Archive for February 3rd, 2014

Small communities grow great through harmony, great ones fall to pieces through discord.  –  Gaius Sallustius Crispus

herding catsOrganizing sex workers is like trying to herd cats, yet somehow they manage quite well in Asia (and to a slightly lesser extent in Africa and South America).  I think it’s largely due to the fact that whores in those places recognize the seriousness of the situation, and are willing to put their petty squabbles aside to pull together against the real enemy.  In Europe (especially the UK) that’s not so true, and in the US not at all (though Canada seems to do better); white Westerners seem to be either oblivious to the danger we’re in, or else unable to understand the concept of prioritization, or else unwilling to admit that their personal hurt feelings are less important by several orders of magnitude than the cause to which they claim to be committed.  I say “claim” because every movement has its dilettantes, those who join for much the same reasons as others might join a social club; others clearly have other agendas (such as Marxism or feminism) which command their primary loyalty.  Indeed, someone recently said it seemed to her that a good fraction of sex worker rights activists might even be prohibitionists had circumstances not led to their taking up sex work before politics; I can’t say I disagree with that assessment.

Because of this, the movement in the West is regularly troubled by personal animosities which interfere with the important work we’re trying to do.  The mildest cases, which are also the most common, are those in which one activist dislikes another for reasons that have more to do with a personality clash or a difference of opinion than anything else: Activist A decides she doesn’t like B for what B has said or written rather than anything B actually did to her, and so A blocks B on Twitter, says nasty things about her to others in private, and refuses to acknowledge her work, no matter how good it is for the movement.  It’s grade-school stuff, really; there are certainly some activists I don’t get along with, but when they do noteworthy work I call attention to it just as I would if we were friends.  The cause we both support is more important than my (or anyone else’s) personal feelings.

And then there are those who take direct offense at something else has said; C says something ill-considered or stupid, D is upset by it and rather than settling the matter privately she mouths off about it on social media for all to see.  In the most extreme cases this can turn into a large and ugly brouhaha complete with the taking of sides and staggering amounts of energy completely wasted on unproductive infighting rather than responding to the plentiful attacks on sex workers in the mainstream media.  Sometimes the person on the receiving end doesn’t actually do anything to draw such wrath; it’s just that E is bigoted against some group to which F belongs, and will therefore bad-mouth him every time he speaks up.  Or, G insists on ideological purity, and will attack anyone who wanders from the party line; neither E nor G has any regard whatsoever for the damage this causes the movement, and if confronted will pontificate about her feelings rather than have a substantive discussion about her actions.

Eris by TelthonaOf course, there are cases in which the breach between the two parties is neither petty nor remediable; this is especially true when their relationship was personal rather than professional.  And though some divorces are amicable, others are anything but; if the parties to an acrimonious dispute care to take their private war public, all Hell breaks loose.  People take sides, “he said/she said” exchanges are hurled back and forth, and precious time and energy drains away while Eris laughs.  When such a thing happens, it is absolutely paramount that dedicated, mature activists refuse to take sides no matter how much pressure one or both of the parties exerts; though their struggle is certainly important to the combatants, it cannot be to anyone else who is not directly involved.  As I once wrote, “an advocate…is working not for herself but for generations yet unborn”; it is therefore both foolish and irresponsible to allow oneself to be distracted from a vital mission by personal and transitory strife, no matter how important those directly involved believe it to be.

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