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Whose Corner Is It Anyway

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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, founded in 2017. All members are current or former low income sex working cis or trans women or gender diverse people. All members either use/have used stimulants and/or opioids, are/have been homeless, or work/ have worked outside. In order to continue to offer the mutual aid and advocacy described below and to expand it, we need funding. Survival sex workers require resources and support to organize. While we have secured foundation grants over the years and currently, an organization by and for housing insecure survival sex workers who use drugs can be a hard sell to the non-profit industrial complex. We rely on this GoFundMe for the majority of our general operating costs.

We’ve provided a range of mutual aid support for each other through the years.
Right now, at all hours we offer:
*Expidited bailouts in collaboration with the MA Bail Fund, including bail out directly from lockup before transfer to jail whenever possible.
*Emergency Ubers e.g. to take advantage of housing opportunities or escape domestic violence
*Emergency funds via collaboration with Lysistrata, a national sex worker mutual aid fund

We host English/Spanish bilingual open hours where we offer:
*Actively monitored safer bathrooms
*Peer-run overdose reversal trainings with mannequin practice
*Low-threshold employment, e.g. paid surveys & writing opportunities
*A bad date list

During open hours we distribute:
*Safer supplies for injecting, smoking, and sniffing drugs, including xylazine and fentanyl test strips, with expertise in Black and Latine drug cultures supplied by staff
*Hygiene supplies including wound care materials specifically for xylazine wounds
*Sexual health supplies including condoms of various sizes, non-latex condoms to negotiate condom use with clients claiming latex alergies, lube, and pregnancy tests

WCIIA envisions abolishing criminal injustice system and systems complicit in it like family separation, medical surveillance, and coercive drug treatment. We believe strong communities are the true alternative to carceral systems and capitalism, and capacity building and material support are prerequisites for survival sex workers to organize.

“We destigmatize the whole way people look at and treat [sex working] women,” writes subcommitee member Priscilla, a Puerto Rican mother on medication-assisted treatment in her late 30s.

WCIIA challenges the criminalization and stigmatization of sex work and drug use which lead to the mass incarceration of marginalized people. .

We’re
*majority POC (46% Latine, 37% white, 12% Black, 5% Indigenous, 28% mixed race)
*majority LGBTQ (68%)
*housing insecure (19% currently sleep outside, 70% have been houseless in the past)
*highly criminalized (25% have been arrested for sex work offenses, 60% for non-sex work offenses)

WCIIA demonstrates our commitment to building community power and leadership in the following ways:
*All ~150 members are low-income current/former sex working cis and trans women and non-binary people.
*All members either use/used stimulants and/or opioids, are/have been homeless, or do/have done street-based sex work .* People become members by attending programming, vouched for by a current member re fitting criteria.
*All leaders must also be members; leadership mirrors membership demographics.
*Majority person of color subcommittees are our prime decision making bodies, with new subcommittee members chosen by subcommittee vote.
*Subcommittee members serve as both our board and staff.
*Subcommittee members are paid in cash gifts to defray living expenses, so that people on benefits and unbanked people have access to leadership.
*Many subcommittee members have been members since our inception, with multiple opportunities to initiate and run programming, speak publicly, and participate in campaigns.

“WCIIA has helped me be an active, helpful part of our community,” writes Pricsilla.

“I feel so lucky having a group of women that are all extremely strong willed, caring, and thoughtful leaders in their own way, writes Anabelle, a disabled white street working member in her 20s. “I feel as though we are all leaders in WCIIA.”

Members repeatedly reference how vital it is to have a safe, healing justice space allowing people to get off the streets even briefly.

An anonymous Latine member writes, “En reunion aqui me siento comoda; me siento que todo la genta respeta.” (“In the meetings here, I feel comfortable; I feel like everyone respects me”).

Dee, a disabled Puerto Rican lesbian leader in her 50s, writes about how mutual aid contributes incrementally to larger change—”I [want to] help just one lady at a time, just sit down and listen…[that way] we can make a change, take WCIIA and make a difference, not leaving any woman behind.”

Our members have always cared for each other—sharing clothes, food, housing, and money; reviving each other from overdose; taking down client license plate numbers. We just formalize that work.

Our mutual aid connects to a broader analysis of criminalization:

“Fuck the police,” Dee writes succinctly.

“It’s our bodies. We shouldn’t go to jail for doing sex work,” writes Bella.

Our analysis of criminalization includes other systems that contribute to it. A major challenge is area hospitals’ discrimination and direct complicity with criminalization. Staff leave opioid-dependent members in agonizing withdrawal, surveil and search hospital rooms, call the police on them, and use whorephobic and drug user shaming slurs. In early meetings in 2018, we discovered that most of us fear hospital staff more than we do police.

We’re already meeting this challenge by collaborating with Baystate Medical Center Emergency Department researchers. Members serve on advisory boards and member focus groups contextualize team finding. Advisory board networking has allowed us to build connections with organizations such as New North Citizens Council, a Latinx-led community organization in neighboring Springfield. Baystate distributes our safer smoking kits through their ED to a broader range of marginalized populations.

WCIIA's engagement with healthcare providers creates a bridge between marginalized communities and mainstream healthcare, shifting from punitive approaches working in concert with carceral systems towards supportive healthcare. We've held talks at Baystate, MA General Hospital, and UMass Nursing School on healthcare stigma against sex workers who use drugs, including messaging dissuading providers from feeding the pipeline between healthcare and carceral systems.

We’ve also done a lot of work which could be more traditionally defined as policy work addressing criminalization and its drivers over the years. Some highlights:

*Writing legislation for the MA House and Senate within a coalition called Decrim MA, a bill which would have struck common nightwalking from general law and a bill which would decriminalize adult sex work. This is the closest anyone has come to decriminalizing sex work in the state.
*Dez took the lead in contributing to a report by the MA Special Commission on Unaccompanied and Homeless Youth on how to serve housing insecure youth who trade sex to meet their needs, which had progressive recommendations like direct cash transfers.

But we don’t define success as definitive policy success. Success is continuing to be a trusted space where people can build long-term skills. We contribute to systemic change by investing long-term in marginalized community leaders.



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Donations 

  • Stephen Blough
    • $1,000 
    • 2 d
  • Anonymous
    • $60 
    • 3 d
  • Anonymous
    • $100 
    • 6 d
  • Peter W Burka
    • $200 
    • 11 d
  • Sara Knotts
    • $35 
    • 19 d
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Organizer

Caty Simon
Organizer
Holyoke, MA

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