have criminal records that often prevent them from obtaining work, getting stable housing, and adjusting their immigration status.

Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »

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On Being Anti Anti-Porn

Reefer Madness Movie Musical posterDonna Rice Hughes, Gail Dines, the Concerned Women for America, and the like, believe that pornography leads to addiction, it destroys families, and it leads to the abuse of women and children. It ought to be outlawed and existing laws ought to be enforced in such a way that it is eradicated altogether. Call it porn panic and witness the way it fuels their self-declared War on Illegal Pornography.

This sounds awfully reminiscent of the War On Drugs, to me, and I predict that if such a war were waged it would be about as successful.

At a press event today calling for Congress to use existing obscenity laws to eradicate mainstream porn there were apparently so few good arguments for the eradication of porn that they had to resort to misinformation and illogical statements. For example, as reported by AOL News:

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Logic Fail: Wisconsin DA Says Teaching Sex Ed Is LIke Teaching Minors To Mix Drinks

A few days ago a Wisconsin District Attorney made headlines by sending letters to all the school districts in the state warning their administrators and teachers that if they adopt the state's new sex education standards they risk being charged with crimes against minors.

antibullying signHow's that, you might ask? The new standards, which are now part of state education law, include teaching about the proper use of contraception. This, according to DA Scott Southworth, means encouraging kids to commit illegal acts. Encouraging someone to commit a crime is itself a crime. Thus teaching teens about the proper use of contraception is a crime. He equates this with teaching minors how to mix alcoholic drinks when they are too young to consume them or serve them.

This would not pass the critical thinking test in my Introduction to Sociology course. It fails on a few levels. Most obviously, teaching people about something is not the same as encouraging them to do it. I can teach about illegal drug use, the dangers of the same, the reasons people use the drugs, the routes that they follow to acquire the drugs, the different philosophies around addressing illegal drug use in communities, and the prevention strategies that work and that don't work. This does not mean I am encouraging my students to use illegal drugs.

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Democrats support gays in the military but not homosexuals

File Under: Research methods 101 > Survey Construction > Question wording

Constructing a survey on support for the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"? Keep this in mind: Democrats in particular are much more likely to support letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military than they are to support letting homosexuals serve openly.

Dalia Sussman, writing for The Caucus (the politics and government blog of the New York Times) describes a New York Times/CBS News poll which found that 60% of respondents who were asked whether gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the military said yes. On the other hand, only 44% of those asked whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly agreed that they should. And Sussman says that political orientation mattered a great deal:

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