Shannon Williams (remembered by the Red Umbrella Babies Collective)

A guest posting by our friends at the Red Umbrella Babies Collective to honor the amazing Shannon Williams, who was an activist with SWOP in the Bay Area, a founder of the sex worker rights movement, and is very much missed by all…

Shannon Williams: the hottest mama (photo from Naomi Akers)

Shannon Williams: the hottest mama (photo from Naomi Akers)

Shannon Williams died this week, catching us all off guard. During the MLK long weekend, she had a bad headache. She went to the emergency room, a tumor was found in her brain stem. It was inoperable. Almost immediately she lapsed into a coma. On Tuesday January 20, 2015, her family removed her from life support. This had been her wish.

We are her friends at Red Umbrella Babies, a forthcoming anthology developed by sex workers who are parents and our children. When we learned of what had happened, we called each other, torturing ourselves with questions: did she know that she wouldn’t wake up? And, did she have time to say goodbye to her sons who are twenty-one, nine and seven years old? One of our children, Blaze who is seven and knows Shannon’s younger kids asked through her tears, “who will take care of the boys?”

Although our hearts ache we know the answer, because we knew Shannon. She was dedicated to the beautiful art of raising children in the most thorough and thoughtful way.  We know that those boys will be okay because Shannon has laid the groundwork for them and because their dad is there too.

Shannon did everything in her life with such grace and apparent ease. She was a gorgeous, sensual babe. She dressed in cool, funky outfits, radiating raw energy. But her casual demeanor was underpinned by thoughtfulness and steely determination. She was completely grounded, practical and not given to pointless abstraction. She was a successful sex worker, proudly taking courses in techniques—such as Bondassage and Tantra—to hone her skills. She created a schedule that allowed her to live her life on her terms and bring up her children well.

“I’ve been asked if the fact that I was a parent made me more hesitant to do sex work,” she wrote in her contribution to the Red Umbrella Babies anthology, “ It didn’t. I never felt like being a parent and being a prostitute were at odds with each other. In fact, I thought it was absolutely the most perfect job for me BECAUSE I was a parent.”

But a nosy parker neighbor and the law did not see it that way. In 2003 Shannon’s house was raided. “Seventeen of Oakland’s Finest came crashing into my bedroom with their guns drawn,” she recalled. When the press found out that a Berkeley High School teacher had been arrested for prostitution, “it instantly became a national news story and blew my life to pieces,” Shannon added. Her case was a catalyst for organizing in the Bay Area. Other sex workers like Robyn Few and her compatriots took to the streets in protest, wearing leopard skin-patterned lingerie in solidarity. The cops had dragged Shannon into a police car in her underwear in order to humiliate her.

The powers that be still have yet to figure out that sex workers are a force to be reckoned with, and that shabby attempts to sexualize a woman like Shannon will always be subverted by the sex worker rights cause. The leopard skin lingerie turned into an emblem of freedom.

Shannon—with her certification as a teacher and her mentoring heart—turned the public nature of her arrest into a “teachable moment” when communicating with her then nine year old son. “The story was running in every local paper, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh featured segments about me on their shows, and everyone around us was talking about it. I took my son up to one of our favorite parks up in the Oakland hills to have the conversation,” Shannon recounted. She had only six months before explained her job to her son when other kids had taunted him saying that his mother was a whore. ‘You know about my job, spending time with people who are lonely,’ I began. He said, ‘Yes.’ I went on. ‘You know how I told you that I might have sex with them sometimes, if we both wanted to.’ He said, ‘yes’ again.  ‘Well, I’ve been arrested because of my job.’ ‘Why?’ he asked and I said, ‘Because it’s illegal to have sex with someone for money.’ And my brilliant, wonderful, nine year old son said to me, ‘Well that’s dumb. You should be able to have sex with whoever you want.’ And that was the end of that.”

So very few of us are as brave and as open as Shannon Williams when faced with arrest and public humiliation. So very few of us could have laid the groundwork for this conversation with our children. How many of us can speak to our children frankly about sex at all? How many of us would be proud of our child’s candid answer? We are so lucky to have had Shannon Williams in our lives, we are so lucky to have her example. All parents must find their own path, but knowing how others have handled devastating situations with poise and affirmation, strengthens us. Enlightens us.

Rest in Power, Shannon Williams. We imagine that you are with Robyn Few, Gabriela Leite and all the rest from our movement who have passed after giving us so much of themselves. Our other mothers, that we hold so close in our hearts. Your children will proudly carry their memories of you for the rest of their lives, we are sure.

The Red Umbrella Babies Collective

this #fundingFriday 4 #sexworkerrights support 2 activists who lost their house to a fire

This coming #fundingFriday 4 #sexworkerrights BPPP will raise awareness about a community fundraiser in support of Kini Seawright and Peggy Plews who are both advocates for the rights of sex workers, prisoners and parents.

Kini of Seawright Prison Justice Project

Kini of Seawright Prison Justice Project

Peggy and Kini lost their house and belongings in a house fire in Michigan. They had very recently moved there from Phoenix, Arizona. Their role in progressive politics in Phoenix is beyond dispute. They have opened their home, shared their food, fought in the streets and given everything they had to help people victimized by the police and prison industrial complex. Kini and Peggy were there at the very first meeting of SWOP Phoenix in 2013, the posters for the first rally was made at their house, on their porch. They encouraged so many people–including the ACLU AZ–to #standwithMonica during the recent years of campaign  lead by Monica Jones to challenge the Phoenix “manifestation” statute. Both Peggy and Kini are artists and writers. Peggy is the creator of magnificent public chalking art challenging injustice. Kini is a contributor to the anthology Red Umbrella Babies and recently joined the editorial collective to take a larger role in the book process.

They are trying to raise $600 to help them pay a deposit on a new place and rebuild their lives, but we at BPPP think as a community of sex workers and allies we can do so much more than that. Let’s make a nice surprise for them and take this to $1000 or more.

What is #fundingFriday 4 #sexworkerrights? Last July in preparation for the International AIDS Conference, sex workers from around the world created a consensus statement and began occupying #fundingFriday every week to raise awareness of the lack of resources for projects by and for sex workers. We follow this sex worker lead campaign supported by Scarlet Alliance and sex workers globally. Throughout 2015 the Best Practices Policy Project will highlight community fundraisers to support the things that sex workers find important.

Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch at a chalking action in 2011

Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch at a chalking action in 2011

Today is the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers

STATEMENT BY PENELOPE SAUNDERS (BPPP) FOR DECEMBER 17 VIGIL HOSTED BY THE NEW JERSEY RED UMBRELLA ALLIANCE IN BRUNSWICK NJ

We have gathered here to honor and remember sex workers and people in the sex trade affected by violence.

Today is the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

This day was initiated in 2003 by a group of people I know very well. Artist and sex worker Annie Sprinkle had the idea of a memorial event for the women killed by the so-called “Green River Killer” in Washington State. My friend Robyn Few, the founder of SWOP USA, and her colleagues such as Stacey, Carol Leigh, Michael and many others on the west coast, organized an event and kept the spirit of Annie’s idea alive year after year. Now December 17 is acknowledged in so many places and by so many different voices.

This is a day of peace and remembrance but we also use this day to express the conviction that burns in our hearts that no one should be the victim of violence because they are a sex worker or because they are profiled as such.

This is a day that we listen to sex workers and the organizations and networks of sex workers. We do not make assumptions about the violence experienced by sex workers. We are reminded by sex workers that violence against them is committed primarily by the police. We are reminded that other abusers think they can get away with murder because “nobody cares about sex workers”. We are reminded that violence against sex workers is not just violence against sex workers—it is also violence against trans people, against people of color, against drug users, against immigrants, against youth, against the homeless.

To remember those we have lost in the last year and in every year before this year, I invite you to light a candle. We will now begin to read the names of those we wish to remember…

#standwithMonica at the Border: Action today at 10 pm ET (2pm, Dec 1 Sydney)

When traveling back to Australia to complete her social work internship Monica Jones was stopped by Australian immigration and is now detained in a detention center that has been controversial because of mistreatment and deaths that have occurred in the facility. Human Rights advocates have released the following statement about Monica’s situation, and are planning a nationwide action in Australia on World AIDS Day (December 1). Because of the time zone differences this action will take place at 10 pm Eastern Nov 30 in the US. The Best Practices Policy Project is urging people to #standwithMonica at 10 pm this evening November 30 on social media and organizing local actions in solidarity if possible. We also ask that you record (video, audio, photos) your actions so we can build a strong media presence and archive of actions in support of Monica.

PRESS RELEASE FROM AUSTRALIA

Stop the Stigma and Discrimination that fuels the HIV epidemic
Stigma and Discrimination at Australian border prevents African American student from completing her student placement.

Transgender African American sex worker activist and student Monica Jones is being held in immigration detention in Villawood since Friday with no access to visitation rights. Monica has been vocal advocate for the rights of people of colour, trans people and sex workers. Monica is being restricted entry to Australia in order to complete the 3 weeks remaining on her student placement after which she has a return ticket home to the US. Monica is in her 4th and final year of her social work degree. Without completion of her final 3 weeks of her student placement, Monica will fail this semester.

Her advocacy work will be significantly facilitated by the completion of her student placement, where she plans to work as a social worker for her community after graduation.

In the US, people of colour and tans women are disproportionately affected by HIV. Monica had hoped to learn from the successes of Australia’s response to HIV, in particular by peer led sex worker
organisations and community led responses to HIV, that is internationally recognised as a success. She had hoped to learn from the success of Australian peer led programs to achieve similar successful outcomes for African American, transwomen and sex workers in the US. This has been compromised by the Australian Governments refusal of Monica’s entry to Australia.

Monica wishes to highlight the stigma and discrimination experienced by sex workers, transwomen and people of colour that led to her profiling at the border and her subsequent detention. On World AIDS
Day we recognise that it is this stigma and discrimination that fuels the HIV epidemic.

Sex workers, trans people and allies are protesting at the Federal Law courts at 2pm (SYDNEY AUSTRALIA TIME) where Monica’s case will be heard on Monday. Community members, activists and allies will stand in solidarity with Monica to show the Australian Government that together with Monica we won’t stand for racism, transphobia and whorephobia.

Screenshot 2014-11-30 17.02.12