Just days before the Women’s March on Washington, organizers are facing questions about their stance on the sex workers’ rights movement after a supportive statement disappeared from their platform and then reappeared after criticism.
It’s not the first issue the march has faced in its short, tumultuous planning period. Controversy first erupted over the name “Million Woman March,” which some felt exploited a march of African-American women in 1997 and the fact that organizers were all white. Since plans to begin at the Lincoln Memorial fell apart, marchers will now gather at the Capitol at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning and march down Independence Avenue.
— Kate McGrew (@LadyGrew) January 17, 2017
After public outcry after the earlier statement was removed, the phrase “We stand in solidarity with the sex workers’ rights movement” reappeared in the document, but organizers of the march made no public comment on the reasons for removing it or reinstating it.
The statement’s removal might not have drawn such scrutiny if it hadn’t been so historic to begin with.
Kate McGrew, coordinator for Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, noticed the removal first, when she went to approvingly highlight the statement. She said she was “flooded with relief” by the statement of support. “I actually cried for all of us sex workers. The feminist movement has been splintered for so long over this, I thought finally we are being recognized for what we are: women working according to our personal circumstances, often with very few resources.”
The movement to treat sex work like other occupations — fighting against the stigma and for labor protections to combat the worst aspects of the job — has only recently approached the mainstream. Even many large feminist organizations still take the more conservative approach of considering sex work a uniquely exploitative practice whose workers need to be saved and pushed to other industries. This was made clear in 2015 when an Amnesty International statement in support of decriminalizing sex work faced major pushback from celebrities and anti-sex work organizations.
US women’s history & movement folks, correct me if I’m wrong: but I’ve never seen such a statement of solidarity in my lifetime.
— Melissa Gira Grant (@melissagira) January 13, 2017
Writer and transgender rights activist Janet Mock said Tuesday that she wrote the statement in the platform.
“I cannot speak to the internal conflicts at the Women’s March that have led to the erasure of the line I wrote for our collective vision but I have been assured that the line will remain in OUR document,” she wrote.
Organizers had not replied Wednesday to a Tuesday request for comment on the matter. But McGrew said she applauded the reinstatement. “It took strength to stand up to what I am guessing was a moralistic lobby that persues eradication of sex work at all costs,” she said. “This solidarity indicates a shift, that sex workers should no longer be seen as collateral damage.”
This wasn’t the first conflict organizers of the march have faced in trying to define a platform that will appeal to the potentially hundreds of thousands of attendees expected to march Saturday.
After facing objections to an anti-abortion group called New Wave Feminists being included as a partner to the march, organizers removed it Monday and said its inclusion had been a “mistake.”
Linda Sarsour, co-chairwoman of the march clarified the organization’s position, saying, “If you want to come to the march you are coming with the understanding that you respect a woman’s right to choose.” This rankled anti-abortion groups that consider themselves feminist, and though march organizers have not backed off, some say they will still attend.
The conflicts are not surprising for a large demonstration that began spontaneously.
A woman in Hawaii named Teresa Shook, in shock after Donald Trump’s electoral victory, had an idea that there should be a march to oppose him. She created a Facebook event and invited a few friends. It went viral overnight.
Days after the march was first announced, organizers brought on several veteran activists as co-chairs, recognizing that an event of such a massive scale required help to pull things together. Honorary co-chairs like Gloria Steinem and Harry Belafonte were brought on, and sponsors like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and EMILY’s List signed on, taking the march from the grassroots to powerful progressive players.