As throngs of pro-democracy protesters continue to organize in Hong Kong’s central business district, many of them are messaging one another through a network that doesn’t require cell towers or Wi-Fi nodes. They’re using an app called FireChat that launched in March and is underpinned by mesh networking, which lets phones unite to form a temporary Internet.
So far, mesh networks have proven themselves quite effective and quickly adopted during times of disaster or political unrest, as they don’t rely on existing cable and wireless networks. In Iraq, tens of thousands of people have downloaded FireChat as the government limits connectivity in an effort to curb ISIS communications. Protesters in Taiwan this spring turned to FireChat when cell signals were too weak and at times nonexistent.
I have a new piece up at Slixa, about the fight to ban New York police and district attorneys from using condoms to arrest people for prostitution.
In light of the decision yesterday that stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional, my piece seems to be especially well-timed. “Condoms as evidence” is little more than a sub-category of stop and frisk that’s used to target the people who need safer sex resources the most. The fact that it’s been allowed to exist as long as it has is due to the fact that over the last couple of decades, it’s become more and more acceptable to criminalize whole populations of people, instead of behavior that actually does harm.
But in the eyes of district attorneys and police departments, condoms aren’t for everyone. For white, middle-class, straight-looking people, a few condoms in their pocket or purse represents a sophisticated, responsible sexuality. For those who fit police profiles of sex workers, having condoms on their person might be the thing that gets them arrested on prostitution charges.
“That’s something that we’ve had to clarify again and again,” says Emma Caterine, from New York’s Red Umbrella Project. “I think it’s just a habit in any kind of rights-based activism and organizing to say, ‘Oh, this could happen to me,’ and of course, that really isn’t the case in this situation. The people who are affected by this legislation are people who are profiled as sex workers. That includes sex workers, of course, but it also includes people who are profiled as sex workers because of different stereotypes we have about sex workers.”
The people who fit law enforcement profiles of sex workers are overwhelmingly young, low-income, people of color, or visibly queer or transgender. In other words, arrests target precisely those populations most at risk for transmission of HIV and other STIs.
This seems like a particularly cruel joke in New York, the only major American city to issue its own official condoms. Since 2007, the city’s much-acclaimed “NYC Condoms” program has distributed tens of millions of male and female condoms per month to the five boroughs. In 2012, the city distributed 37.2 million condoms — about 70 per minute. This February, NYU commemorated the program’s five-year anniversary with a retrospective of graphic design and public relations material.
But even as New York’s elite celebrate the condom as a pop icon, thousands of residents are faced with a dilemma: carry condoms to protect themselves against STIs, or risk harassment or arrest by police. “These are the populations that the CDC and other public health authorities have targeted for universal condom access,” says Megan McLemore, a Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch. “They’re really trying to make sure that these populations use condoms every time. So the fact that people who are doing this work and who are profiled as doing this work are carrying fewer condoms than they need has serious consequences for HIV prevention.”
I have to admit, at first the little red squares on people’s Facebook profiles made me cringe. There were two reasons: first, this sort of thing has always triggered my most cynical side. Even in the 1990s, when people started wearing red ribbons to express solidarity with HIV/AIDS patients, I had really complicated, ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, it was a definite improvement over the dominant attitudes of the 1980s, which ranged between malign neglect and homicidal scapegoating. But on the other, the red ribbons seemed to quickly become more of a fashion accessory than an active political statement. Sometimes they seemed to be more about the person wearing them than the people who were at risk. It was even worse when Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” bracelets hit the scene. Imitators hit the scene before everyone had completely absorbed the idea of the originals. Even more than the red ribbons, they came to represent marketing more than social justice.
I have more examples of that sort of thing than I care to think. Every other day, it seems like we’re being asked to tweet a hashtag, recolor our avatars, or buy a special product to show what good people we are. We do it, and nothing changes, because we’re not really doing anything. [Read more…]
I’ve always wanted to be a superhero. As a kid, my superhero of choice was Spider-Man, partly because I identified with Peter Parker as a scrawny, picked-on science nerd. Also, there was something really cool about the fact that his science nerdness came into play when fighting villains like the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus as much as his spider-powers did.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not ever going to be able to stick to walls or have spider-strength, but getting my name on the front page of Scarleteen is a pretty decent compensation prize. For today, February 24, 2013, my name is on the front page as the “Scarleteen Superhero” because Heather Corinna is highlighting people who have donated $240 or more to the site. That, according to her, is the amount of money it takes to keep the site up for one day.
The last couple of weeks have brought more news coverage and public discussion of sex work than you usually get in a year. When Eliot Spitzer got nailed because of his hot dates with “Kristen,” the press swarmed onto the story like flies on shit. The beauty of a scandal like the Spitzer story is that it lets the media have the best of both worlds: they can use the sex to sell product as enthusiastically as Joe Francis having a fire sale, but at the same time, they get to stake the moral high ground by pointing an accusing finger at both the client and the sex worker. If Eliot Spitzer’s sin was the hypocrisy of hiring call girls after building a career for himself by putting their fellow sex workers in jail, it was little more than an insignificant blemish compared to the behavior of the press. A good chunk of the editors and writers at the New York Times should just get over their pretensions of respectability and hop on a plane for California, where they can become honest, hardworking pornographers.
As is typical of American discussions of sex, the Kristen/Spitzer scandal didn’t turn into an opportunity to talk about the realities of sex work, or the ways that our private desires diverge from our public declarations, or anything resembling a forthright discussion of sexuality. It was just another opportunity to obsess about sex as if it were a particularly ugly scab that just won’t stop itching. Nothing demonstrates that better than Audacia Ray’s recent post about her interview with MSNBC. The first question the interviewer asked her, point-blank, was: “Have you been a whore?” The supposedly more genteel, public-radio intellectual Brian Lehrer wasn’t much better in his treatment of Dacia when he interviewed her on the radio. The entire show had a leering tone to it, as if he too couldn’t wait to get the juicy details. And Renegade Evolution got pretty much the same treatment when the media showed up on her doorstep:
Anthony Kennerson has gotten Sex in the Public Square’s weeklong forum on Sex Work, Trafficking and Human Rights off to a great start with a long, thoughtful post about men who patronize sex workers, whether through hiring prostitutes or looking at porn. I can see some people seeing it as an attempt to hijack the issues of sex workers and turn it into concern for the privileged, but I think that this is a very important issue to think about in terms of its effects on the welfare of the workers themselves as well as their clients.
Next week is going to be an exciting one, online and off. First of all, Tuesday is the kickoff for Cinekink 2008. Cinekink is always good — far better than it has a right to be, in fact, given that sex often just gives indie filmmakers one reason to ramp their egos and pretensions up to eleven and beyond. I shudder to imagine what reams of crap Lisa Vandever has to comb through just to get quality programming for one week together. The GF always work the events as volunteers, and it’s a great time for anyone with a dirty mind and an artistic bent.
On a more personal level, though, we have a really important event of our own starting up at Sex in the Public Square. My partner and co-conspirator, Elizabeth Wood, is always looking for ways to come up with ways that we can take the pro-sex dialogue from spinning our wheels in the mud, and this time she came up with a brilliant one: rather than play the same old game of sex-work bingo with the cast of usual suspects, she’s assembled a bunch of the smartest activists and writers in the blogosphere today and invited them to participate in week-long online discussion on the themes of sex work, trafficking (and “trafficking”) and human rights. I’m all cranked up like a kid waiting for Santa Claus, except that in this case, Santa isn’t just my parents making shit up. It’s actually going to happen, and we’ve really got some great people who have committed to making it happen. There are so many things to say on these subjects, and so little of it ever gets said because we on the sex-poz side are busy just trying to hold ground from people who want to demonize us as haters of women, rapists, or just sling shit at us in childish ways by calling us “sex-poxes” or some other ridiculous thing. It’s going to be public, but that doesn’t mean it’s an open forum; comments are going to be strictly moderated, and people who want to play games like that don’t get to have their say this time around. That means we don’t have to reinvent the wheel once more by making the case that no, not all sex workers are victimized, trafficked, or acting out toxic scripts left over from childhood sexual abuse. Sex worker bingo is not allowed. I highly recommend everyone who’s interested check it out, especially if you want to contribute in a courteous, meaningful manner. Everything kicks off on Monday the 25th. The formal press release, complete with our contributor list, is below the fold.
Today is Blog for Choice Day. It’s today not as some arbitrary decision, but because January 22 is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Today it’s 34 35 years since the Supreme Court first handed down one of their most momentous decisions, and stirred up a whole fucking hornet’s nest that’s lasted ever since then. It’s one of the most polarizing issues in American politics, and although it’s not generally acknowledged, abortion is one of the nexus points for America; it speaks not only to our attitudes about sex, but about class and race. The battles over public funding of abortion have little, if anything, to do with upper-class women. It is a battle that takes place very explicitly over the bodies of poor women. This is a simple equation: the more money you have, the more likely you are to be able to go to a private physician and quietly get an abortion without having to march past protesters in front of a free clinic. This isn’t a truth that’s only arisen in the last 35 years. The significance of Roe v. Wade isn’t that it made abortion legal; it’s that it gave poorer women the option that had always been available to wealthy women. It equalized the choice. [Read more…]
Ryan Davis just sent me the YouTube link to his latest opus, Chickenhawks for Clinton.Â I’ve never understood the fanatical passion that drives conservative hatred of the Clintons.Â I refer to Bill as the finest Republican to hold the White House, and Hillary has, if anything, served the corporatist agenda even more loyally and efficiently.Â The idea that she’s some kind of radical lefty feminist is so absurd that it’s not even beneath contempt; on the contrary, she might be the only person who can convince Americans to go to war in Iran.
Now playing: The Dresden Dolls – SeerÃ¤uber Jenny
If anything’s gonna dislodge Rudy Giuliani as the Great White Hope (emphasis on white) of the Republican Party, maybe this ad can do it:
What’s dismaying, though, is the comments on Robert Greenwald’s site, where I originally found the link to that website, show a dismaying lack of intelligence or humor on the part of my fellow lefties. Like GWB-level stupid. For instance:
who made this video? Who is gays for giuliani? I guarantee none of those guys are for giuliani. Why would they do that, and who paid for it? Does anyone know? Atticus Finch is right. the sight isn’t even a working site. [By the rightly-named poster Wha?]
Or this, from M. M. Fitzpatrick:
GAYS FOR GIULIANI is like JEWS FOR HITLER! Are you guys NUTS??? Please – crawl back into your log cabin!
Somebody do us a favor and ship these people to Bush country.