Danielle Blunt and Melissa Gira Grant started talking about bringing together sex workers, digital rights activists, journalists, and other allies the morning after the Backpage raid. We were gathered at an emergency community meeting at the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Worker Project. We were talking about our frustration about the lack of response from tech regarding FOSTA/SESTA, and how alienating it felt.
The silence from the tech community in response to SESTA/FOSTA was deafening. This silence served to further disappear an already vulnerable and isolated community. Access to online resources and advertising being threatened isn’t something that is new to the sex worker community. As long as we have been working online, our content has been policed. When we come up with work arounds and new tools, it is only a matter of time before we have to adapt again. Sites come down, and new ones pop up. In between many of us suffer as we lose access to income, our communities and to safer working tools. We been having these conversations for years, and just now is mainstream media starting to listen. We decided that it was time to infiltrate organizations with the power to shift the narrative. We spoke at Data & Society, and the Berkman-Klein Center for Cyber Law and hosted a two day event at Eyebeam. The events thrown by Hacking//Hustling are about flipping the script and centering sex workers as producers of knowledge and expertise.
When the academy cannibalises and regurgitates our content and remains silent in the face of our erasure, we demand to be heard and to be recognized and paid for our labor. The act of partnering with Eyebeam was a beautiful act of hustling. Institutions often overlook how important shifting institutional power, prestige and resources to community can be. By established institutions saying, “this is something that deserves talking about” it becomes something that IS talked about, it becomes something that can secure funding. By an institution paying community for their expertise, the expertise of the community is elevated.
Our goal is to partner with organizations that are already doing similar work. Asking and training organizations on how they can shift resources that they have access to. How can we show up in the streets, at institutions at conferences and make ourselves heard?