UPDATE: Since the beginning of March, because of the pandemic, we have switched to doing drop-in hours with a skeleton crew of subcommittee members distributing cash honoraria, food, drink, cigarettes, reproductive health items, hygiene items, informational handouts on harm reduction/health and sex work topics, lockboxes that clinics mandate for COVID-19 methadone take-home bottles, and a stockpile of harm reduction supplies to members instead of holding meetings. We were doing drop-in hours once every two weeks, but in the middle of June, we shifted to a once every three week schedule because of constant shipping delays. In August, while boosting other weekly and monthly programming, we had to switch to a monthly schedule given further shipping problems and ballooning demand, which we started off with a bang with a supply pickup/set of drop-in hours which served ***120*** sex worker members, and put $6,600 in cash in members' hands in the form of special one-time $40 honoraria as well as payment for our skeleton subcommittee running the drop-in hours and member drivers taking over for pandemic-dysfunctional Ubers and Lyfts. We are also working on supporting members in accessing opioid agonist treatment as illicit drug distribution networks inevitably become more dysfunctional and product becomes even more unreliable. We are holding weekly workshop hours 10 AM-5 PM where we allow people to access suboxone telehealth induction and help them apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, as well as doing a bunch of other sorts of bureaucratic midwifery. We are trying to include more low-threshold ways to give people money in these weekly hours, as well--Lysistrata is now paying our members to take focus group surveys once a month, we're holding a WCIIA logo drawing contest, and we are working on other projects during this time which also include cash honoraria, including our new geoculturally-specific-harm-reduction-crack-kit-making subcomittee.
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. UPDATE: Now we're down to doing drop-in hours every three weeks because of shipment delays during COVID-19, though we keep doing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application workshops and help with suboxone telehealth induction weekly, and we'll find a way to offer other resources more often too soon. As of June 2020, we've been serving up to 90 members at drop-in hours. 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, Hacking//Hustling, 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. Resource Generation has continued to be an ally to us since, with many donations from their circle! 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.
Most recently, both SWOP-USA and Survived & Punished, a national organization supporting incarcerated survivors of gendered violence, gave us two substantial donations to help us with our climbing costs for harm reduction and hygiene supply stockpiles for our members doing COVID-19, and Springfield's Out Now and members of the local reproductive justice community have also launched a separate fundraiser for us specifically for those supply costs. We feel incredibly supported and loved.
Finally, last year in 2019, 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, and the third was Circle for Justice Innovations. 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!