Proposition K, San Francisco, November 2008:


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Re: Progressive, Christian Right, Feminism and Alliances

This quote was from a longer article by Paul Hogarth which referred to all the San Francisco ballot measures in BeyondChron, a San Francisco online news source

"The prostitution measure has created strange alliances on both sides. Paid arguments for Proposition K come from sex workers, health professionals, progressives like the National Lawyers Guild and Harvey Milk Club – and Libertarian candidates. But the “no” side doesn’t just have conservatives like Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier or the Republican Party. Progressives like the Rev. Norman Fong and Barry Hermanson paid to oppose Prop K because it cuts funds for certain non-profits. Even feminist leader Gloria Steinem paid to oppose Prop K, because it’s a “trafficker’s dream” – and “would declare open season on women and children.”

In response to "Paid Ballot Arguments Make Voter Guide Look Like Phonebook," I want to point out that feminists have been divided on the issue of prostitution since the advent of the modern feminist movement. Although the old feminist mainstream clings to an anti-prostitution analysis, young feminists more often understand that sex work is work and support decriminalization. Feminists around the globe are also divided, with strong feminist pro-sex worker rights movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan, India and Cambodia to name a few.

There are also two camps in the anti-trafficking movement, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, with whom Steinem is aligned. CATW emphasizes a global anti-prostitution campaign and aligned is with the Bush administration on anti-trafficking policies. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is informed by the sex worker and immigrant rights movements. Their latest book, "Collateral Damage," examines the negative human rights impact of anti-trafficking policies and makes it clear that that repressive laws and strategies targeting sex workers and migrants are counter productive in the fight against trafficking.

The alliance between feminists and the fundamentalist Christian right on this issue has been well documented. Feminist leader, Gloria Steinem has been taking a severe position against sex worker rights for decades. Steinem was one of the original advocates that the definitions in federal trafficking laws should stipulate that there is no voluntary prostitution, that individuals cannot legally consent to this work.

Carol Leigh
Trafficking Policy Research Project

BAYSWAN Note: For more on these alliances see also:


Prostitution Measure ...
Aug. 21, 2008

To the Editor:
This is in response to "Paid Arguments Make Voter guide Look Like Phone Book." Paul Hogarth is surprised that "The prostitution measure has created strange alliances on both sides."
Well, I think it is not so surprising at all. A glance at any world history book will reveal a long history of the "unholy alliance," beginning with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. We are seeing this again, as the right wing has coopted the language of feminism to further its agenda. Have you noticed how the right wing talks about how we invaded Afghanistan in order to free the women from the sexist Taliban regime?

Well, a few years ago, the Bush Administration also made an unholy alliance with the SAGE Project here in San Francisco. This is the non-profit that runs the First Offender Prostitution Program. This program is based on the arrest of clients and sex workers, so it cannot continue if prostitution is decriminalized. The SAGE project signed on to an amicus brief in support of the Bush Administration's worldwide policy on prostitution. See for more info. This policy states that no organization can receive USAID if they talk about sex workers as having rights.

Barry Hermanson is on the Board of Safe House, another non-profit that has a connection with SAGE. Because the city will save money to the tune of around $11.4 million per year if the police stop enforcing the prostitution laws, there is nothing stopping SAGE from petitioning the city for that money to expand their voluntary programs for sex workers. I have personally tried to explain this to Barry Hermanson, who spoke out against this measure despite the fact that his own Green
Party did endorse Prop K.

In any case, I see Proposition K above all as a workers' rights issue. This measure will give sex workers the right to form a union to improve their working conditions. This measure will also improve the health and safety conditions for workers because it allows them to go to the authorities when they are a victim of violence, or if they see evidence of abuse or trafficking.

Of course, workers' rights and democracy for sex workers is not to easy to stomach for those who have made a cottage industry out of arresting prostitutes and clients, nor for those feminists who have the paternalistic attitude that we must arrest sex workers in order to rescue them. Isn't this the same attitude of the Bush administration when they said we needed to invade Iraq in order to bring them freedom?

Slava Osowska
Industrial Workers of the World

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