Not all sex workers love Occupy: the creepy dynamic of pretending to speak for “the 99%”

Article by Furry Girl responding to the connections being drawn between sex worker activism and the Occupy movement:

In the last month, there has been more and more talk from some sex workers about how awesome the Occupy movement is, including some of my ho activist friends on Twitter who are part of different Occupy encampments.  SWOP-NYC has a pro-Occupy postJessie of SWOP LA throws in her supportTrisha wrote about the issues of SlutWalk and Occupy, andMelissa Gira Grant wrote a strangely pearl-clutching piece about how sad it is some people -gasp- do sex work to pay for college.

I’ve been wary and on the fence about the Occupy movement and its vague, utopian, barely-articulated aims.  Occupy embodies basically everything I hate about the left, and the best I’ve been able to muster so far is feeling sorry for people who have been assaulted by police.  Today, I went from on the fence to against Occupy Seattle.  I was trying to get to the nonprofit vegan grocery store, Sidecar, a place I’m happy to support because all the proceeds go to an animal sanctuary.  I sure timed my bus errand poorly, because I ended up behind an Occupy Seattle march.

First off, the protesters went out of their way to disrupt as much traffic and transit as possible.  I talked to my bus driver, and he said the group had told Seattle Metro they would be marching along a certain route, giving Metro a chance to divert buses in the area to another street.  Once the time came for the march, however, the Occupy folk changed their official plan and went down the street where they knew Metro buses were being re-routed, all to maximize problems for commuters.  That’s a pretty asshole move.  How is going out of your way to screw up as many public transit lines as possible harming the super-rich?  Are there a lot of country-ruining billionaires on the bus during rush hour?  I guess I never noticed them though all the students, disabled people, punks/hippies, elderly people, nonwhites, single moms, young folk, and homeless-looking people who typically make up much of Metro’s ridership.

After half an hour on a bus that was barely moving, I gave up and angrily walked home in the freezing rain, knowing it would have taken hours to get to my destination.  Congratulations, anti-capitalists, you prevented me from spending my money at a nonprofit, so I shopped at a corporate grocery store instead.  I went home and watched the clamor unfold on Twitter.  The march had moved on to occupying a bridge, shutting down traffic in both directions.  This bridge is one of the connections between the central Seattle area and the University of Washington and the outlying suburbs, as well as a major hospital complex at the university.  Occupy Seattle was cutting off a key route for hospital access, which could genuinely cost lives if ambulances had to re-route and go back to other another bridge in an emergency.

Less than 24 hours after winning national sympathy when Seattle police pepper-sprayed a small elderly woman, Occupy Seattle experienced a big wave of hatred from the general public, pissed off at missed meetings, missed classes, missed flights, and being stuck in traffic for no good reason.  Twitter users were cheering for them to be beaten, shot, pepper-sprayed, and many hoped aloud that the bridge would collapse, or that protesters would fall/jump to their deaths.  Comments on various local news websites all echoed similar opinions – anger, annoyance, confusion, and rooting for harm to befall protesters.  There were countless comments where someone said they supported Occupy before, but this changed their minds.

Any sane activist would be thinking, “Oh shit, we made a huge fuckup here.  The public is angry at us, we’re blocking hospital access, and we’re not accomplishing anything other than showing people that we like to cause pointless disruptions.  This has been an absolute disaster.”

Instead, the resounding consensus among protesters on Twitter was that the event was a massive success, and Occupy Seattle marchers and supporters responded to people who disagreed by making fun of them, insulting them, telling them they are the enemy, and generally celebrating the fact that the public had turned against them after the bridge occupation.  It was like watching some spoiled punk teenager gloat about how they’re really “sticking it to the man” by pissing off “the squares” with their green hair.

What today highlighted for me is my growing uneasiness with how Occupy protesters continually scream that they are “the 99%,” insisting that they represent just about everyone in the country.  I don’t like seeing strangers keep arguing that they are my spokespersons, that they can attest to the interests and beliefs of most Americans, that they are protesting “for me,” and even that they are me.  This creepy rhetoric reminds me all too well of how anti-sex worker crusaders always insist that they are acting and speaking on our behalf, without ever deigning to listen to us.  There is something deeply and profoundly fucked up about declaring oneself the mouthpiece for people whom you don’t know, aren’t trying to get to know, and in many cases, who actively oppose what you are saying and doing, such as it the case of the vast numbers of Seattle folk irate over having their evening disrupted by a core group of perhaps a hundred protesters who were trying to stay on the bridge as long as possible.

Where this whole thing goes from eerily cult-like to comical is that the people who pretend to be and represent “the 99%” are a tiny minority, even in a large left-leaning city, and they were causing a problems for the majority.  Occupy Seattle wasn’t representing the desires of anyone but themselves, least of all working and lower-income people who rely on public transit to get around the city.

Occupy Seattle: you are not the 99%.  You do not represent me, you do not represent Seattle, and I wish you people would stop insisting that you do.  A group that relishes in causing disruptions purely for the sake of causing disruptions does not embody the key political concerns of most Americans, any more than a right-wing billionaire does.  You are an obnoxious minority that continues to further isolate itself from the rest of the public, and I can’t think of one positive thing you have contributed to my city.

But all that doesn’t matter.  According to Occupy Seattle kids, the fact that I dislike them just means that they’ve been victorious in their protest, despite the fact I will never be earning in the top 10%, let alone the top 1%.

As a sex workers’ rights advocate, my life would be so much easier if the sole metric by which I judged an activist “success” was how many members of the general public I could get to hate us.  It’s easy to turn the public against you, any lazy dipshit can do that.  Influencing the public to adopt more progressive and tolerant ideas?  That’s not as adrenaline-soaked and fun as instigating confrontations with the police, but it leads to actual and long-lasting change, which is precisely the kind of work that needs to be done.

Update one: In looking at more local coverage, the first three comments on a cheery pro-Occupy article on SLOG summed up today’s debate so neatly, especially the middle one as being the most used defense by bridge protest supporters.

Gern Blanston: “Claim it for the 99 percent.” What a fucking joke! When they shut down a bridge, or a busy downtown street, they’re preventing everyone else from going about their daily lives. They’re just a bunch of self-important, grandstanding pricks. They don’t speak for me.

what_now: Maybe there are things that are more important than people going about their daily lives?

LJM: the problem is that you’re suggesting that one group of people know which “things” are “more important” than going about their daily lives, and which “things” are less important. You can use this reasoning to justify any type of inconsiderate behavior by people who claim to be doing it for your own good.

Update two: Seattle Central Community College – where Occupy Seattle set up residence after moving from their original location in the shopping district – has been complaining about the public health hazards being created by the camp in the form “accumulations of garbage, poor food handling, discarded syringes and needles, fire safety hazards, dog feces, and disposal of wastewater.”  Congratulations again, Occupy Seattle, you’ve succeeded in be-filthing a facility that caters to lower-income people.  That’s really sticking it to the evil super-rich, isn’t it?  (As I saw someone else point out today, if they really want to stick it to banks through civil disobedience, why not occupy bank-owned foreclosed houses?)

Occupy supporters are seemingly unable to come up with non-false dichotomy arguments to support their protest at the bridge.  It’s all hyperbole like, “Oh, so you love watching billionaires raping the country?” or one who told me that I must be too busy fawning over the Kardashians to care about anything else.  You can be against Occupy Seattle and its dumbass tactics without being pro-cop, pro-bailout, pro-apathy, and pro-status quo.  I was, in fact, anti-status quo before this new wave of Carhartt Warriors grew their first pubes.  (Do dirty anarkids still wear Carhartts?  Am I totally dating myself in my choice of derisive terminology?)

Also, I actually do support using disruptive and controversial protest methods, but only when they are targeted and/or express a clear message and demands.  (Examples being crashing a shareholder meeting to send a message that a corporation should stop engaging in such-and-such practice, or civil disobedience on a logging road that prevents logging companies from cutting down any trees that day.)  Making things hard on huge numbers of Seattle residents who just want to get home from work makes people hate you, and accomplished absolutely nothing.  Yes, it got media coverage and attention, but so what?  Is the only goal of Occupy Seattle to get lots of bad press?  Does getting bad press fix the economy or make one single person’s life better?  No, but it sure is easier than engaging in strategic activism or doing something positive.

http://www.feminisnt.com/2011/not-all-sex-workers-love-occupy-the-creepy-dynamic-of-pretending-to-speak-for-the-99/

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2 thoughts on “Not all sex workers love Occupy: the creepy dynamic of pretending to speak for “the 99%”

  1. Very interesting to read a seasoned activist’s perspective on Occupy Seattle. I was involved in Salt Lake and had an entirely different experience and followed Occupy Wall Street *itself*, as in at Liberty Plaza a fair bit. Hopefully activists in Seattle learned from their mistakes and are analyzing everything that happened a bit so as to mature and be ever more effective. You bring up a fair point about problems with the 99% rhetoric. I hope you or at least someone posted this article directly to Occupy discussion forums.

  2. Thank you so much for articulating what I have been thinking. As a 23 year veteran sex worker, I am automatically expected to lean hard left, and support any viewpoint and dissent in that arena. However, I simply cannot support the Occupy movement for the reasons you have mentioned.I live in LA and I’m not even quite sure the cops here would let them get that far. They pretty much stayed in the cesspool they created down at city hall. I guess they don’t follow the Leave No Trace protocol either.

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