Here We Go Again

The latest Washington scandal revolves around the so-called “D.C. Madam”, Deborah Jean Palfrey. She is facing prostitution charges for running an escort service in Washington D.C. Recently, Palfrey released her phone records, which touched off a stampede of press muckrackers looking for prominent politician clients.

The one they turned up was David Vitter (R-LA). As so often seems to be the case with these kinds of scandals, Vitter is a social conservative who was an enthusiastic proponent of impeaching Bill Clinton over a blow job. And now he says he has “sinned” but refuses to resign over the scandal.

In cases like this, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture in the interest of scoring cheap political points. The temptation for Democratic partisans is to accuse Vitter of hypocrisy, call him a criminal, and demand his resignation. Unfortunately, this impulse reveals that many on the left have no coherent politics around sex work.

We’ve been down this road recently with the Ted Haggard and Jeff Gannon scandals. In the former case, a prominent evangelical leader was caught patronizing a male escort. In the latter case, a conservative operative was revealed to have worked as an escort. Both of these situations were opportunities to argue that 1) sex work is something that is much more pervasive than we acknowledge and 2) it would be good for sex workers and good for our society if we stopped stigmatizing sex work so much (which would mean, first off, that prostitution shouldn’t be illegal).

Instead, all too many people were eager to use the stigma against sex work to bash Republicans. See for example, this thread at DailyKos, where the author calls for Vitter’s prosecution and ridicules the idea that a madam could be a “character witness”. This kind of stuff is unprincipled, and in the long run it’s not good for the left. What we can and should say is that while David Vitter did nothing wrong (aside from mislead his wife), it’s hypocritical for Republicans to defend him while still upholding the same anti-sex positions. If Vitter’s behavior is truly, as he says, “a private matter”, then it stands to reason that the same should be true of prostitution in general, and so we should stop persecuting sex workers.

Most of the people reading this probably know someone who either is a sex worker, or patronizes sex workers. And many of you probably don’t know it. The fact that sex work is kept secret and not talked about makes it easier for people to openly stigmatize sex workers. And that, in turn, keeps sex work in the dark. It would be better for everyone if this stuff was legal and out in the open.

My belief is that sex workers–from strippers to porn stars to escorts–are first and foremost workers, and that socialists should stand in solidarity with them. The fact that some sex work is currently illegal shouldn’t stand in the way of our solidarity, any more than the fact that some immigrants are working illegally keeps us from supporting them. While we should obviously support the elimination of involuntary trafficking of people for sex work, that shouldn’t used as a pretext for targeting people who do sex work of their own free will.

This is far from an uncontroversial position. There many leftists and feminists who believe that sex work is inherently degrading to women, and that it should therefore be illegal under all circumstances. There are probably folks in YDS who take this position, and maybe one of them will write a rebuttal to me. But for more on the pro-sex worker position, I encourage folks to check out the excellent $pread Magazine.


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Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump

February 17, 2017 · $20.00 USD

Location: MayDay Space
Where: 176 St Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
When: Friday, February 17th at 6 PM to Sunday, February 19th to 4 PM

Political Context

This Presidents’ Day weekend, the Young Democratic Socialists will gather for our annual winter conference in New York City titled Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump. We did not choose the name lightly. In doing so, we call for leftists to collectively confront Trump and Trumpism at every possible opportunity. When a Trump administration attempts mass deportations of undocumented workers, when it attempts to register Muslims or roll back worker protections, when it attempts to take away reproductive, LGTBQ, civil, or any other rights, then we must militantly resist to prevent such measures.

To succeed, this must be explicitly socialist resistance. With liberalism having repeatedly shown itself incapable of combating the far right, it is now the time for socialists to openly declare our place in building the mass, multi-racial, and working class movement necessary for defeating the Trump administration. In this struggle, millennials will play an outsized role. That is why this conference comes at such a critical time—together we must create spaces for democratic and strategic discussion, spaces to gain organizing skills, and most importantly, spaces to form networks of young radicals for the future struggles ahead. These spaces will only come together if socialists come together. Join us this Presidents Weekend and help ignite the movement to defeat the Trump administration, continue the political revolution, and build the socialist alternative.

Key Deadlines

  • January 8th: Travel Scholarship for Air Travel (for application see below)
  • January 15th: Travel Scholarship for Non-Air Travel (ex: bus, car, train, etc.)
  • February 3rd: Early Bird Registration Ends - Tickets prices go up from $5 to $10
  • February 10th: Free Housing - We have limited free housing. You need to first register, then you will be sent an application for free housing.

Apply for a travel scholarship here! (First Deadline January 8, 2017)

Check out the working program (subject to change)