Recently, Aura Bogado published an article on Znet detailing her traumatic experience with Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt and, to a lesser degree, the part that the Not in Our Name project played in all of this ("Hustling the Left", 6/5/05). Ms. Bogado didn’t focus primarily on her interaction with Not in Our Name as much as she raised important questions around the relationship between pornography, sexism and the left, and we appreciate this. Upon reading her account, many of us, who were not aware that Hustler was waging a very personal and graphic attack on Ms. Bogado, were brought to tears with anger and frustration, for Ms. Bogado especially, and for the fact that we had anything to do with this experience.
Let us say first that we are sorry. We are fairly confident that there is little that could, at this point, ease any of the horrendous experience that Ms. Bogado has been through. Nevertheless, we feel it’s necessary to issue a sincere public apology for our part in this to Ms. Bogado, and to all of those who support Not in Our Name. If we are to do justice to the great work that many people have carried out under the banner of Not in Our Name over the last three years, we must publicly take responsibility for our role in all of this.
Aura Bogado's general description of the interactions between herself and Not in Our Name Los Angeles, as described in the first paragraph of her article, are regrettably factual.
In the midst of a national mobilization to get "More than a million into the streets" to protest the Republican National Convention in NYC last year, Not in Our Name activists were encouraged to reach beyond the "the choir" in our efforts to "Say NO to the Bush Agenda."
An unpaid volunteer who has worked with the Los Angeles chapter of Not in Our Name, on his own initiative, approached LarryFlynt.com for their support of this campaign. As a result, LarryFlynt.com published information on Not in Our Name's RNC protest efforts with a link to our RNC protest page.
Without collective input from any other Not in Our Name activist, he broadcast an email message to the Not in Our Name Los Angeles list, which included Aura Bogado, highlighting LarryFlynt.com’s political support for the RNC protest efforts. This broadcast email was the first time most Not in Our Name activists became aware of any connection with LarryFlynt.com.
The majority of Not in Our Name activists, both in Los Angeles and nationally, had decidedly mixed feelings about this development -- although it did fit generally within our campaign efforts to broaden outreach. LarryFlynt.com does host progressive news, however it is safe to say that most who knew about his connection to Hustler were uncomfortable with the endorsement.
We reached the overall consensus that because Not in Our Name had not discussed this development collectively ahead of time, LarryFlynt.com’s support for the Republican National Convention protests absolutely did not merit a dedicated email broadcast. It was simply wrong to highlight and showcase LarryFlynt.com above and beyond all of the other organizing efforts underway. The Not in Our Name internal debate over this included many of the political arguments that Aura Bogado makes in her article.
After reading the Not in Our Name Los Angeles broadcast email highlighting LarryFlynt.com's political support of the RNC protest efforts, Aura Bogado replied to Not in Our Name Los Angeles in order to register her opposition to Larry Flynt, Hustler, and the left having any dealings with them. Regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed with Ms. Bogado’s reasons for asking to be taken off the list, this was a private request that should have been honored, and if there was debate that was to ensue, it should have remained between Ms. Bogado and Not in Our Name organizers.
However, regrettably that is not what happened.
As Aura Bogado correctly describes in her article, what ensued was this volunteer’s "opening up" of his personal debate (which was taking place under the guise of Not in Our Name Los Angeles) to other parties.
This raises political questions for the movement, regarding how listservs and other information are handled. In the same way that it is nobody’s business who checks out what books from public libraries, it is also not anyone’s business who is on what email or mailing list, outside of the subscriber and list manager. Furthermore, it underscores the need for volunteer-run organizations to maintain a political orientation and standard towards carrying out what are often times viewed solely as administrative tasks.
It would also be wrong for us, as a collective, to place all of the blame on one individual who made a mistake. We are neither interested in defending his individual actions nor scapegoating him for something that should have been handled and promptly addressed by the collective at every step of the way. The difficulty in guiding a national grouping without policing or asserting hierarchy is no stranger to the left, but it is not enough to say "It’s very hard to do." In times like this, when we are all feeling the urgency to change the direction that our government is taking the world, we must strive in earnest to learn lessons rapidly, and do better.
Not in Our Name has apologized for this incident to Aura Bogado, and we do so here again publicly. This volunteer no longer has access to the Not in Our Name Los Angeles email broadcast list and email account.
While Not in Our Name regrets that this debate has come into being under such unfortunate circumstances on ZNet -- as this episode is certainly something we are not proud of -- what we find most appalling is the attack Hustler has waged against Ms. Bogado, giving her no choice but to respond publicly. We also feel very strongly that the questions she raised in her article should be debated and discussed more often throughout society, not just the left.
Our failure to respond quickly and appropriately has had direct painful and personal consequences for Aura. It raises issues for all groups in the movement who attempt to broaden reach beyond the safe boundaries of progressive organizations we have created. While we can generally count on Znet to host a respectful debate on the boundaries of issues such as sexual freedom and exploitation, when we venture beyond the safe spaces we have helped to create we have a responsibility to protect individuals from such exploitative dynamics.
Finally, Not in Our Name wants to address Aura Bogado's declaration of
". . . The profound connections between Not in Our Name and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). While Not in Our Name does not force their members to affiliate themselves in any way to the RCP, Not in Our Name was founded by C. Clark Kissinger, of the RCP, therefore many of Not in Our Name's organizers are members of the RCP."
Not in Our Name was not founded by C. Clark Kissinger, nor was it founded by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). However, RCP activists, along with many others, were part of the process that brought into being the Not in Our Name project. For clarification, C. Clark Kissinger has been an important contributor to the Not in Our Name Statement of Conscience since its beginning, as have others. The Not in Our Name Statement of Conscience has been organized as a separate organizational entity from the Not in Our Name project which has focused primarily on the wide publication of the Not in Our Name Statement of Conscience in major newspapers and periodicals across the country.
Not in Our Name does not ban supporters from being active in other organizations that fall outside of the Not in Our Name Mission Statement. We are a nonpartisan organization -- but the fact is that we do have more democrat, socialist, revolutionary, and anarchist supporters than republican and religious fundamentalists, due to the nature of our work. We welcome the continuing contribution of RCP supporters, and everyone else for that matter, to the Not in Our Name project based on our collective efforts outlined in the Not in Our Name Mission Statement.
Again, we offer our sincere apologies to Aura for our part in this situation. We hope that we can open dialogue and use this as an opportunity in the movement to help model conflict resolution. Even if we don’t agree, we absolutely must actively listen and support others against unprincipled attack. As the Bush administration sharpens its sword, there is an ever-growing need for the movement to embrace vast numbers of people and raise their consciousness. We can be sure that if we are to move forward, there will likely be mistakes made from many different groups and political bents. The lessons we learn from these mistakes are a critical part in the process of changing a grim reality to a hopeful future. May we all learn quickly how to do this together, and choose our alliances thoughtfully.
Thank you for modelling conflict resolution with an apology free of defense while taking full accountability for what happened.
Posted by: Jay Sennett | June 16, 2005 03:30 PM
Hi Jay, thanks for taking the time to look into it. I also found the rest of your blog pretty interesting. I am a sex-worker (mexican-american but living in Australia) and have been finding these debates very frustrating because a lot of the work done by non anglo middle-class Americans has just been ignored by both sides. The Riki Ann Wilchens quote is a good one. I also have seen the Gloria Locket interview. There is a lot of racism in the industry and it is very noticable at work.. Particularly in who certain clients will pick and how they behave towards them.
I think tho, that it would be good if the left could intead of polemisizeing against sex-work, try to make more links with these sections of the sex-worker groups. Help empower people instead of trying to save them (I know that's a generalization and it's a complex issue etc...). I don't know all that much about the US left - but I have begun trying to raise these issues with groups here in Australia and so far there seems to be a good response.
If yr interested, here are some more articles...
DMSC in India has 65,000 members, including most of the street prostitutes in Calcutta...
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There has also recently been formed a group in Nepal (I think with the support of DMSC)
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Recently the head of Empower Women in Thailand (porn star Pornpit Muckmai) won a human rights award for her organisations work with sex-workers. They raise some interesting issues re anti-trafficking groups and the need for them to work with sex-worker organisations:
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Sex-workers in Cambodia just won a big victory against drug trials.
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"As the US and UK governments defy the majority of people in the world and get ready to kill and displace millions in Iraq, mainly women and children, where are feminists on 8 March, International Women’s Day? According to every poll, we women are even more opposed to war than men. We are the backbone of every anti-war movement. Yet we have heard little against the war from those who identify as feminists.
Instead, on IWD Justice for Women, Women's Aid, Eaves Housing for Women, POLLY and Lilith will be picketing Spearmint Rhino, a lap-dancing club. How obscene. When most women, children and men are desperately trying to prevent this war and save the lives of millions, some of those who claim to speak against violence against women prefer to attack a sex industry establishment. Machismo begins with the military, not with lap dancing."
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Posted by: me | June 16, 2005 10:00 PM
Thank you for the great links.
You wrote: I think tho, that it would be good if the left could intead of polemisizeing against sex-work, try to make more links with these sections of the sex-worker groups. Help empower people instead of trying to save them (I know that's a generalization and it's a complex issue etc...). I don't know all that much about the US left - but I have begun trying to raise these issues with groups here in Australia and so far there seems to be a good response.
I think the american left suffers from the myth of purity. That is, we believe in some mythic person/place/state of being, that is pure and perfect. So in a pure world, sex work does not exist; in fact, sex does not exist at all, either!~
Plus the american left does not handle complexity well. So race and class and gender get very complicated for us. We can seem to get out of the boxes we've created for ourselves in terms of identity politics.
Lastly, our methods of addressing white priviledge and racism leave something to be desired. Most of the white left get stuck in the liberal guilt phase of understanding racism and priviledge and does not move beyond that place.
I'm curious what factors you think contribute to a better reception for your efforts and goals in Australia?
Thanks for posting!
Posted by: Jay Sennett | June 17, 2005 02:35 PM
What you said about "purity" definately fits what I have seen of these discussions on the American left. I don't want to generalise because my only experience with them is thru the internet. But I find some of the discussions very frustrating because people seem more concerned with an abstract notion of patryarchy than about the lives of real women. I know that they are related... But there shouldn't be a contradition between fighting women's opression etc and civil liberties or the rights of sex-workers.
I have found that the main obstacle in Australia is just lack of knowledge. I think people here are generally more tolerant of personal choices... Usually the polls show about 70% in favour of full legalisation of drugs and sex-work. But they don't know all that much about it and make a lot of assumptions - like that sex-workers are un-organisable, all feel degraded, are all forced into it etc. They also pick up a lot of stereotypes from the industry in the US(there actually isn't much street-work or pimping in Australia). And they tend to still see blue-collar, white, male dominated Trade Unions as more important.
So there are not many links between the left groups and sex-worker groups... Even tho they are adressing related issues and the sex-worker groups are often way more progressive than other unions.
The main example at the moment is related to immigration rights. There is a big campaign here to stop mandatory detention of refugees. There have been a lot of discussion about "people traffickers" etc. There are many sex-workers (mostly trafficked into the country with large debts to pay off) deported every year... Probably larger numbers than any other group of refugees.
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The loudest voices about this issue come from the government and church... Who want to solve the problem by having harsher penalties for traffickers and the church want to make prostitution illegal. A better solution would be to provide visas for anyone trafficked into the country and to allow normal work visas for sex-workers who are forced under-ground because of their immigration status.
There are also a lot of examples of collusion between the immigration department and traffickers. And in many countries there is collusion between "anti-trafficking" groups and traffickers. The department of immigration also uses sex-work as an excuse to target migrant women in particular.
Some people on the left are also pushing the Swedish model ( http://www.justicewomen.com/index.html ) of criminalising clients and agents, but not sex-workers. In practice this has led to conditions for Swedish sex-workers becoming more dangerous, an increase in trafficking through Sweden (because clients are no longer willing to tip off police about people who have underage or workers who are forced to be there), many sex-workers having to travel to Norway to make a living and even women having their kids taken away by welfare agencies.
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The figures and reports about the Swedish model are pretty bad.. But many feminists continue to push this approach even tho most sex-workers oppose it.
But when sex-workers try to raise these issues they are usually ignored.. if not shown open hostility. Sex-worker groups are often excluded from anti-trafficking projects or projects to help women who want to leave the industry - despite the fact that the most succesfull anti-trafficking projects usually involve help from other sex-workers.