by Furry Girl

04.06.12

I'm seen as the most conservative US sex workers' rights activist, which really says something about the failure of the movement to attractive diversity.  I don't even think of myself as conservative at all, but when you're standing in a crowd of politically correct feminists with liberal arts degrees who favor both big government and anarchism (don't ask me how that's supposed to work), any deviance from their norm is shocking.  As I've consistently stated, my own politics could be described as a mix of beliefs which could be called either left or libertarian, though I identify with neither label.  That I have repeatedly been compared to Ann Coulter is hilarious to me.

The thing with being the most conservative visible sex worker is that it makes me feel bad for all the actual conservative sex workers who see a movement that is overtly hostile towards them.  I've heard from plenty of sex workers over the years who are centrists or Republicans and feel completely alienated from the sex worker politics subculture.  Although they want to get involved and defend their human rights, they see a group of people with whom they have only one thing in common, and a lot in contrast.  They don't see their kind represented at all, and they don't want to fight an uphill battle for acceptance.  They won't sign up for an interest in "deconstructing gender" or "overthrowing capitalism" as unofficial requirements for being a sex work activist.

Because the US sex workers' rights scene is mostly conjoined with the sex-positivity, feminist/anti-patriarchy, Pagan/new age, anarchist/socialist, abortion rights, anti-traditional beauty standards, and gender radical circles, it scares off so many potential allies, as well as sex workers.  It's like there was some group decision made at a party I wasn't invited to where "we" decided to make ourselves look as unappealing and unrelatable as humanly possible.  (A strange choice, considering that gaining public acceptance and showing that we're normal people is the thing we desperately need in order to make political progress.)

Sex work activism in the US desperately needs diversity.  The current crowd seems to think that diversity means, "recruit some poor folk and people of color, but only if they are left-wing feminists."  We need a diversity of ideas, folks - not just an array of skin tones and income brackets that all espouse the same politics.  I'd love to see some Republican and conservative sex worker activists, even though I'd no doubt disagree with them on plenty of topics.

In response to all the people who think I'm a hardcore right-winger, I thought I'd post a chart made by the Political Compass Test, which now lets you view your own beliefs plotted alongside those of the current presidential candidates.  I guess I just can't fit in anywhere.





by Furry Girl

04.01.12

It being tax season, I realized it would be appropriate to post a financial summary for SWAAY.  Here's a copy of what's now on swaay.org/about.html:

Are donations to SWAAY tax deductible? Where does the money go?

SWAAY is not a federally-registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, and your donations are not tax deductible. Becoming an official nonprofit costs a lot of time and money, and requires having a board of directors that disclose their legal identities. This is an additional barrier to sex worker organizing, because most sex workers do not want to publicize our legal names.

As of April 2012, SWAAY is currently $2297.32 in debt for what has been spent to establish the project. During our first year of operation, 2011, expenses broke down as follows: 65% for printing shirts, stickers, and buttons; 14% of for office supplies and shipping; 12% for web site related costs and advertising; 8% for bank fees and credit card interest; and 1% for miscellaneous expenses.

SWAAY is a genuine volunteer-based grassroots project without a paid staff. No one who has worked on SWAAY has received payment other than stickers and/or a complimentary SWAAY shirt.

I've had detractors (who've never even met me or been involved in activism themselves) accuse me of using SWAAY as a personal profit-making project, as though there must be untold riches to be made selling sex workers' rights shirts.  Nope, I've never paid myself a penny, and I have no plans to draw a salary.  My goal as an activist is always to just break even with what I spend, and I would feel weird drawing a salary for my "volunteering" endeavors.  I think it's a good thing for nonprofit and activist projects to disclose whether their organizer(s) makes their living from running the project.  (That doesn't mean they're bad people or the project is corrupt, but I favor transparency.)

So, as I said, SWAAY is about $2300 in the hole.  (It has its own credit card which I used to start the project, and am now working on paying off.)  If you'd like to donate or buy some awesome merchandise, it's appreciated.  I would love to do more public outreach projects like the sex worker billboard, but all those things take money, and I'm not willing to rack up any more credit card debt at this time.





by Furry Girl

03.06.12

[Updated after NPR responded by snidely mocking me on their web site and refusing to so much as apologize.  If they would prefer to handle this as an internet flame war, I'll give them one Google will remember until the end of time.]

This week, I got a surprising email from a friend.  He'd heard an NPR program, On the Media, re-hash what was obviously one of my blog posts, but without attribution to either my pseudonym or my blog URL.  It was about my FOIA story from a couple of months ago.  I knew exactly what my friend was referring to, because I had declined an interview request from On the Media's pushy and annoying Sarah Abdurrahman last week.  They'd gone ahead and done a story on me anyway, borrowing from my blog post, and I would have never known of NPR's theft if I didn't know someone who listened to the show.

The punchline is that On the Media portrays itself as a bastion of media ethics, bravely "[tackling] sticky issues with a frankness and transparency that has built trust with listeners."  This wasn't just some Tumblr account with a dozen followers pilfering my work, but a nationally-broadcast radio program on NPR, which proudly cites that it "has won Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting and investigative reporting, the National Press Club's Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism and a Peabody Award for its body of work."

My FOIA story is definitely one of the most "journalistic" pieces I've ever had on my blog.  Yes, it has snark, but it's also real original reporting.  I filed Freedom of Information Act requests with over a dozen government agencies, waited for about 7 months, and then combed through over 400 pages of disclosure to find the pieces of the story I most wanted to tell.  I wasn't just posting my opinions on a popular news item of the week that someone else broke, I was writing based on original source materials, for which I was the only civilian who has access.  I was posting things that had never been online previously, but would be of interest to the public.  If that's not "real journalism," I don't know what is.

Not only was my FOIA piece a genuinely journalistic effort on my part, it's also a very personal topic.  I am especially protective of my work being stolen by NPR because it's about me and my experiences as an activist.  I wasn't writing about FBI surveillance of the Black Panthers from 40 years ago, I was writing about the FBI surveillance detail that followed me for a few days.  This is my story in every sense of the word.

I am referred to only as "a woman" in Sarah Abdurrahman's broadcast of minute and a half which carefully avoids using a name for me, and although the show's summary on the web does link to my blog (though still doesn't mention my name or my blog's name), I doubt many NPR listeners actually check every show's web summary after a story to see if any extra references have been added.  I certainly have never sought out a radio show's web site to read a show's summary and make sure it reflected what I heard on the air.  Radio is a broadcast media that provides audio news and commentary, the audience are listeners, not readers.  An online summary is merely filler and search engine optimizing for their web site, another way to get listeners and money.  NPR and Sarah Abdurrahman stole my work, and I didn't even get the benefit of some national exposure.

I publish my blog under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.  For those unfamiliar with Creative Commons, it's a way for "content creators" like me to protect their work while also allowing for sharing of ideas.  It's a more personalized form of copyright protection that lets a creator specify what people can and can't do with their work.  Creative Commons has held up in multiple courts around the world as a real copyright policy, including federal court in the US, so it's not a "made-up goofball license" as someone obnoxiously said to me on Twitter.

My specific Creative Commons stipulations mean that you can share, quote, and repost my writing, but you can't use it for commercial purposes, you are required to attribute it to my pseudonym and blog with a link, and that you can't make derivative works, defined as "You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work."  The derivative works portion is a grey area, and whether or not the taxpayer-subsidized NPR counts as "commercial" is also up for debate, but NPR and Sarah Abdurrahman unquestionably violated the attribution requirements of my Creative Commons licensing.  Even the one link they provided to my blog on their show summary page on the web (which probably has .0001% of the audience of their radio broadcast) didn't follow the attribution requirements.  To quote my Creative Commons license conditions, "Attribution — You must attribute Feminisnt to Furry Girl (with link)."

As far as I can tell, the attribution portion of Creative Commons license has not yet been tested in court in the United States.  It has been tested in Belgium and Israel, and in both cases, the content creator won the case.  I would love to the the American test case for attribution.

NPR and Sarah Abdurrahman violated both the letter and spirit of my Creative Commons licensing, and in doing so, they have opened themselves up to legal action. [See my third update at the end of this post.]

Here's more of the backstory, which you can skip if you're short on time, and go directly to the final paragraphs of this post.

On February 28, after sending emails asking for an interview about my FOIA story at 8:55am, 10:58am, and 11:00am, NPR's Sarah Abdurrahman moved to Twitter and yet again contacted me at 12:55pm.  (News flash: if I don't reply to your annoying messages within the hour, don't assume you need to keep contacting me over and over and over.  This is considered bad internet behavior.)  I normally delete and ignore messages from people who exhibit spammer-level cluelessness, but I was feeling generous, and replied to the first of Sarah Abdurrahman's emails, shown below.

From: "Sarah Abdurrahman" <SAbdurrahman@wnyc.org>
Date: February 28, 2012 8:55:59 AM PST
To: <>
Subject: from NPR

Hello,

I am a producer with the National Public Radio program On the Media, a media analysis show that covers topics from First Amendment issues, to new media, and everything in between.  You can find out more about us at onthemedia.org. One of the topics we like to discuss is transparency and Freedom of Information…which is why I was so interested to come across your story about FOIA-ing yourself!  If you are available, we would love to have you on our program to talk about your experience with FOIA.  We are not a live show, so we can be fairly flexible with scheduling an interview.  Are you available to join us?  Thanks in advance,

Sarah Abdurrahman|On the Media
160 Varick Street, New York NY 10013
T: 646.829.4567|E: sabdurrahman@wnyc.org
WNYC: WNYC.ORG|93.9 FM|AM 820

I do not feel like I'm the best person to speak on the issue of Freedom of Information Act Requests, or on the domestic surveillance of American activists.  I really believe that "we" should only put forward the formal or informal spokespersons who are the best at a topic.  It always annoys me when I see people who don't know an issue well trying to explain it to the media, especially media like a radio or television broadcasts.  For those reasons, I declined the interview and referred Abdurrahman to someone whose work centers on that topic in which she was interested.  (I'm omitting his name and credentials from these emails just to avoid dragging him into the mess.)  I was already being too nice, in retrospect.  I tend to err on the side of politeness when dealing with the media, even if they're annoying pests, because you never know when you might need them in the future.

From: Feminisnt <>
Date: February 28, 2012 3:06:34 PM PST
To: Sarah Abdurrahman <SAbdurrahman@wnyc.org>
Subject: Re: from NPR

Hello there

Thanks for contacting me.  I'm flattered by the offer, but I really don't think my case is particularly interesting or special.  There are much more interesting topics when it comes to FBI surveillance of American activists, and I'd rather see a more meaningful case get air time.  I agree that it's a great topic, but my situation isn't special, and I'm not an expert on FOIA issues in general.  My particular incident of being followed went nowhere and resulted in no arrests, whereas some cases result in major prosecutions, illegal wiretaps, and far more amusing anecdotes.

If you're looking for someone to discuss government surveillance of activists, [redacted] would be a much better choice than me, and he's written a lot about surveillance and prosecution of [activists].  His email address is [redacted].

Furry Girl

Sarah Abdurrahman refused to take "no" for an answer, and sent me two more emails, on February 28 and 29.  Maybe it's a sex worker thing, but anytime someone openly disrespects my politely telling them "no," and continues to insist that I should acquiesce to their demands, I immediately close off and decide I will never have anything to do with them.  Sex work teaches you nothing if not boundaries and how to assert your limits in the face of pushy people who feel entitled to your time and energy.  If I say "no" to you the first time, I will never, ever change my mind if you keep bothering me.

The meta issue of NPR, On the Media, and Sarah Abdurrahman's theft and disrespect is this: the "legitimate" media - meaning anyone who can afford broadcast licenses or physical paper distribution, even if it's a "small" news organization like NPR - shits on bloggers and independent writers all the time.  We're just a bunch of silly kids making lolcats and scribbling nonsense, except when we're not, and then the media will shamelessly steal our work.  How often do you see CNN or a major news network not bother to send reporters to cover stories, but just read off the tweets from bloggers and others in an area?  That's but one example of how the mainstream media loves to use bloggers and independent writers while stopping short of truly respecting their legitimacy as reporters.  Bloggers are not only sometimes the best sources of news, but sometimes the only sources.  We break new ground, we do original research, we look at source material the mainstream usually doesn't even bother with, and best case scenario, a "real" media agency might read a few sentences from us on the air amid their fluff.  Add to the mix that I write mostly about sexual politics and sex work, and I'm beyond invisible, I'm the lowest scum on the "respectable writers" totem pole.  It feels like a double dose of the disregarding sneer the mainstream press shows to both bloggers and sex workers.  (Sex workers constantly cope with outsiders re-telling, re-purposing, and twisting our stories for their benefit, not ours.)

I've emailed a number of lawyers, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation about my issue, and I'd love to take this to federal court as a test case for the attribution requirements of Creative Commons.  I haven't fired off my own DMCA takedown requests, because I'm generally loath to use the over-reaching DMCA laws, even when I'm in the right.  I believe it's important to keep pushing the message that bloggers can be journalists, that Creative Commons is a real copyright that should be respected, and that the media can't just steal from small unpaid writers like myself.  (See the EFF's guide to blogger's rights issues here.)

Aside from the occasional presents from my wishlist, I am not compensated for the countless hours I've poured into writing.  I write about things I'm passionate about, and I do so without expectation of riches, fame, or ever "crossing over" into the world of "real" writing.  I simply don't want news organizations and journalists blithely stealing my work without so much as attribution or a thank you, just so they can earn their salaries, ad/sponsorship revenue, or viewer donations at my expense.  I don't think that's too much to ask.  I put a lot of my time and pieces of my life out there to write my FOIA story.  It's not fair that NPR, On the Media, and Sarah Abdurrahman get to illegitimately and illegally benefit from my efforts.

Update one, March 8th: On the Media's Katya Rogers posted a response on their web site.  Rather than apologizing, they distort the situation and mock me.  They've just thrown a bucket of gasoline on this fire, and made it clear they have no intention of apologizing for either their ethical violations or their legal violations.  They even blame me for the situation because I didn't want to be interviewed for their story.  Since when does a refusal to be interviewed translate as, "Instead, just steal my work without attribution"?  As is often done by people who dislike me, I am dismissively referred to as "someone calling herself 'Furry Girl'," to draw attention to my pseudonym as a means to discredit me or make me seem unreliable.  (Wait, but if I'm such a fake person who can't be trusted, why did they so desperately want me to be on their radio show, and why did they do a story on me?)  NPR is particularly incensed and calls it "seriously beyond the pale" that I would dare to call out by name the journalist who stole my work.  Oh, so that's the game?  You don't want it showing up in Google that NPR, On the Media, and Sarah Abdurrahman engage in content theft from a blogger?  Thanks for telling me how to proceed!

Update two, March 8th: This is something of a sidenote, but I feel it's worth sharing.  A friend of mine posted a comment on On the Media's web site, which they manually edited.  They didn't just delete a comment they didn't like in its entirely, they de-clawed his argument to make themselves look better.  His comment linked to my blog as a reference for what I've actually said, which is in contrast to their twisting of what transpired.  On the Media's comment policy does not bar commenters from posting links.  This was a manual, selective edit of one person's comment to make NPR look better.

Update three, March 11th: After talking to some lawyers and people who follow copyright enforcement issues, on a financial level, it's sadly just not worth it to sue NPR.  The problem is that it would cost me a huge amount of money in legal fees to get what would surely be only a small monetary settlement.  For me, it's not about money, it's about the point that I require attribution, but no attorney wants to launch a federal copyright case on the hopes of getting a portion of what... $50?  $500?  It drives me up the wall that NPR can do whatever the hell it wants, violate any sense of journalistic ethics, no doubt knowing that any court settlement they'd have to pay out wouldn't be worth it to me to fight for.  The professional media wins, the small blogger they're stealing from loses, simply because I don't their kind of audience and money.  (And it stings extra that we, as American taxpayers, subsidize NPR.  They're using my money to screw me over, and I don't have enough money to fight back.)

I will not be publishing comments from the NPR apologists (or employees?) who are starting to find their way to my blog.  You can go fawn over NPR on their own web site, you don't get to take up space on my server to defend their shitty behavior.





by Furry Girl

02.27.12

[Updated: I didn't get enough sponsorship money to attend these events, but thank you to people who did offer a pledge.  Hopefully there will be another such opportunity in the future.]

It's no secret that I'm an atheist.  Debating religion was the first political issue I learned inside and out.  When I was 6 or 7 years old in flyover land, understandably unaware that there was any difference between church, state, and schools, I wrote a letter to my principal demanding he address the hypocrisies of his faith.  I could take apart the absurdity of religion before I learned how to do multiplication tables, and at an early age, I developed a strong affinity for science, nature, and books.  (And it bums me out to see how commonly people view "science" and "nature" as opposing ideas.)

I would love to see more crossover and networking between sex workers' rights advocates and the organized skeptic, atheist, and pro-science communities.  I want to bring sex work issues outside of the sex-positivity and radical sexuality scene in America.  I want sex workers' rights to appeal to the sort of people who have never fisted anyone, basically.  I want our serious political issues to be framed as the serious things they are, not just another branch of transgressive left-wing sexuality.  (And I say this as someone who is kinky and invested in "alternative sexuality," but I draw a distinction between a human/labor rights issue and a sexual fun issue, and I wish more visible American sex workers also separated the two.)

There's a big event coming up shortly, the Reason Rally in Washington, DC, which is aiming to be the world's largest secular event.  I would love to attend this as an ambassador of sorts for sex workers' rights, and to work on gaining allies in a space where I think we have a great chance at being heard.  This isn't some feminist sex conference or BDSM event where sex workers aren't actually getting outside "the bubble," but something that will have a wide variety of smart people who pride themselves in looking at things logically and ripping apart emotion- and nonsense-based arguments.  And, bonus!  American Atheists are holding their national convention on the Sunday and Monday following the Reason Rally.  Two skeptic events for the price one one (flight)!  It's cool to see other "sex world" folks on these events rosters: Greta Christina and Dr Marty Klein.





by Furry Girl

02.21.12

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!





by Furry Girl

01.14.12

I'm not a hardcore nerd the way some of my wonderful friends are, so what I like with geek events are discussions of social implications of technologies, surveillance, privacy, anonymity, and fighting state power and censorship.  Most of these recommended videos are from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress, which concluded a couple of weeks ago.  These are my favorites, but you can find even more talks from the CCC by searching for "28c3" on YouTube.

How Governments have tried to block Tor by Jacob Appelbaum and Roger Dingledine [description].  Some amount of nerd jargon, a basic understanding of how the internet and censorship works is helpful.  Something to love here is both speaker's insistence that it's not about things like "Tor versus China," but the Chinese government versus their people.  There's good discussion of context and how things work differently under different regimes, and how ultimately, Tor developers want to help people decide their own fates in their own countries, and the life-or-death importance of truth in marketing when you offer a censorship circumvention tool.  It's valuable to look at how censorship is deployed in the world's most oppressive countries, and that those censorship tools are developed and sold by American companies like Cisco and Nokia, much like how IBM colluded with the Nazis during WWII.

Marriage from Hell: On the Secret Love Affair Between Dictators and Western Technology Companies by Evgeny Morozov [description].  Morozov is one of my favorite tweeters, the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, and is fun to read for his snarky skepticism of the popular mentality that says that "the internet" magically makes activism and politics better.  (I'd call him a delightfully crabby old man, but he's a year younger than me.)  This talk has very little nerd jargon, and assumes you're already aware that US tech companies knowingly sell things to dictatorships to help them oppress people.

Macro dragnets: Why trawl the river when you can do the whole ocean by Redbeard [description].  Low amount of nerd jargon.  Redbeard is an awesome activist/hacker friend, and this talk takes a very quick jaunt though the basics of a wide array of data mining/collection/storage: US Customs and Immigration, DNA databases, voter records, facial/iris recognition, the data that Amazon stores on customer, IdentifyRioters.com, criminal/prison information collection, and more.  (If this topic interests you, Steve Rambam's multi-hour talks at HOPE are accessible and awesome.)

If you're into nerd-jargon-heavy stuff, Meredith Patterson's talk on The Science of Insecurity is a fun take on security from the perspective of someone who studies linguistics, math, and programming.  Another honorable mention goes to Your Disaster/Crisis/Revolution Just Got Pwned by Tomate and Willow.  Low amount of nerd jargon, this is aimed at hacktivists/coders on how humanitarian groups respond to disasters and crises.  I especially like that it emphasizes self-care, taking breaks, getting sleep, and keeping a sense of humor.  Stressed is the importance of knowing how secure your tools really are before suggesting people trust their lives to them, as well as taking an approach that focuses on the needs of people you're trying to help, rather then selling them on using something you created without their input.  "Don't make a solution for a problem that doesn't exist."  (Good advice for any activist.)

And, from back in October, I finally got around to watching Jacob Appelbaum speaking at an internet activism conference in Sweden on Internet surveillance, censorship, and avenues of resistance with anonymity.  Low amount of nerd jargon, scroll down to the fourth video on the linked page.  This talk includes the importance of privacy-by-design rather than privacy-by-policy, and how the specter of "child pornography" prevents people from questioning the "need" for internet filtering, and how the state functions as the real terrorists who most threaten our freedom.  I appreciate Jake's noting of the West's "othering" of censorship, assuming it's just an issue for foreigners and those in Arab dictatorships.  "Technological utopianism is really part of the problem."

And, finally, a bonus item, so long as I'm throwing out suggestions: PBS's Ascent of Money miniseries, available free online.  This four-hour documentary by Niall Ferguson is wonderful at making financial history of the world interesting, from the development of math and bookkeeping, how money has driven trade and colonization, determined the course of wars and revolutions, all the way up to hedge funds, derivatives, the current financial mess.  I've been looking to learn more about economics, and this is a highly recommended primer on everything from the history of stock, commerce, insurance, and how the real estate crash that's destroying America's poor and middle class was brought about by decades-earlier attempts to quash the appeal of communism.  Really, even if you're not curious about economics, this is a cool history of the not-so-well-known drunks, murderers, gamblers, entrepreneurs, and clergy who got us where we are today.





by Furry Girl

01.04.12

[Edit: Material from this blog post was shamelessly stolen by NPR's Sarah Abdurrahman for the On the Media program.  If you're coming to this post from the debate around NPR stealing my work, please read my response to their ethical and legal violations here.]

At some point last year, I sent off Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to a number of government agencies.  I'd actually pretty much forgotten about it after getting form letters back from a number of agencies saying they had nothing on me - or at least, nothing they felt like releasing.  Then, I got a padded mailer from the FBI yesterday.  My FBI file had arrived!  The contents were not what I was expecting.  I don't think I'm that terribly interesting to the government, but I have had the fortune/misfortune to have socialized with, dated, and befriended a number of wonderful people who definitely would be considered "interesting" to law enforcement.  I was expecting a few pages about my friends and lovers, but what I found was that I was physically followed by a group of FBI agents for five days of my life when I was 18 and involved in organizing a protest/campaign.

The FBI released 436 pages of intelligence related to or about me, none of which dates later than 2002.  436 pages!  Printed out, it would be almost a whole ream of paper.  And the most exciting things contained within are reports of us doing things like making photocopies, buying beer, riding the bus, and eating at a restaurant.  99% of it is mundane or mildly creepy, 1% of it is hilarious, and I hope there is something to be learned.  There are a ton of redactions.  It reads like this a lot of the time:

Here's the story: myself and 10 or 11 other people (judging based on line spacing in redacted lists) were being spied upon as we organized a campaign that culminated in a protest.  It ended up being a low-to-mid-level local protest event, got blurbs in the newspapers and TV that day, but will not be remembered by history books, which was about what we expected.  None of us got arrested, no one destroyed any property, and as far as I know, no one planned to, either.  (We were prepared for police aggression, and the group contained a number of street medics ready to deal with pepper spray.)  It was the sort of thing activists do every month all around the world.  There are repeated statements that basically say the FBI is not aware of anyone planning violent, destructive, or illegal acts, but since other protests have (notably the 1999 Seattle WTO), it's best to keep tabs on everyone just in case.  I'm not going to tell you exact details and name names of this one silly campaign, because that bit actually doesn't matter.  We were a small group of young poor activists living off cheap eats, lusty protester sex, and bitching about the system.  We could have been anyone or anywhere.  For the three days leading up to our protest, the day of, and the day after, we were being followed by a group of FBI agents who wrote down what we were doing and often took photos.

I'll spoil the ending for you: the only illegal act we committed in all 436 pages was dumpster diving at food distributor.  This was not actually picked up by the FBI's physical surveillance detail (that would come later), but a beat cop who happened to catch a few of us in the act on patrol.  Friends and I were issued misdemeanor trespassing citations on the spot, the fine for which was under $100.  (The FBI did note that a local police search of a compatriot netted the following suspicious materials: "three pieces of chalk in his pocket, green, red, and white in color," as well as a sticker for a campaign.)  After the citations by local police, the FBI "had the crime lab respond and photograph" the area.  Oh, how exciting!  What a crime scene!

After this dumpster diving citation, the clever FBI was excited to now know my address.  Except, I was hardly "in hiding" or anything.  For the first time since I was 15, I had an official address.  My name was on the lease and I had phone/DSL service at that address under my own name, as well as a mobile phone with a bill that went to that address.  Funny how my home address was still somehow a mystery to the federal government.  (Which calls to mind the first InterPol warrant out for Julian Assange, where they couldn't find one single photo of the man.)  FBI agents did a scouting of my apartment building, noting that there was a mailbox with my last name on it in the lobby.

I am repeatedly identified as a member of a different, more mainstream liberal activist group which I was not only not a part of, but actually fought with on countless occasions.  To somehow not know that I detested this group of people was a colossal failure of intelligence-gathering.  Hopefully the FBI has not gotten any better at figuring out who is a part of what, and that this has worked to the detriment of their surveillance of other activists.  I am also repeatedly identified as being a part of campaigns that I was never involved with, or didn't even know about, including protests in other cities.  Maybe the FBI assumes every protester-type attends all other activist meetings and protests, like we're just one big faceless monolith.  "Oh, hey, you're into this topic?  Well, then, you're probably into this topic, right?  You're all pinkos to us."

In taking a general survey of all area activists, the files keep trying to draw non-existant connections between the most mainstream groups/people and the most radical, as though one was a front for the other.  There are a few flyers from local events that have nothing to do with our campaign, including one posted to advertise a lefty discussion group at the university library.  The FBI mentions that activists may be planning "direct action" at their meetings, which the document's author clarifies means "illegal acts."  "Direct action" was then, and I'd say now, a term used to talk about civil disobedience and intentional arrests.  While such things are illegal actions, the tone and context in these FBI files makes it sound like protesters got together and planned how to fly airplanes into buildings or something.

There's a heavily-redacted page that talks about people networking with activists from other countries, and when a non-American has traveled for a protest to the area on other occasions.  This seems to be something of concern to them - if people would bother traveling for political causes.  One listed criteria for which people were profiled was if they have been previously arrested at other protests.  In trying to mentally piece together who might have been my fellow spied-upons, one of the people I think they were profiling had long since dropped out of activism by that point.

It's the surveillance detail where things get funny and weird.  Eleven or twelve of us were followed by a group of 3-6 FBI agents over the course of five days, and there was often a detail sitting outside of my apartment, totally unbeknownst to me.  (I feel like a total chump that I didn't notice that I was being followed and photographed during this time.)  I had never read law enforcement surveillance logs before, so it was interesting to comb through the pages.  Here is a typical page, which documents some hard-core anarcho-terrorist scheming, blue redactions were made by me:

Because if we let young people watch Lord of the Rings and drink beer, then the terrorists win!

Here are some other highlights about me, complete with snarky commentary:

Wow, serious Sherlock action there.  I entered a bakery, came out with a bag, and I am believed to be carrying bread or food.  (At least it doesn't say, "... believed to be carrying plastic explosives and hand grenades.")

This is cute to me because that hoodie was borrowed from my boyfriend at the time - perhaps the person I was seen walking with in this spy report.  I remember how it was amazingly soft, and I loved wearing it.  It smelled like him and made me horny.  Also: glasses are sexy.

This one documents the most serious activisting on my part - making copies at Kinkos.  The hidden humor here lies in the fact that it's entirely likely that I was making copies about stuff ranting against the police state and the explosion of domestic surveillance of protesters since 9/11.

My very favorite thing the FBI recorded about me:

As you can see, I pose a clear and present danger to society.  I pick up other people's trash and put it in the proper bins.

I'm bummed out that I didn't get to see good quality versions of my surveillance photos.  There are dozens included, but they are so screwed up from generation loss and copying and faxing, you can't even tell what's in them.  Most seem to be outdoors shots with some parked cars and trees.  The surveillance photos all have an otherworldly quality to them, like faded memories and half-remembered strolls after too many Cooks-based mimosas on the first warm day of spring.  Is this a photo of me?  Am I holding hands with someone I almost loved?  Or is this a photo of another person entirely, beamed from a parallel universe?  Such are the artistic mysteries of the FBI spying on Americans.

The day of the protest, I was followed along with others to a vegetarian cafe afterwards.  The FBI's surveillance notes report that we sat at a table.  You know, in stead of storming the place with guns drawn, demanding to be served in the bathroom, or on the ceiling.  The day after the protest, we still had our followers - I guess to make sure we hadn't planned an extra secret super-protest filled with violence and mayhem?  I was observed visiting hotbeds of political unrest like a dollar store, a used records shop, and a discount grocery place.  (Following us around, often on public transit, was basically a tour of "Places Poor People Go.")

At the end of it all, when the FBI decided to close the case file after the protest transpired and nothing interesting happened, it is concluded of me:

Well, there was that dumpster diving incident, but I guess they'll let it slide.

I wonder how much money this operation cost.

* * *

I don't have any particular tips or tricks to filing a FOIA on yourself.  I used this handy-dandy free service to generate the required form letters for me, which I then printed, signed, and mailed.  I didn't pay for anything, even though I indicated that I would pay for any amount of copying fees necessary.  I sent the letters to all the national agencies, and maybe a dozen FBI branch offices.  If I'm remembering correctly, I quickly got letters from all those local offices saying they'd sent my request to the national FBI office for processing.

What are you waiting for?  All it costs is some stamps and 10 minutes of your time.  Maybe a group of FBI agents once followed you around, too.  Filing for one's FBI file is one of those things I know a lot of us mean to do but never get around to doing.  I hope this blog post inspires more Americans to make today the day you ask your government if, how, and why you have been watched.





by Furry Girl

12.28.11

It's been a busy month, but I wanted to post a photo from last week's Google protest in Seattle.  The protest was just myself and @ishfery, a sex worker I'd previously only met on Twitter.  (And, ornery cunt that I am, I'd wondered if she was real, since "in a post-Alexa world," I've come to suspect all sex worker bloggers who don't post photos of themselves are possibly creepy dudes.)

If you haven't already, check out the Google campaign page on SWAAY.org.

The protest of two went well, and I was certainly happy to not be alone.  Being a lone protester makes you look like some kind of crazy trying to "educate" people about 9/11 being an inside job or something.  One protester is a nutjob, two protesters are lovable underdogs.  While I can make a banner I can hold by myself, it's hard to hold a banner straight and hand out fliers at the same time.  What this photo doesn't show is that I had another sign on my back, hastily tied onto my scarf, reading, "Google Don't Be Evil!"  The reason for the sign on my back was not just so Google employees in the building could see it, but because a little birdy alerted me to the fact that Google Seattle's web cam covered this portion of the bridge.

We probably handed out about 100 fliers, and had some really position conversations.  One woman introduced herself as a budding filmmaker in the early stages of putting together a documentary about the partners of sex workers, and the troubles she was having trying to find people willing to go on camera to talk about those dynamics.  A number of Google employees either emailed/tweeted, or said supportive things in person.  One took a stack of fliers to hand out in the building.  (At the end of the protest, I went to give the reception desk fliers to explain why we were there, and they already had them.)  Everyone was extremely nice and interested, and the only detractor was a homeless-looking older man who told us to get a "real job."  It sounds like the San Francisco and LA protests went well, too, and SWOP Bay Area has some photos online.

I'm now wondering what the next step should be.  It being the Christian holy month, the world is half shut down until early January, so trying to do anything this week would be pointless.  I'm curious if another round of protests is something people are interested in, and when to schedule that.  (Second week of January, I'm assuming, since many people go out of town for Christmas and New Years.)  I'm also wondering about effective ways to utilize internet-based activism as a part of this campaign.  I am steadfastly against pointless, masturbatory "activism" like e-petitions, and with Google being such a massive company that doesn't exactly engage in dialog with the public, it's hard to know where to focus energies.

What I do know is that I'm happy to be working on a campaign that engages in real solidarity with sex workers in the developing world.  Though Google's shitty NGOs do things that harm sex workers right here in America, the brunt of their harm us directed as the poorest and most marginalized people in the world.  Some of the current crop of sex worker "activists" engage in "activism" in the form of attacking people online about which words they're allowed to use and how awful they ought to feel about the erratically-defined issue of "privilege," but it's just bullshit posturing that accomplishes nothing other than making a few people feel self-righteous.  If you surveyed sex workers in the developing world and asked what American activists could do to help them, I'm pretty sure that not one respondent would beg us to spend more of our time bludgeoning each other with freshman-level identity politics and feminist dogma on Twitter.  I love having an issue around which we have discuss the tangible effects of neocolonialism and Western do-gooderism, and what it really means when these NGOs say they want to "rescue" sex workers.  I don't know where the campaign will lead, and if we'll be able to pressure Google into supporting non-missionary, harm-reduction and rights-based services for sex workers, but this is the general direction I'd like to see American sex worker activism go.

My friend Jacob Appelbaum made a comment during his talk about Tor at a nerd convention that stuck with me because it concisely and politely explains what white Western political folk like myself should be doing with our time: "You should consider using your privilege to help other people."





by Furry Girl

12.20.11

I've spent almost the entire last 5 days researching the groups that Google is now funding.  Please see the campaign page and read something I've put a lot of time info!

Why are sex workers' rights supporters upset with Google?

Google announced last week that they are making the largest-ever corporate donation to "ending modern day slavery": an impressive $11.5 million dollars. We applaud and support Google's desire to fight slavery, forced trafficking, and exploitative labor conditions, but Google's funding recipients include three NGOs that cause serious harm to sex workers in around the world: International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and Not for Sale. As small sex worker support services struggle for funding to serve their communities, it is offensive to watch Google shower money upon a wealthy faith-based group like the International Justice Mission, which took in nearly $22 million dollars in 2009 alone. (In contrast, the St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco clinic that provides free healthcare to sex workers, operated on only $335k in 2010.)

Does Google know what their money is really supporting? Let's take a look at what you won't read about on the front pages these groups' glossy web sites.

Continue >>>

Also, I'll be protesting outside of Google's Seattle building on Wednesday from 2-4pm (on the bridge next to it, to be specific).  There are also protests in other locations, too, so check the campaign page.  Please join me so I don't have to feel like a lonely sad protester.





by Furry Girl

12.14.11

This morning, I saw a tweet from a nerd that I knew was going to mean bad news: Google is donating $11.5 million to "fight modern slavery".  And what have we learned that politically-loaded phrase usually means?  It means "fighting to imprison and further criminalize vulnerable sex workers in the developing world."

Looks like the next campaign idea I've been looking to find for SWAAY has just popped up.

In the next few days, I'll have a better idea for a response to Google getting into the anti-sex worker business under the banner of "stopping sex slave trafficking," but for now, I'd appreciate any more information on the groups I'm not familiar with.  For one, I'm not sure if I even have a full list of the organizations Google is funding, so if you know someone at Google, I'd appreciate having them check.  Google's own charity giving web site has the list below, but I'm not sure if it's a complete one.  It's not exclusively anti-sex worker groups, but IJM, the Polaris Project, and Not For Sale are known foes.

ActionAid India
Aide et Action
BBC World Service Trust
Slavery Footprint
International Justice Mission
La Strada International
Not for Sale
Polaris Project
GoodWeave

Please post information in my comments area, I want to flesh out this subject so we know who exactly Google is funding, and what those groups do to sex workers to "save" them.  If you're not already familiar with how Western NGOs hurt sex workers in the developing world, please browse the video collection at Sex Workers Present, which is mostly from South East Asia.





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