Rad Mission Neighbors was formed in the summer and fall of 2018 as a response to violent, police-based gentrification tactics in the Mission. A group of local neighbors and activists, we have gathered together to reject overpolicing of sex workers and other marginalized neighbors. We support sex workers and demand decriminalization around sex work, homelessness, and all crimes of poverty.
The history of street-based sex work on Capp and Shotwell streets dates back a hundred years, to vice reformers who pushed the Red Light Abatement Act, fully passed in 1917. Ivy Anderson and Devon Angus, editors of Alice: Memoir of a Barbary Coast Prostitute, write for the California Historical Society:
Anti-vice organizers mounted a rally in January 1917 that they dubbed “Purity Sunday”, weeks before the mass evictions of the vice districts on Valentine’s Day, focused on the moral questions surrounding sex work. “Victims” of the brothel system were to be “saved”, if possible. But what eluded these varied reformers in their campaign was the labor aspect of sex work.
Reggie Gamble and Maude Spencer, two madams from the Uptown Tenderloin district, aimed to confront “Purity Sunday” by storming the church of one of its main prothesizers, the Rev. Paul Smith…. Gamble stormed the pulpit of the Rev. Smith after leading over 200 sex workers into the church; her speech focused on the economic conditions that surrounded sex workers. The ongoing wage that a working class woman could expect at the time was six dollars a week, which was little more than starvation wages.
Today, sex work is still an intersectional issue involving oppressions of gender and sexuality and poverty as well as policing, race, and citizenship status.
Street-based sex work has increased as rents have skyrocketed in the Bay Area over the past few years, with some Mission residents urging the police to respond. Mission Local covered a series of Mission Precinct police community meetings in which neighbors urged police to more aggressively patrol Shotwell and Capp Streets. Yet by December 2017 the SFPD and DA’s Office agreed to not arrest or prosecute sex workers when reporting a violent crime under the Prioritizing Safety for Sex Workers policies. This legislation inspired the state level bill AB 2243, authored by CA-43 Assemblymember Laura Friedman and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in June of 2018.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, things were moving backwards. On April 11, 2018, President Trump signed the bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). Although these laws purported to “make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking,” and make web content providers liable for sex trafficking on their sites, SESTA/FOSTA have been widely criticized for infringing on the First Amendment and criminalizing sex workers who are not being trafficked. The closure of Backpage and Craigslist Personals later in April 2018 precipitated a crisis among sex workers who used these sites to find clients in a safe and controlled way, pushing more sex workers onto the streets and increasing their vulnerability.
The months post-FOSTA/SESTA saw, anecdotally, an increase in street-based sex work in the Mission and a renewed effort by one neighborhood group, the Central Mission Neighbors, to use the police to “eradicate prostitution in the Mission.” Despite professed values of “diversity” and “meaningful social interaction,” this group of majority white homeowners was professing to speak for the Mission in promoting violent gentrification tactics.
At the August 28, 2018, Mission Police Station Community meeting, Captain Gaetano Caltagirone announced the creation of a “Sex Worker Abatement Task Force” which is working with the Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion (LEAD) program to aggressively arrest sex workers and their clients along Shotwell and Capp Streets, partly in response to requests from anti-sex work neighbors. City officials are also pushing legislation that would enable them to harass and surveill massage parlor workers. And in a private meeting RMN members attended between the captain and representatives from St. James Infirmary and the Department of the Status of Women, Captain Caltagirone denied the Abatement Unit even exists.
In this context, the Rad Mission Neighbors meet monthy and plan and support local action around destigmatizing and decriminalizing sex work, holding the police and our neighbors accountable, and drawing connections between poverty, housing, sex work, and xenophobic, racialized, and anti-poverty policing.
In November 2018, we hosted our first public event, a standing-room only panel on these intersecting issues. The panel featured Rachel West and Alex of US Pros, Celestina Pearl of St. James Infirmary, Paul Boden of WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project), and Lucero of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, moderated by RMN member Nihar. The panel highlighted the ways that policing of sex workers is part of a mass incarceration agenda that uses tools like the Gang Injunction and anti-loitering law to privatize public space and criminalize poverty, with especially dire consequences for people of color, undocumented people, and gender nonconforming people.
Since then we have continued endorsing and participating in local events that support sex workers’ rights and safety, including a December 17, 2018, action at the Mission Police Station and a January 24, 2019, panel at the Tenderloin Museum.
RMN meets on the second Thursday of every month at the Redstone Building. Contact us on social media or at radmissionneighbors (at) gmail (dot) com.