by Furry Girl
One of my readers sent me Sun Tzu's classic book The Art of War, and I thought I would quote and comment on certain passages that I'd consider relevant to sex workers' rights activists. For those unfamiliar with the small public domain book, it's considered the instruction manual on warfare strategy, written about 2200 years ago by a Chinese general, and still used today. You've no doubt seen quotes from it before, even if you didn't recognize them as such, and you can read more about its history on Wikipedia. Below are some snippets I especially liked, and comments on how they apply to us.
The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.
This is a blanket critique I have of a lot of activism: people focus on the acting bit without really gaming out whether what they're doing is likely to be effective, or how it fits into a long-term strategy. Yes, action is necessary, and exciting, and makes you "feel activisty," but when it's done without a plan, it's wasting valuable time and energy that could be spent on a targeted project.
Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's own.
I've given a lot of thought to this concept this year - the basic premise of guerilla warfare that says it's smart to use one's enemies resources against them, especially when they are stronger than you. I'm not sure how to implement this with sex workers' rights, but I think the collective "we" have done a good job with trying to use the media spotlight on Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's anti-sex worker campaign to get attention for our issues. Another thing I pushed for earlier was that any tweet with the word trafficking shows up on the front page of the DNA Foundation's web site, which uses their celebrity web site to hopefully get some clicks and visibility for the truth behind sex trafficking hysteria. (This still holds true, so tweet away.) We're up against wealthy, politically-connected opponents who are experts at using emotional and fear to control conversations; using that very power and strength against them should always be a top consideration with campaign strategy. If we aren't big enough to get much attention on our own yet, riding the media coattails of celebrities and their well-promoted events may be the best shot.
Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
I like this list, most importantly the last two items. As every sex worker activist quickly discovers, trying to change the world by immersing oneself in protracted debates with the extreme of the anti-porn and anti-sex worker crowd is pointless, emotionally taxing, and detracts from doing important things. While some sex bloggers and pseudo-allies tirelessly promote the idea of wasting time picking fights with the opposition on Twitter and in blog comment wars, we all really need to stop wasting out time on silly battles with people who will never in a million years support us. They have already beaten you if you spend your time with them instead of reaching out to the real public and people who are on the fence. I am totally guilty of spending too much time in earlier years fighting with anti-porn extremists, so please learn from my mistakes. Stop besieging walled cities.
Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
Item one especially. This comes again to the issue of knowing when and where to best spend your energies.
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
As an author of the inventory of anti-sex worker activists, I obviously support gaining a better understanding of exactly who we are up against. These are dangerous and often powerful assholes, but they are still people with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else. Knowing their motivations, histories, and alliances is vital to our work. On the flip side, knowing our own issues inside and out, including our vulnerabilities, is also vital.
Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.
Almost all sex worker activism in the US revolves around creating art, navel-gazing about "the true" meaning of feminism, and community/subculture-building. There's very little being done to take the offensive position. It's important to have projects that proactively get our message out there, educate people, and tackle portions of the criminal code, rather than resigning ourselves to reacting to situations like the murders of sex workers, bad laws being passed, or media campaigns from religious groups with deep pockets.
How to be more proactive is one of my top concerns. Since public education is the area where we're the weakest, and we need public support in order to make political gains, I do my best to make sex work issues accessible and relevant to as many members of the general population as possible. If I had actual funding for this, I'd love to do even more with public education, but since there's been little financial support, SWAAY's public outreach campaign at something of a standstill. I don't have the the luxury to make SWAAY both my unpaid part-time job and spend lots of money on it out of my own pocket. (I'm still something like $2500 in the hole for what I've spent on SWAAY related expenses.)
We can form a single united body, while the enemy must be split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means we shall be many to the enemy's few.
I'd love to see sex workers, on a national level, come together around more projects. The only thing that seems to unite American sex workers' rights activists is a love of pretentiously opining about "what does feminism mean, and does it mean something meaningful for us feminists who crave meaning?" nonsense. Imagine all that could be accomplished if those countless thousands of hours were spent on something that mattered.
He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.
While anti-sex worker activists are often absolute nutjobs, that doesn't mean they're not also very cunning. At the 2010 Desiree Alliance conference, Nina Hartley made a great comment in her keynote, which I believe was phrased, "I don't think of them as prudes, I think of them as predators." Don't let their absurd ideas and conservative backwardness lull you into thinking they're easy to beat or not excellent strategists.
If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.
For me, the recent Google campaign is a great example of this. I spent two weeks working full time on that to make it happen, ignoring all of my other responsibilities for half a month. It was a campaign that had a good chance of seeing success, but no matter how hard I was pushing, it just didn't catch on. SWOP Bay Area and SWOP LA joined in, which was so awesome, but after lots of begging and pleading, I couldn't get any other cities to spend even one hour at a protest I'd pre-packaged for them.
We lack a national response framework for when things come up in our community like Google giving millions to anti-sex worker lobbyists. It seems like a lot of the people who identify as "sex worker activists," for all their online bluster about whore power, are stone-cold terrified of actually being seen in public as sex workers, and handing out polite flyers about why sex workers' rights are important. I wish I could fast-forward to the future when there's enough of a cohesive, non-closeted movement where it doesn't take hours and hours to find even one person to join me in a protest - in a major American city filled with sex workers and "sex-positives." As I said to someone in a private exchange, it felt like I was trying to recruit people to be suicide bombers or something - the idea of attending a non-confrontational daylight demonstration was a step too far for most "activists." (Cheers to my Seattle protest buddy @ishfery who made Google her very first protest. We need more people willing to get offline for a little while and make a difference.) It was a disheartening project for me to work on overall, but I am glad that it did get some news attention, and hundreds of flyers were handed out to the public in three locations.
Looking at the fizzled out Google campaign makes me worried about making much bigger plans within the next 10 years, though. If it's too much work to show up at a location and hand out flyers that someone else wrote for you, then how the hell is anyone going to have the stamina to even file the paperwork for permission to collect signatures to begin the process of trying to chip away at bad laws through ballot initiatives? Or if an hour of one's time is too much, then how can we afford teams of lawyers to mount constitutional challenges to anti-sex work laws? We have to crawl before we can run marathons, and I wish there were more people ready to even attempt the crawling phase. I know there are wonderful and hard-working ho activists around the country, but the ratio of those types to people who only (re)tweet and (re)blog about the issues is disappointing.
Anyway, get out there, and wage some (smart) war!
Furry Girl: a good time not yet had by all.
- I operate SWAAY.org, an accessible sex workers' rights site that educates the general public about our lives and our issues.
- I've been vegan for 13 years because it's the easiest way for an individual to contribute to less violence, suffering, and exploitation.
My adult sites
- Cocksexual.com: Strapons
- EroticRed.com: Menstruation
- FurryGirl.com: Unshaved
- TheSensualVegan.com: Store
- VegPorn.com: Herbivores
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New to my blog? Some favorite posts
- "You have no right to dislike feminism after all it's done for you!"
- "You misrepresent true feminism by focusing on the bad feminists. They're not real feminists anyway!"
- An argument for more sex workers to be out?
- Degrading, violent desires
- Do you have what it takes to be an empowered sex worker?
- Feminism is the shitty relationship you had in your early 20s
- Feminist porn isn't a branch of sex workers' rights, it's an obstacle
- How are we branding sex workers rights in the US? (Let's focus more on *worker*, less on *sex*!)
- How to do your homework on trafficking, "rescue", and the affected communities
- Let's stop pretending that "objectification" is a thing that exists
- Musings on ethical porn and the red herrings of "feminist porn" and "violent porn"
- My call for a "working" class uprising against inaccessible discourse and the over-representation of dabblers
- Sex trafficking is the new crack: manufactured "epidemics" as political tools
- The common logical fallacies deployed by anti-sex worker activists
- Things I've gained from being a sex worker: an anti-paternalistic perspective
- Vigilantism and 'crushing bastards': in praise of anger, hatred, and taking joy in the smiting of one's enemies
- Want to play BINGO with the antis?
- Watch out for psuedoscience: my long-time nemeses of concern trolling and "teaching the controversy"
- What do I mean when I say "sex worker"? Why I'm against an overly-broad definition
- Why I call them "anti-sex worker" rather than "anti-porn" or "anti-prostitution," and why you should too
Favorite sex/ho blogs
- Amanda Brooks
- Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
- Belle de Jour
- Born Whore
- Bound, Not Gagged
- Dan Savage on SLOG
- Danny Wylde
- Jiz Lee
- Kat's Stories
- Laura Agustín
- Lux Nightmare [2006-2007]
- Maggie McNeill
- Our Porn, Ourselves
- Sequoia Redd
- Serpent Libertine
- Sex Worker Pie Charts
- Sexonomics by Brooke Magnanti
- Shit They Say to Sex Workers
- Stuff Sex Workers Eat
- Whore Madonna