Whose Corner Is It Anyway

Whose Corner Is It Anyway is a Western MA mutual aid, harm reduction, political education, and organizing group led by stimulant and opioid using low-income, survival, or street-based sex workers.  All members are current or former low income sex workers. All members either use/have used stimulants and/or opioids, are/have been homeless, or work/ have worked outside. We low-income sex workers have created a regular community and organizing meeting for ourselves--a haven.

At each meeting, we provide a high-calorie meal and cigarettes for each other, as well as access to a bad date list, syringe access and other harm reduction materials such as Narcan and fentanyl test strips, childcare, transportation, and toiletry and clothing donations.  At each meeting, members rotate facilitation, co-facilitation, and translation duties, while members on the set-up/logistics/cooking and syringe access subcommittees handle other work. 

At every meeting, we also hold trainings led by local and national organizing and social service experts on  harm reduction/social justice topics that are relevant to us as a community. These have included:
*Know Your Rights with SWOP Behind Bars
*organizing and doing outreach while living in chaotic poverty with Nina Marsoopian of Project SAFE Philly
*stimulant harm reduction with Justice Riviera of Reframe Health and Justice
*local court support services available with the Party for Socialism and Liberation's  court support team 
*sex worker collective funds with Cora Colt of Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective Fund
 *debunking injection myths and how to reduce risk when injecting outside with Jess Tilley of hrh413 and New England Users Union
*migrant sex workers' rights with Elene Lam of Butterfly and Kate Zen of Red Canary Song
*being out as a drug-using sex worker activist with ex-Scarlet Alliance president Ryan Cole
 *wound care with harm reductionist UMass nursing professor Kim Dion
  *a session on the housing and shelter system with local housing experts
 *the historic Lyons, France sex worker church occupation with Respect QLD's Elena Jeffreys
*A two-part series on domestic violence in the lives of sex workers and drug users and safety planning with radical MSW Lindsay Roberts
....And many others.

Some day-long trainings we have in the works are ones on peer support and unlearning transmisogyny. We also have many campaigns we're working on in the long term, such as a partnership with the Massachusetts Bail Fund to bail our members out directly from lock up. This year, we've formed five subcommittees: a grant/finance subcommittee, a set-up/logistics and cooking subcommittee, a syringe access subcommittee, a bail subcommittee, and a thank you note/fundraiser subcommittee, representing about twenty members in total.  These subcommittees work and make decisions in between meetings, honing their members' specialized direct service and activist skills and putting money in the hands of poor sex worker activists for their labor. 

This year, we've also begun doing speaking engagements in Boston and elsewhere. Our grant/finance subcommittee gave a presentation at the Hacking/Hustling convening at Harvard Law School in November, and in January, we did a closed networking and speaking event with Black and Pink Boston and representatives from other Boston allies such as Boston New England Users Union.  Meeting the challenges of traveling when some of us are more vulnerable and opioid-dependent  and ensuring our confidentiality at events is important to us. So is making sure that many of us gain experience with public speaking and networking. 

The ultimate focus of the project is on the needs and goals of  low-income, street-based, and/or survival sex workers who use the so-called "hard drugs"--stimulants and opioids--and/or experience housing insecurity. These workers take the brunt of the criminalization and stigma of sex work, so they deserve to be the ones calling the shots on how to fight back. The problem is that in order for survival sex worker activists to lead projects like this one, they need to have the resources to do so. Time spent meeting and organizing is time away from survival work, which is often a financial loss low-income workers can’t afford. The gift cards provided by some non-profits to pay drug users and sex workers for their labor do not meet the needs of their recipients. They also demonstrate how non-profits and social services often infantilize poor people and drug users, not trusting them to make the best choices for themselves with their own money.

That’s why we've been raising cold hard cash for meetings to provide a $25 stipend for street workers or other low-income sex workers to attend our meetings---as well as $15-20/hour in stipend payments for members doing subcommittee meetings and subcommittee work and longer events, and a salary of $133 and $178 a week for two co-organizers doing 15-40 hours a week of work in between meetings. Our work and leadership are valuable and deserve to be compensated. The street-based and survival sex workers of this region constantly suffer from assaults, arrests, and police harassment. A $25 stipend every 2 weeks is the least we can give them as a community to support their struggle against this marginalization.  

However, the scale of our project has been growing at an astounding rate, and we are now seeing 60 sex workers on average--up to 70 plus workers at some meetings--when we started off seeing  8-20 people at each!  From winter 2017/2018 to September of this year, we were meeting weekly, but now we've had to scale back again to biweekly meetings as we apply for funding to shore up subcommittee meetings and drop-in hours on the off weeks. We want to continue to offer every drug-using low-income sex worker who needs one a place at our table. We aim to keep offering a stipend close to living wage and will not hold meetings in which we have to offer one below minimum wage.  The organizing efforts of low-income injection-drug-using workers are unique and invaluable in a sex workers' rights movement where privileged sex workers are over-represented and a harm reduction and drug users' union movement in which women/non-men and sex workers have often taken a back seat. We hope that you can help us broaden our fundraising efforts to keep up with the amazing recruitment efforts of our membership and the obvious, desperate need for our group's work in our area.

We've already been aided in achieving our goals not only by a growing network of individual donors, but also by community partners.  Besides the many organizations which help us with material goods, services, and presentations, both locally and nationally--like  New England Users Union, hrh413, RESPECT QLD,  the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community, SWOP Behind Bars, Reframe Health and Justice,  Lysistrata, Red Canary Song, the Massachusetts Bail Fund, MASWAN,  Support Ho(s)e,  Black and Pink Boston,  and many others--we've also been helped by organizations acting as donors.

We were the Western MA  Chapter of Resource Generation's featured cause for December twice, and their substantial donations allowed us to create a small cushion for our organizational account for the first time, instead of simply subsisting week by week. SWOP-USA awarded us a mini-grant for our International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers in-house event last December 17th. Now SWOP-USA will also be disbursing two needle exchange mini-grants to us this year. We were also recently chosen by feminist sex toy store Good Vibrations ' fundraising program GiVe as a seasonal partner. GiVe allows Good Vibrations store customers to choose to donate to their charity partners at checkout, and 100 percent of these donations last season went to us. The result was a substantial donation which will help us stabilize further as well as launch new programming.

GiVe had this to say about working with WCIIA: "Good Vibrations is committed to sexual justice of all kinds. Since our founding, we have strived to provide education and resources so that each individual can work towards cultivating their own best sexual health. Knowing that resources often means economic resources and seeing the impact of the current social and political climate on the sex workers in and around our community, we feel compelled and honored in this moment to work to support the mission and community of Whose Corner is it Anyway."

Finally, this year, our grant/finance subcommittee received THREE OUT OF THE THREE grants we applied for. The first was the Sex Worker Giving Circle grant from Third Wave Foundation, and the second was the Red Umbrella Fund. We'll be announcing the third one when its list of grantees become public. Our participatory grant-writing process, pioneered by founding co-organizer Naomi Lauren, in which we write collaboratively in a committee and  gather input from all our membership on parts of our grant proposals, has been paying off! More importantly, it allows more members access to the material power grant writing allows in non-profit organizations. We cannot thank the grant making foundations which accepted our applications enough--finally getting institutional funding will allow us to considerably expand our work!

If your organization would like to become a patron of ours or throw a benefit for us, please message us over GoFundMe!

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Caty Simon 
Holyoke, MA
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