Saying the personal is political is old and tried and still very true. While SESTA has been very big and very public, the laws and decisions around criminalization which most impact people are made at the local and state-level. Understanding and getting involved in local politics has a huge impact, and is incredibly important for two reasons:
- You’re connecting with the people who make the laws and policies which play out in peoples’ lives every day. Swaying them makes a huge impact – and fast.
- No one runs for Congress first. You’re talking to the people who will one day run for federal offices. Build their knowledge on sex worker rights now.
Learn about the process:
When Trump was elected, a group of folks who worked on the hill wrote the most amazing guide for poltical engagement. Check out the Indivisible website to find out more about grassroots activism and getting involved in the political process as a citizen.
Step 1. Who represents me?
There are a lot of people who have a say in the criminalization of sex work, many of whom are going to see your vote. Find out more about the electeds who will take your call by searching here. Those races are not only easier to engage with politically, they can have a huge impact. In many places it’s District Attorneys, City Councils and state reps who set the policing agenda and can increase transparency and accountability. Are your reps actually representing your values? Here are Five Ways to Gather intel on your reps.
Step 2. Who has the power to enact SESTA?
One of the scariest parts of SESTA is that it allows the expansion of who may file civil suits. The National Association of Attorneys Generals (AG) was one of the main proponents to this law, and they are the ones who may not file civil suits against websites. Find out your state’s attorney’s general here.
Step 2a. Fuck those people – How do I get them out?
That’s real. The great thing about elected offices is that you can vote them out. Find out when the next election is, who the challenger is and decide who most represents the needs of your community. Call and ask their offices about what you care about, go to rallies and town halls and ask it publicly, and get the person you want elected.
Step 3. What are some of the ways that I can plug in?
The first step is education. Know how these systems work together and who has jurisdiction over what. Nothing will stop a staffer from listening faster than when you don’t tell them to do something they don’t even have the ability to change. Don’t tell the president to decriminalize prostitution – tell them to repeal NSP-22. Don’t tell your state AG to repeal FOSTA, tell them that filing civil lawsuits will increase trafficking.
Build coalitions. Sex worker rights is a tough issue to sell. Beyond being charged, it seems like a very tiny constituency to a lot of people. But we know that this issue is not only simple, it impacts a lot more folks than people realize. Does your rep care about LGBTQ communities? Perfect, you can’t care about queer communities and criminalize how people are surviving. Does your rep take a stance on violence against women? Awesome. You can’t care about violence against women and not include violence against sex workers. Does your member care about HIV and public health? Beautiful. Decriminalization of the sex trade could cut the HIV transmission rate 33%-47% over ten years globally. Find the groups that support you who have existing relationships with offices and build relationships with them first.
- Change moves at the speed of trust. Building coalitions isn’t just about meetings – it’s about creating serious partners for long-term change. Connections are meaningful in and of themselves. You both are achieving the same goal – how do you make this realtionship powerful?
Meet with your Reps (or, their staffers). The difference between you and a paid lobbyist isn’t knowledge or expertise or well-cut suits, but that they are paid to develop relationships with staffers or members. This is a great 101 on citizen lobbyists (please forgive the number of white dudes). You don’t have to go to the capital, either and can meet with the staffers in the district office. You have a lived experience which is important to share, and one that’s more relevant than the opinions of the “I have feelings about the sex trade.”
- Meeting happen anywhere. Shitty meetings can happen in the most beautiful conference rooms. Amazing meetings can happen in the hallway.
- Did it not go the way you wanted? It happens. Staffers fall asleep in meetings. One meeting with the office of a member who is vocal about LGBTQ rights involved a staffer who didn’t even take a pen or pad into the meeting for notes. Cross that office off the list, move on and remember how they made you feel next time they’re up for re-election.
(This website post will never suffice for an actual training but) When you do sit down with a staffer:
- Who are you and why is this important? Share your story.
- What is the problem? Understand what you want to change and make it tangible. Criminalization is causing harm.
- What can the member/rep do? Reach out and know where to go for more information? Vote against a bill? Add language to something existing? Ask questions during the amendment process? When they’re on the floor, say “sex workers” instead of “prostituted women”? The ask is the thing that they’ll write down.
- Know what your last sentence is going to be.
After the meeting. FOLLOW UP! EMAIL IMMEDIATELY! Say thank you, follow up on next steps, and pass along your contact info and anything else you promised. This is just as important as the meeting itself.
Give testimony. Bills come up all the time, and it’s hard to stay on top of them. Where do you think you can pay attention and have the most impact? When a bill becomes a law, it usually gets an open debate on the floor where citizens can come and give testimony and discuss the bill’s impact. This can be a powerful moment talk about what it will do to you and your community.