Beyond Electoral Politics: Liberation For All Marginalized Communities
Despite the frustrations of electoral politics, there are people who have been working and will continue to work for the liberation of marginalized people
By Reina Sultan
With each passing day, it becomes more and more clear that electoral politics won’t save us—which I already argued here. Since that last piece, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar have all dropped out of the race, clearing the way for a Joe Biden nomination. Yikes. The establishment is clearly trying to preserve the United States’ white supremacist, capitalist structures—even if that means putting forth a candidate likely to lose to Donald Trump.
The United States’ oppressive structures didn’t begin with Trump, though. It is highly unlikely that they would end with a “progressive” president either. Despite the frustrations of electoral politics, there are people who have been working and will continue to work for the liberation of the most marginalized people, regardless of election results. Again, I talked to some of these organizers and activists.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Sex Workers’ Rights
Leila Raven is a queer mama, organizer, and prison abolitionist who traded sex while experiencing homelessness as a teenager in New York City. She helped to launch the DecrimNow DC campaign and now organizes with Decrim NY to work toward safety without policing for people in the sex trades in New York.
How are you involved in the sex workers’ rights space?
I have been working on increasing the safety of people who trade sex since I was just 17. Before I was even stably housed myself, I started by focusing on the housing needs of young people, and that continues to be the issue closest to my heart. While it’s important to recognize the ways that harmful laws and policing impact people who trade sex, our focus on ending criminalization should not take away from our focus on building safety for people who trade sex by working to meet the need for resources right now. Many of the laws we’re working to repeal in both New York and Washington, DC have acted as barriers to resources. For example, criminalization puts sex workers at greater risk of eviction and homelessness.
Currently, I work in public education to shift the narrative around this issue in a way that uplifts the experiences of people at the margins who are most severely impacted by criminalization such as Black and brown people, trans and queer folks, migrants, people experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities. I have worked with artists and designers to create a number of street art pieces that uplift the stories and experiences of sex workers like GiGi Thomas who was criminalized for surviving violence as well as Yang Song who died while being chased by police. I have also organized canvasses throughout New York and Washington, DC to talk to community members about the harms of criminalization and educate communities about the ways to end violence, trafficking, and exploitation in the sex trades without prisons or police.
In my former role as Executive Director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), I was able to work with my comrade and friend Nona Conner, a Black trans sex worker and survivor who I collaborated with to build a program that provided stipends to current trans and queer sex workers of color to support their involvement on the frontlines of this advocacy—as canvassers, lobbyists, and experts in their own experiences with trading sex and facing criminalization. With Decrim NY, we’ve also been able to provide stipends to sex workers to canvass and travel to Albany to talk to legislators about their experiences. I want to change harmful policies like the criminalization of sex work. More than that, I want people who trade sex—whether by choice, circumstance, or coercion—to have access to the resources they need to survive and be safe.
How can I get involved?
This spring, we’ll be relaunching our monthly canvasses to educate communities about the harms of criminalization and the need to build community safety without policing. If you’re in New York, join a canvass, and we’ll teach you everything you need to know before we hit the streets to talk to neighbors, chalk sidewalks, and post street art. We especially need groups of our allies to organize their own canvases around these issues in their communities!
Last, but certainly not least—give money directly to sex workers!
Healthcare for Marginalized Communities
Omar Taweh is a 22-year-old organizer currently in Amman, Jordan. His organizing experience began during his time at UConn, where he was focused on healthcare, racial inequality, student wellness, mental health, and the LGBTQ+ experience.
How are you involved in healthcare organizing?
My particular experiences organizing in New Haven around the healthcare system are specific to immigrant populations, particularly with those fleeing persecution (refugees) from the Middle East and Africa. At Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), I would assist resettled refugee families in navigating the American healthcare system by teaching them about the public transportation system, documenting their doctors’ visits to create reports on trends and where improvements need to be made, and work with residents to discuss cultural competency skills within the healthcare system.
How can I help?
The biggest barrier to healthcare, both domestically and internationally, is the cost of services. Particularly in the US, it is the high cost in every step from self-treating and the doctors visit to the insurance and the prescription. If you can, monetarily support those who can’t afford healthcare. If not, help them by spreading their story or fundraising efforts to your networks, whether it be in person or online.
Another huge challenge is the lack of community-based healthcare around the US. Healthcare professionals living outside of a community—or with little connection to it—have a significantly more difficult time supporting the patients they treat because of a lack of community/cultural understanding and a connection to their communities. Even if you aren’t a provider, you can get involved in community-based work in any way shape or form. This advice may seem broad, but doing work that connects community members supports the mission of collaborative community healthcare. When communities feel, think, and act together, they create networks that they can utilize to support each other’s health.
Recommended: Civic Engagement Does Not Begin and End With Voting
Within the healthcare system, there are so many structural barriers to people getting the care that they need. Add to that language, culture, norms, and behavior, and you suddenly have a healthcare system that is only built for a narrow margin of people in society. Short conversations with your healthcare providers offer a good opportunity to educate (or at least shed light upon) the things that healthcare professionals can be doing better to support diverse and underrepresented people in their quest to acquire healthcare. Ask if your doctors’ offices have forms in other languages, interpretation services, or other culturally-sensitive practices.
TS Candii is a current sex-worker, organizer and political activist and public speaker producing a documentary called POLICING OUR BODIES.
How are you involved in the trans liberation space?
I am 26 years old and have experienced first-hand racial profiling and employment and housing discrimination. I often find myself in situations where I have been stopped and frisked by law enforcement in New York City because of the unofficial policing practice, “Walking While Trans”— also known as loitering for the purpose of prostitution.
How can I help?
- Take a Trans Person to Lunch
- Donate money to an individual providing direct services for transgender people
- Fund Scholarships for trans people
- Ask your library to carry books that deal positively with trans people
- Attend an anti-racism training and put into practice what you learn
- Start an online community or a blog that deals with an issue that is important to you
- Hold a workshop on how to effectively advocate for yourself when seeking medical care or therapy
- Preach or speak at a local community of faith, such as a synagogue, church or mosque
- Ask your local film festival to show trans-themed movies and then go see them
- Know your rights if you are stopped and frisk by the police/if you see a trans person stopped and frisked by police
- Engage Media Coverage of Transgender Issues
- Collect and share stories of discrimination
- Educate a local homeless shelter about how to be trans inclusive
- Set up a training in a hospital, nursing or medical school
- Help an LGBT organization become more transgender friendly
Engage in community events
- Invite your mayor or other elected official to address a trans group or town meeting
- Plan an art show of works by trans artists
- Support the Day of Silence
- Hold a Trans Pride event in your community
- Create and publicize a calendar of local events and encourage people to attend them
- Plan and conduct a Day of Remembrance event
- Hold a house party for NCTE or another trans individuals
- Hold a job fair
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine to five. A California native, she enjoys the beach, the sun, and complaining about the weather in D.C., where she now lives. Reina is passionate about smashing the patriarchy and eating the rich. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, and Rantt. Following @SultanReina on Twitter will provide you with endless hot takes and photos of Reina’s extremely cute cats.
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