Movement Lawyering: Challenging Narratives Around Online Laws Pertaining to Sex Work. The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, The Cyberlaw clinic and Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. July, 2020.
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What is Movement Lawyering?
Mason: Thank you all for coming. Welcome to day two of our two day series
on Movement Lawyering. Very excited today to have two incredible speakers with us.
First, we have Danielle Blunt who is a professional New York City based Dominatrix, the and Sex Worker Rights Advocate. She has her master’s in public health and researches the intersection of sex work and equitable access to tech. Blunt is one of the co-founders of Hacking//Hustling, a collective of sex workers and accomplices working at the intersection of technology and social justice formed in response to SESTA-FOSTA. Blunt is on the advisory board of Berkman Klein’s initiative for a representative first amendment,
and she enjoys redistributing money from institutions, watching her community thrive, and making men cry.
We also have Kendra Albert, who is a clinical instructor at the Cyberlaw Clinic where they teach students to practice technology law. They hold a degree from Harvard Law School
and serve on the Board of the ACLU of Massachusetts. They enjoy redistributing money from institutions, working on their solidarity practice, and making people in power uncomfortable.
So two amazing speakers. And I’m going to turn it over to Kendra to begin the first part of our discussion
Kendra Albert: Awesome. Thank you, Mason. I’m super excited to be here and be in conversation with Blunt. Building off of Asana and Yumina’s fantastic introduction to movement lawyering yesterday. Blunt and I talked about this a little bit in advance. I think what we’re kind of hoping to talk about is sort of realistically how conversations around movement lawyering style relationships might work in practice. And I’m using the example of some of our work together.
I figured we kind of start with what, I guess, I’ve been jokingly calling our organizing meet Q, which was how Blunt and I became connected and started working together. And then talk a little bit about how we think about our work and some of the stuff that we’ve done together and how that fits into the movement lawyering frame, and how there maybe other frameworks to think about it, and then what lessons we might be able to learn from some of our work together that we’re taking into the future and then maybe helpful to use. That’s my plan. Blunt, anything you want to add to that?
Blunt: No, I’m really excited to chat about this and for the opportunity to reflect this, because from my perspective, it wasn’t so much as an intentionality of seeking out movement lawyers so much as screaming into the void and Kendra responded.
Kendra Albert: Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
What role does social media play in movement work?
Blunt: Yeah. I retweeted it yesterday, but I… Hacking//Hustling was formed in response to SESTA-FOSTA. Melissa Gira Grant and I, and some other comrades put on some immediate harm reduction programming with Eyebeam. Eyebeam is an art and tech organization in Brooklyn that funds some pretty awesome work. They had recently done a panel series on women in tech, and sex work was left out of the conversation, so we invited them to continue the conversation. This was in our programming there, which then turned into the organization that Hacking//Hustling is.
While we were organizing against FOSTA-SESTA, we were met with this sort of deafening silence from the tech community, from tech lawyers, from just about everyone other than sex workers and very few allies. I was researching content moderation and doing as much research as I could because people who I expected to be having these conversations weren’t. I was reading custodians of the internet and saw that Tarleton was giving a talk at, I think, Berkman Klein. And Kendra just happened to be moderating that conversation.
I raised my hand on Twitter and tweeted. I didn’t even tweet at you. It’s just something we were discussing. But I tweeted at Berkman Klein and Tarleton asking about how you can write a book on content moderation and have a whole chapter on section 2-30 and not ever mentioned FOSTA-SESTA. Kendra, do you want to sort of talk a little bit about what your response was?
Kendra Albert: Yeah, sure. I think I asked the question to Tarleton at the session. A little bit of backstory prior to where sort of that moment was that sex worker rights issues were something I’d been sort of paying attention to kind of in the background for a while. I’d read Melissa Gira Grant, Playing the Whore, which is an excellent book for folks who haven’t read it. And sort of have been roughly following some of the aftermath of FOSTA-SESTA and the things that had happened with the organizing before. Mostly, I think through the lens of EFF sort of talking about sex workers and working with sex workers a little bit in their organizing against FOSTA-SESTA. It came time to ask that question, and so I asked the question and I don’t really remember what Tarleton’s response was.
But then afterwards I sort of reached out to Blunt on Twitter and found the thread and was like, “Hey, I hope I asked it okay. I didn’t see you.” There was a longer bit that Blunt had screen-shoted
Blunt: It was very verbose.
Kendra Albert: Yeah. And I don’t think I asked quite that. I think I just literally was like, “So what about FOSTA-SESTA?” Right? But happy to talk more. And so then we ended up, I think, having a phone call where I got to hear more about what Hacking//Hustling had been doing. And I actually had tried to tune into the Ibeam event, but I hadn’t been quite able to hear it.
We started talking about what next steps look liked or felt like for Hacking//Hustling and how maybe I could be useful. And I think one thing to note about those initial conversations is I think I was very much approaching them from a lawyer frame. Not necessarily that I would take Hacking//Hustling on as a client, but my expertise is as a lawyer. What I’m bringing to this is my ability to interpret FOSTA-SESTA. Or my ability to sort of do legal reasoning or whatever. And that wasn’t exactly what you were looking for from me. Can you tell me more, tell us more about that?
Blunt: Sure. Yeah. We’ve been just sort of very frustrated in trying to get a response. And I also want to note that your initial response to me made me very excited to pursue working together, having conversations together, because your response was something like, “Yes, this is really exciting for me. I’ve been really interested in thinking about FOSTA-SESTA but didn’t want to do that without input from sex workers.” And I was like, “Great. Like an ally. Great, amazing.”
And so we sort of took it from there. I think we had a phone conversation and then you invited myself and a few other sex workers to Berkman Klein to have a conversation. And what I also remember about that conversation is that it was a group of folks who have access to those institutional spaces who benefit from the privileges of being employed by, or going to Harvard, sitting in a room listening to three sex workers sort of scream about how horrible this legislation was and what our fears were and what we were experiencing in community.
Reflecting on that, it very much was in alignment with the work that Hacking//Hustling had been doing, where people who have power in institutions give that power to, are being put in a situation where they first have to listen to the communities who are impacted and who they’re purporting to serve.
That meeting to me followed the same sort of way that we planned our initial programming at Hacking//Hustling at Eyebeam, which was the first day was a panel of sex workers talking about their experiences with navigating online spaces, losing access to these online spaces. And then it wasfollowed up by a day of… We actually found T for Tech, a trans led organization providing harm reduction materials who also had sex working teachers to give the harm reduction, digital security trainings, which was actually very cool. Yeah. It was really amazing that our first time… My first time entering the Berkman Klein space was people were really interested in listening before moving into brainstorming solutions.
Kendra Albert: Yeah. And I think one thing to flag there is we also did sort of think about what were the next steps and brainstorm solutions. And there were a couple of different things that came out of even that meeting. I think there were sort of a harm reduction seen on understanding financial systems and how platforms track you, with an eye towards reducing the chances that folks weren’t getting their financial accounts shut down, because that’s something that happens, for folks who aren’t aware, to sex workers all the time. And then also we drafted, actually with the clinics, some clinic students, models that are sent to a platform that sort of deleted your account because there was sexual content on it.
Not that that held any particular legal weight. There’s no legal claim you can bring. But just in terms of having access to a draft or a template letter that’s in lawyer language, that was something we worked on. What I remember about that first meeting is I was really nervous because I was really worried that it wasn’t going to be useful or whatever. And that I went and bought very fancy donuts because-
Blunt: I remember the donuts.
Kendra Albert: I wanted to suggest that y’all were worthy of very fancy donuts, and that my colleagues in the clinic, including Nathan and Adam Nagy and many other wonderful folks helped me carry all the coffee equipment upstairs because I felt very strongly that it should be hospitable. I don’t know. My relationship to my Judaism is questionable at best, but the Jewish mother instinct that like, “I will make sure you get the appropriate fancy food.” Is strong, right?
Kendra Albert: So yeah. And then I think one of the things that we worked on from there actually was something that came to fruition yesterday, which was, as I started prepping for this conversation, because one of the things I also wanted to do was talk a little bit about the legal context of FOSTA, again, because that’s where I kind of felt comfortable. I sort of realized that nobody had really written a ton on it, and it wasn’t really clear what it did.
I sort of did some analysis, but was also like, “This is vastly incomplete.” And we ended up, along with Hacking//Hustling comrade, Lorelei Lee, sort of working with the Cornell Gender Justice clinic to sort of produce this very long form guide. Every time we thought we were done, it grew three sizes, so it’s 87 pages. It’s on [SSRM 00:12:05]. I tweeted it yesterday.
In some ways, it’s not a great example of movement lawyering because it’s not really community. But on the other hand, it is in response to a need that we sort of identified together, which was the lack of ability to really understand what FOSTA was doing and to be able to point people to things.
Blunt: I also want to backtrack just a little bit about framing that as an act of movement lawyering, because it was addressing the needs of the community, I think better preparing other lawyers to have the conversation. It was impossible to find a lawyer after FOSTA-SESTA was signed into law to give a “know your rights” training, because no one knew what the law did or no one understood the law. I think that that did meet a need, as well as while… What I think you’re not giving yourself credit for there is, what we also did was we provided a brief, a little card that could be handed out to street-based workers who were interested in knowing what FOSTA-SESTA was. There was also educational components.
Kendra Albert:That’s fair. Yeah. I do think, in some ways, it was the analysis we needed to do a lot of the community- based work, even if it isn’t directly accessible to community. And I think that’s fair. I’m wondering if we want to talk a little bit about the event, the bigger event that we did and that process, and then maybe we can sort of migrate towards talking a little bit about how we think about movement lawyering as a term or to describe what we’re talking about, or other lessons we’ve learned.
Blunt: Yeah. Something that Hacking//Hustling is interested in is moving these conversations about how sex workers utilize technology and the ways that sex workers are harmed by the same technologies that they need to use to survive and stay in touch with community, make money, and to organize, and to fight legislation like FOSTA-SESTA, and to fight legislation like EARN II. We want to be these conversations primarily by and for community, but something that is also very important to me into the work that Hacking//Hustling does, is that these conversations are also being had at spaces who have institutional power.
Blunt: And I think that people who their MO is already operating within those spaces of institutional power, often overlook how much can come from attaching movement work to a name. There are definitely pros and cons to this, but if my organization collaborates with Berkman Klein or has Berkman Klein’s name on something, which we’ll talk more about later, that then allows the work that we’ve been doing to be seen as the Academy, as worthy of putting two years of resources to you and then collaborating with Cornell to create the legal document that we needed and served a need of the community
Kendra Albert: I note that Tim in the Q&A has been like, “Kendra said they talk about how they screwed up, and I haven’t heard about that yet.” This is perfect. I’m so glad you asked that, Tim, because actually what Blunt just said about not understanding how powerful these institutions are is like conveners and legitimizers of work was something I didn’t understand before I started working with Blunt.
I think when I started working with Blunt, I didn’t really understand why Hacking//Hustling was really so invested in throwing an event at Harvard. And this actually led to a really interesting news communication, which I’m going to talk about for a second, which was I felt really… Even before I started working with Blunt super formerly, I felt strongly about making sure folks got paid. And I feel way more strongly about that now as anyone who is working with me knows, or has worked with me knows.
Kendra Albert: I ran into a lot of barriers around getting Hacking//Hustling folks paid when we were trying to put on an event at Harvard. And it made me really uncomfortable because I felt weird going to Blunt and saying, “I can’t pay you.” Because I understand how important getting money for this kind of work is.
I think basically what I did was stop responding to email for three weeks, out of shame. Finally, I think we finally got on the phone and I was like, “Look, I’ve tried and I just don’t know how to pay you.” Like, “I cannot pay you what this work is worth. Do you want to cancel?” Blunt, do you want to talk about what you said?
Blunt: Yeah. I was trying to parse that because I was like, “Canceling wasn’t on my mind.” First of all, we do this shit for free all the fucking time, and that’s fucked up. But also I want to call out that for the first year, Hacking//Hustling was 100% funded through our main organizers direct labor in the sex trades and through a client donation that went through a 501(c)(3). I frame sort of all of my work as hustling, so when we’re having this conversation about movement lawyering, I’m like, “Oh, like hustling academic institutions to shift their power? I can talk about that.” Since we had that client donation, Hacking//Hustling was able to then… Which we had done with Eyebeam as well, is Eyebeam was able to find X amount of money and where we felt people should be paid more for their labor, we were able to fill in the rest, which is sort of what we also did with the event that we put on with Berkman Klein.
But it wasn’t just the access to the financial resources that Harvard has, which they do have, it was just very difficult to find them for this purpose. We were able to pay people through the work that our main organizers were doing in the sex trades, and we pay people fairly well. I was like, “Don’t worry. We hustle in other spaces too. We’ve got this covered.”
Having this event take place at Harvard is something that would get press coverage in a way that it wouldn’t normally, is something that will bring these ideas and this community’s expertise to people who don’t normally have access to that. There were a few things that came from that. I don’t know if you want to talk about a little bit of the internal process of organizing that and the work with Whose Corner and what came from it.
Kendra Albert: Yeah. I think that through that event, I got introduced to the folks at Whose Corner, anyway, which is a sex worker focused, street sex workers, homeless and drug user focused mutual aid org out in Western Mass. There are some of the stuff where they needed not necessarily legal advice, but sort of counseling that had to do with law stuff.
I ended up working with them on that. And then it turned out that they had this need where what they were looking for was record ceiling for a number of their members who had prior felonies or misdemeanors on their records. And that was the thing where actually I think… This is the point at which I feel I maybe crossed the threshold into movement lawyer, where I was like, “Oh, I could learn how to do that. I can find somebody to do that.” Not that that can’t be that hard because yeah, it’s hard work and it’s real, but the fact that this is not my core area of expertise and the work that I studied in law school, doesn’t mean that that need is not real and it’s not important to folks I’m in community with. If the need is real and the work is important to folks I’m in community with and it’s in my capacity, then that’s a thing that I should be doing.
That project actually got put on hold because of the pandemic, but we were working with them to figure out everything from where can we get a photocopier? When we’re in Holyoke Mass, notarizing all this paperwork, right? That was the thing. And I think that that felt really good because this is a community… Whose Corner Is It Anyway is an amazing group of folks doing really, really fantastic work. I got to know them because Blunt and Red, who organized the Hacking//Hustling event on Thursday, Blunt is probably about to hustle by putting their link in the chat and I’m here for it, said, “We don’t want this to just be sex workers who work primarily online in terms of who has access to the space. And we want to hear different sets of concerns, different folks, different views on sex work and surveillance.” They knew the Whose Corner folks, and Whose Corner folks were able to come because they were paid through the acts of Hacking//Hustling. I think that’s super important.
Blunt: Yeah. I was going to say, and also, I think with the work of Hacking//Hustling is also sort of… It’s bridging gaps between communities and institution, bridging gaps between who is funded for their labor and who is not. Who is speaking on behalf of themselves and who’s speaking… I think there’s a very big difference between inviting me to have this conversation with you, Kendra, or you then telling this as a story, as if I’m not a person who is also involved in this work.
We thought that it was incredibly important to also have the perspective of our incarcerated comrades and had my comrade Red called up Alicia Walker, who I’ll also drop the GoFundMe in the link in a second, who is an incarcerated survivor of gender-based violence, who’s currently locked up in Chicago in the middle of a pandemic. But she was able to call in, and I think that was the most moving part of the conference that we put on. For me, it was hearing the process that Red goes through to… I feel a lot of people just maybe haven’t called folks who are incarcerated. And hearing that process, or not knowing if we would actually be able to get in touch with Lily to hear what she wanted to say and what she wanted to share with folks. And I think that that was my favorite part. And I think broadening the conception of what is technology and how does technology affect and impact people was also a very important part of that project.
Kendra Albert:Yeah. Do we want to talk a little bit about movement lawyering as hustling, which Blunt came up before this call and I love it. I’m going to let her talk about it for a little, and then I can talk about my sort of relation to you and reaction to it.
Blunt:Yeah. When you asked me to have a conversation with you about movement lawyering, I was like, “I don’t know anything about movement lawyering.” I also think that this conversation is interesting because it’s bringing to light a lot of work that we were both doing internally. I didn’t know some of the fears or hesitations that maybe you had that you’re talking about now. Like I said in the beginning, it wasn’t my intention to put on this programming at Harvard when I reached out to you. I was literally screaming into a void. You were one of the only people who responded in a way that made me feel comfortable with engaging with you.
I thought of all of my work as an act of hustling, whether or not it’s directly with my labor in the sex trades. All of my work is currently funded by my direct labor in the sex trades. And this was somethingthat I believe it was… Yumina mentioned on the last call that her work is largely funded through the corporate law that she does. And I’m like, “Oh, I know something about that.” I know something about finding alternate ways of funding work that is traditionally unpaid. And so much of sex worker organizing is unpaid.
My work comes out of a space of harm reduction care coordination, which I frame as hustling fucked up systems that were never meant to make work in the first place for beautiful people that I care deeply about. And trying to bridge that gap of service for sex working people who are trying to access healthcare. And so when it moved into more of a space of tech, I saw gap that needed to be bridged as these spaces with institutional support and power. And so I just truly think of movement lawyering as how can I hustle lawyers and people with access to institutional power to have the conversations that I want them to be having and encourage them to do that.
I just want to note that frame of how you serve, how you get these institutions that were never meant to take care of folks, to take care of folks better, is one that I really love and I think is really beautiful. And I think it also speaks to things that I think about in my work. And I think that’s a point of commonality between us.
Yeah. I think I often make this joke that Blunt taught me how to hustle, and it’s totally true. I know that there are some folks on this call who have benefited from my advice about how to get paid, I don’t know where you are in the [crosstalk 00:27:51]-
I love teaching people how to hustle.
Institutions often make us feel we should be grateful for whatever we get. What I’ve learned from working with Blunt is just like, “No, ask for more.” Right? Often our relationship to asking and sort of pushing is that a lot of us who have had access to these spaces are afraid because maybe our access will get taken away or maybe someone will get annoyed at us. For me, I think what I’ve learned in some of our work together is that pales in comparison to the harms that our people are experiencing. And that the people I care about and who I am in community with are experiencing. And so it’s my fucking job to be able to be like, “Okay, does this make you a little bit uncomfortable when I ask for this thing? I’m sorry.” But actually the people who need it, need it.
I don’t think I had that frame or that understanding before I started doing work in community, because I think that it’s really easy, especially as a lawyer, where you’re kind of role constrained. The whole point of certain forms of lawyering is to sort of put a barrier between you and the client, to separate you from the client in terms of their emotional needs or their material needs. I think Massachusetts maybe just allowed for lawyers to occasionally pay for food for their clients. I have friends who are public defenders and often they can’t actually pay for a sandwich for their client who’s really hungry because that’s a violation of the ethical rules.
That kind of relationality is such a big part of actually working together rather than sort of standing up and telling the trauma story in order to serve some greater political point. And I also think, for me, the other thing I’ll say about it is it’s really changed the way I think about scholarship.
I don’t produce a lot of traditional legal scholarship. It’s just not really my bag. And I think part of that is because obviously I have opinions, and plenty of opinions, on how things should be. But in some ways, many of the subjects I’m most expert on, I’m most interested in doing work for clients or sort of community work because what I think about what should happen, doesn’t feel that meaningful. Right?
I was talking to a staffer, legislative staffer, for a Senator about 2-30 reform. They were like, “What do you think?” And I’m like, “I don’t know how to answer that question.” What I said was the Hacking//Hustling party line from our last press release of like, “Here are the five things that we’re thinking about.” Right? Because Blunt taught me how to hustle, I’m not that much of an idiot.
The relationship of academics and of lawyers of this idea of our personal beliefs are what should inform our work rather than like, “Oh, actually, what are the community of folks that I work with? What I need out of this moment from me.”
Yeah. I’m thinking back to a lot of when there was just infinite programming and infinite bills about 2-30. No one was talking about the communities that would be impacted about it. Everyone was talking about platform liability. And I’m like, “People are literally dying because of this legislation. They need to be at the front and the center of these conversations and not added on as an afterthought.”
If the work isn’t centering the people who are literally feeling it. Platforms are not people, people are people, and we need to listen to humans who are impacted by these policies. And I think there’s this difference. I’m thinking of it of like movement lawyering versus savior fetishism, and how different those power dynamics need to be so that you’re not causing harm by telling someone’s story as if it’s your own, that you as a lawyer then don’t own that story and then build a brand around that.
Yeah. Part of it is also, I think, something Asana said yesterday about who’s the expert, right? Now, having worked with Hacking//Hustling and Blunt for a while, I’m not an expert very much of the stuff we talk about. Yeah, I maybe know more about 2-30 than some of the other folks we talk to, or that are in our conversations, but I, even as a lawyer or as a lawyer have so much to learn about movement work, about organizing, about sex workers, about folks lives and where they’re at and how I can be helpful. I think that’s really humbling, but also I think as someone who likes to learn new things, it’s really just Even since we’ve been in the pandemic, there’s now a group chat that at times has been very active.
And just feeling close to and in community with folks in terms of being like, “Okay, this is who I talk to everyday.” And I think at this point often talk every day. Just thinking about it, Lisa is like, “Oh, this is my movement lawyering work.” And we’re like, “Oh, this is who I talk to, who I work with, who hears me, who watches me drink too much Rose on Zoom and then not finish the book club book, that kind of thing. There’s another thing I screwed up, Tim. I didn’t finish the book club book. To be fair, nobody else did it.
Anyway. Before we sort of open up for questions, because we’re sort of nearing, we’re a little more than halfway through, anything else you want to add? I know we talked a little bit about your view about sort of institution…
Blunt: Yeah, I think one thing that we talk a lot about, and that I think that this conversation help facilitate is that a lawyer who is doing movement work doesn’t necessarily represent the institution that they work for or the beliefs of that institution. I remember having a conversation with you about how important it felt to have a Harvard affiliation of some of the programming that Hacking//Hustling has done. And how that will literally help us get grants to fund the unpaid labor that we’re doing. And you were like, “That happened because I put…” The internal work that a movement lawyer is doing within their institution doesn’t reflect the values or the principles of that institution necessarily.
Berkman Klein or Harvard might be happy to have me on this panel or have Kendra pushed to have this really radical conference and give us space and a little bit of money, but I, as an actively sex working woman, who’s naked on the internet, not going to get a fellowship from Berkman Klein or from other institutions like that. And I think that that’s something that’s become really… Frankie is mad. That’s something that has become more and more apparent to me of what are the ways that my privilege allows me to move in and out of these academic spaces, and how can I create a bridge for other folks to come with me? And then what are the barriers that I may be blind to because of my ability to sort of move through those spaces that actually hinder me from moving forward.
Blunt: What I’m also interested in, or talking about is like Kendra is awesome and a great accomplice, and is consistently inviting me into those spaces in a way that allows me to have these conversations publicly, but also gives me more options in the work that I do and the choices that I make and will ideally, hopefully, eventually end in funding. I can’t overlook that enough of what it looks to be invited into a space which is valuing my expertise and my experience as well as providing me with opportunities to move further into those spaces without that person.
Kendra Albert: Yeah. I think that’s so important because I think that what you don’t want is the movement lawyer to always end up as the gatekeeper who is like, “Oh, you only get access to these spaces through me.” That’s a really shitty dynamic. I will have succeeded when Hacking//Hustling throws a conference at an Ivy league institution and I have literally nothing to do with it. And actually I will have succeeded when we’ve abolished prisons and sex work is decriminalized and lots of other stuff. But in terms of short term movement goals.
Kendra Albert: But yeah. I see Asana threw a question in our chat. I’m going to take that first. And then if they have questions for either of us in the Q&A, we would really love to hear them. Or just topics you’d like us to talk more about. That also works.
Kendra Albert: Someone asks if we could discuss the notion of recruiting and creating more movement lawyers and how you’ve been successful/unsuccessful in doing it.
It’s up with a hard question because I actually don’t think we’ve spent a ton of time. Well, I was going to say and that’s not true. We haven’t necessarily explicitly set it as a goal, but I think I’ve watched Blunt sort of worked with bringing law students into these conversations. I think one tricky thing I will flag and then I’ll let Blunt sort of react as well, is that there are ways in which my positioning at a technology law clinic is really ideal for the work that we’re doing., because that’s consistent often with some of the needs that Hacking//Hustling has in terms of subject matter. But often, folks who go into a technology clinic are not necessarily always the most motivated by social justice or have the background in sex worker issues.
If I worked at a gender justice clinic like the one at Cornell, it might be easier for me to attract students who are really invested in doing work that serve sex workers and sort of ready to do movement lawyering. There are many things I love about my current position, but I definitely don’t feel the majority of students I work with their dream is to become a movement lawyer. Maybe I’m just pushing them a little bit further towards doing public interest work, even if I’m not sort of being like, “Movement lawyering, that’s the paradigm.”
I also think I’m still learning how to do it. There is definitely like, “Oh, you can totally teach while you’re learning things.” But some of the work we do feels really high stakes, and I don’t want to harm people. And I think for me that sometimes I think lets with me to be more cautious about including folks I don’t know super well in it. I’m so grateful for the trust that folks place in me and the conversations that I get to be a part of, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the people who have trusted me in that way.
Blunt: It’s so interesting to me because it’s not like I was intentionally seeking out movement lawyers when Kendra and I began our working relationship. That it wasn’t an intentional process so much as one that evolves, which I think is also a really interesting framework for just being in contact with community, I think is a helpful way to push people and recruit movement lawyers.
I think that the folks, the law students who came to the Hacking//Hustling event that we put on at Harvard, would not have gotten that type of education and heard the expertise of the communities that they may or may not be working with without that.:
The other thing that I think about is also really important is, we’re talking about our relationship of a sex working person and someone who’s working at a tech law clinic. I’m currently shadowbanned online and at constant risk of being de-platformed. And when I think about Kendra and my relationship, I think about, what would have happened if I did not have access to Twitter and I could not have asked that question? It’s something that comes up a lot for me.
I think fighting against bills like the EARN IT Act and fighting against bills like FOSTA-SESTA because not only does it like… These laws have killed people and people have died because of these laws. And they also de-stabilize movement work and de-stabilize our ability to be present online and speak for ourselves. When I think about this, I think it’s all so related to me, of fighting for things that allows me to have the same access to online spaces as my non-sex working peers do, as part of that work. Because if these communities disappear from online, how are you going to get in touch with them? Especially in the middle of the pandemic.
It’s just another layer that invisibilizes and decreases the power of a community when people are banned from these spaces. Yeah, I think it’s just a matter of inviting community in to educate you. And this is also something that I did as my job at Persist Health Project, which serves sex working people in New York state accessing healthcare.
One of my jobs was providing best practice trainings for doctors and med school students. Hacking//Hustling also provides best practice trainings for people in the Academy who are interested in bettering their sex worker competency. Something that came out of that when I was teaching of like taught those classes that all the major New York city teaching hospitals and the med students were like, “This hour and a half is the most that we’ve ever talked about sex in our entire three years of med school so far.” That was a feedback that I found really interesting.
Mason Kortz: Yeah. I was just going to jump in and once again ask, anyone who has questions, please feel free to ask them. First of all, thank you. This has just been really incredible and it’s really inspiring hearing both of you speak every time I interact with you. One question I wanted to dig a little deeper into is, Blunt, you specifically mentioned bringing in different members of the sex working community who have different needs, who are affected in different ways by the same policy changes. And that’s something that as I’ve kind of started to learn about movement lawyering was one of the first things that I really became aware of.
Mason Kortz: Communities that often look or are represented as being monolithic from the outside, once you begin interacting with them, or not, and people have different interests and what may be helpful to one person could be harmful to another. I was just wondering if the two of you could speak a little bit more about navigating that and the experience of making sure that the communities you’re working with are not reduced to those people who have the most access or the most voice.
Blunt: Yeah. The work of Hacking//Hustling is I’m sort of starting to conceptualize it as threefold of tech law policy that affects how we interact with these online spaces, what happens when we lose access to those online spaces, and making sure that we’re providing harm reduction resources for our street working comrades, that we’re also figuring out what the tech needs of folks who are trading sex on the street are, as well as being in touch with our incarcerated comrades.
That’s sort of how I’ve been conceptualizing the work that we’ve been doing. And I’m always interested in also learning more and how to do better and to make sure that I’m not speaking over other people or I’m not providing… The Hacking//Hustling isn’t providing resources to people of what we think people should be learning, but rather what people actually need. And meeting the needs of community by not assuming them.
Kendra Albert: I think that makes a ton of sense. And the thing I want to just add is, Blunt said a lot of nice things about me, which is very kind, but I think one thing that I don’t want to lose track of is how amazing Hacking//Hustling is, and Blunt is specifically, at making sure that we’re not just hearing from the sex workers with the most privilege. One of the terms I learned for the first time at the Hacking//Hustling commuting last November… Oh my God, eternity ago, right? Was the term whorearchy, which was just this idea that within sex work and sex worker, Jason Fields and Blunt, please correct me if I fuck this up. There are inherent hierarchies about how folks interact.
I didn’t know that when I started working with Blunt. To Blunt’s credit, she knew that. She had thought about, how do we bring in different folks? How do we be making sure that Hacking//Hustling isn’t just the folks talking about SESTA-FOSTA online but also serving the needs of street-based sex workers.
I also think how you might show up for folks really does vary based on what their needs are. Obviously. I mean, that sounds obvious when I say it, but just to be very clear. Which is that if Hacking//Hustling might need a bill analysis, that’s something I can do. Some of our street-based comrades might need money. They don’t need legal advice, they just need money so they can pay rent, right?
Blunt: Or a letter from their PO officers so they can come speak at Harvard.
Kendra Albert: Yeah. Being willing to show up in different ways and thinking about… I think if you’d asked me six years ago, I may be like, “Well, maybe I’m a little uncomfortable giving money to these folks I also work with because this is going to reduce me to my money.” And now I’m like, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Actually, I was being interviewed for something, where it was for a nonprofit. They were like, “We want to be one of the primary places you donate.” And in all seriousness, to this folks of nonprofits, I was like, “Actually, I don’t really give too many nonprofits anymore. Most of my giving is to sex worker mutual aid funds.” They just kind of looked at me and I was like, “Oh, is that not…” And that now just feels like a natural extension of this work, and being in community with folks and showing up for them. And that can mean bill analysis and it can also mean money. That, it feels important to me.
Blunt: I think something that was very interesting about the work that Hacking//Hustling has done is we conduct very casual needs assessments before putting on programming to sort of assess that what we think folks need is accurate. And if it’s not, where do we fill in the gaps? As well as when we were conducting our research on FOSTA-SESTA, which I also want to point out that the only actual research that exists on the impacts of FOSTA-SESTA have been done by sex workers. I think there are two or three reports, one which was done by Hacking//Hustling.
When we did the research on Hacking//Hustling, we distributed it primarily online, so that means that it’s only accessible to folks who have access to the internet. We also partnered with Whose Corner Is It Anyways, the really amazing organization that Kendra was talking about early in Western Mass, to do the survey with their community at one of their meetings.
I learned a lot about that practice because I worked really… We hired and paid Naomi to modify the surveys so that it was both accessible to the community using the language that that community uses. And also we added on 40 questions for them that they were just interested in for grant purposes. We had the questions that were the same so that we would analyze it and then also then just gave them all of the raw data so that they can do whatever the fuck they want with it. That data is theirs to use to hopefully help them get more money and be used for grants.
What’s something that’s so interesting that came out of that is that folks who are working on the street have no fucking idea what FOSTA-SESTA is. What they did say is that they noticed… On their small stroll in Western Mass, they noticed 10 to 15 more street-based workers hanging around and had heard about FOSTA-SESTA from them. I think that it helped contextualize the research in a way that FOSTA- SESTA pushes people into unsafe working conditions, but people who did not have access to those safer working conditions in the first place didn’t know what FOSTA-SESTA was.
What are good resources for sex work 101?
Mason Kortz: We have three questions in the queue. I’m going to read them out loud for people who are watching this after the fact. First one from Rom. Two-part question, how can technologists amplify cause, and what is your favorite resource about sex work 101 for non-sex workers?
Blunt: Sure. I think Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing the Whore is an excellent book, as well as Revolting Prostitutes, are the two books that I would recommend diving into first. I would also suggest following sex workers and sex worker organizations online to see what they’re talking about and being in internet space community with folks. Because I think often our social media followings are so siloed that we don’t see this and don’t see how the communities who are directly impacted are responding. And also because the platform is literally erasing people from it, is also part of the problem. So being intentional about making that you’re seeing community responses too.
Kendra Albert: Can I just add something to that Blunt? Is that okay? I think that one, Rom you asked, how can technologists amplify this cause? And I think there are maybe two things I want to flag. I think one of the lessons I’ve learned as a lawyer in this space is actually letting go of my identity as a lawyer and just being, “What are the other capabilities that I have?” I have a Twitter account with probably mostly followers who are in tech policy. I have access to institutional spaces, right? Literally physical spaces at Harvard in non-pandemic times, and Zoom spaces at Harvard in pandemic times. Or access to other kinds of resources.
One question I would ask first is, how do I let go of my professional identity in doing this work? And just show up as a person who wants to help. And then I think it can be helpful to also, as you sort of get to understand people’s experience better through doing the one-on-one work and through showing up as a person, then think about, okay, how can I show up as a technologist? What’s going on there. That feels like a sort of part of the answer to me as well. Blunt, you want to add anything?
Blunt: No, I’m just echoing that. It’s like when so many sex workers are shadowbanned. Melissa Gira Grant was trying to @ me in something the other day and couldn’t find me because I’m name suggestion banned. She literally couldn’t find my account to tag in a post. And like with the Berkman Klein, I’m not tagged in any of those posts. I’m not sure if it was just for typing my name because people literally couldn’t find my name to add.
I think thinking about how sex workers do not have access to these same tools that people take for granted, both academic power as well as the ability to be seen on social media, is part of that. Someone’s asking a question, which I feel is somewhat related. Can you address how platforms especially payment processors fear of processing money related to sex work affect these direct giving efforts?
I’m going to drop a link right here that we put together on account shutdowns and a harm reduction guide, which I think is interesting and helpful, about understanding internally the way that this oftentimes network shutdown of sex worker, financial processes happen. And right now Hacking//Hustling is conducting research on content moderation in response to the police violence against black folks as well as the intersection between sex worker and activist, because a lot of activism is actually funded by folks direct labor in the sex trade, because it is oftentimes unpaid labor.
One thing that we’re finding in one of the common themes, is how sex workers losing access to financial technologies disrupts movement work. Is one thing that we’re focusing on. And our ability to provide mutual aid to each other, especially in a pandemic where we’re not allowed to just… We’re not as able to just hand people cash, which is how we pay people at the first Hacking//Hustling event. It was just handing people cash before they spoke, which felt very important because sex workers always get paid before rendering a service ideally.
None of us have access to the same financial technologies. It’s really difficult to move money in a community whenever… I’ve lost access to three or four different financial services. And when we were paying folks for the Hacking//Hustling event, it was coming out of my personal account and then being reimbursed. I had to use four different payment processors in order to be able to provide everyone with stipends that… Yeah. I think people just also overlook how impactful it can be to provide someone with money who needs money to give them that money. That is a hugely radical act that is very effective.
Kendra Albert: Yeah. And I think the other thing I’ll say there is my experience of some of this from the Harvard side is the institutions often have no ability to meaningfully assess risks to folks when they’re paying them. The wallet name that you have that you need to get paid under maybe very different than the name you organize under or appear under as a sex worker. And so if you appear at an institution and they need you to be one honorarium, but it has to go to the wallet name rather than the name you work under, even though the name you work under is the name you spoke under, that’s a point of connection between two identities that you may not want to connect it as a sex worker.
Sometimes, as someone who works at the institution, part of my job is trying to navigate that, right? Being like, “Okay…” Blunt, can I talk about the Case Western thing? Okay. We were on a panel together at Case Western and they were like, “Oh, we want to pay you.” Which was great. But then it was like, “Oh, we need you to fill out this W-9 or whatever.” And it’s all this personal information that Blunt didn’t necessarily want to give. What we did was it was like, “Just pay Kendra and Kendra will pass along the money.” Right?
And that works because we have a pretty close relationship where that was something that I think we both thought that was going to work fine in terms of trust. Some institutions would definitely not do that, right?
To your point, to Brianna’s question about sort of the way in which account shutdowns and financial shutdowns affect folks. I think institutions often take for granted access to financial infrastructure, whether it’s certain kinds of bank accounts under whichever name or Venmo or PayPal, or even if it’s stuff like paying folks two months after an event, or reimbursing people. That’s something that institutions often take for granted and people don’t have a lot of space to be like, “This is not cool and this doesn’t work for me.” Yeah.
Blunt: Yeah. No. Truly. Something I think that everyone in academia could learn is to pay people before they render a service. It’s just mind boggling to me that this is not common practice. But asking a marginalized community member for legally revealing information about them without understanding how that could expose them to potential harm, I think it’s something that definitely needs to be considered as well as how quickly are they getting those funds.
Blunt: I will often pay people either before or right after something ends with a direct transfer that lands directly in their accounts so they have access to that money the same day or the next day when it is processed. When I have had to postpone events, I have offered to pay people upfront when the event was supposed to occur in case people were relying on that payment to get through the month.
Kendra Albert: Yeah. I know we’re at 2:00 PM and I see there’s a couple of questions left, but I guess we want to sort of wrap up. Blunt, are there any other thoughts you want to share or things you want to say?
Blunt: I mean, I’m just really excited for the opportunity to have this conversation and sort of reflect on our relationship because I feel we were both doing a lot of invisible work or work that also I wasn’t super aware that I was doing just by it being radical, just asking for access to these spaces. I was just like, “I’m just trying to bridge these gaps.” It’s really interesting to sort of deconstruct the power dynamics in our relationship as well as what we’ve both learned from working with each other. Thank you for taking the time to invite me here to have this conversation.
Kendra Albert: The best way to ever have conversations is by force in front of a whole bunch of Zoom attendees. No. The feeling is so mutual. I hope it’s clear to everyone attending, and I actually say this all the time, how much I’ve learned from working with Blunt and how grateful I am to be in community with her and the many other folks you work with.
Kendra Albert: I think movement lawyering can feel kind of abstract. And I think for me, I guess the takeaway I would just offer is that it felt so natural. Obviously, I’m getting to learn a ton, and obviously if I’m working with sex workers and their lives and livelihoods and community is on the line, they’re calling the shots. Obviously, I need to let go of some of my own ego around this stuff and get over it
I think that in some ways, as Blunt said, movement lawyering is a framework I came to apply after the facts to the things that I was already doing, because they were what felt right at the time and felt responsive to the needs of our relationship and the folks we work with. And so as y’all go out into doing your work, whether it’s movement lawyering or other kinds of movement work, I wish you some of the same ease, I guess, of finding folks who you click with and who you can grow together with. Mason, I know we need to mention our sponsors, so I’ll stop there.
Mason Kortz: Thank you. And again, let me just echo, thank you both of you for giving us so much to think about and to bring back to our work. I want to also just say thank you to Asana and Yumina for their amazing presentation yesterday. I think between the two days we have stuff that we can take back and reflect on and hopefully really improve the way we all do our own tasks.
Apologies to those questions that we didn’t get to. And thank you to all the attendees for coming. And finally, thank you to our sponsors, to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society for providing the infrastructure to have this talk, and to the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono programs for helping us make sure that our panelists get paid.
Thank you all for coming. Welcome to day two of our two day series on movement lawyering. Very excited today to have two incredible speakers with us. First, we have Danielle Blunt, who is a professional New York City based dominatrix and sex worker rights advocate. She has her master’s in public health and researches the intersection of sex work and equitable access to tech.