Prisoners' Justice Day
The Prisoner's Justice Day demo was quite small, but still a respectable size. The crowd looked like anarchist-activist types, with some socialist-newspaper floggers, Native people as well as people who definitely looked like they had done some time.
There were some good speakers and some not so good. Chris Lyons, a long-time prisoners' rights activist, who had done time in several institutions in Canada, talked about being hired and even payed to be a consultant for governments, only to have them ignore the recommendations that the inquiries and commissions she sat on put forth. She seemed to be saying that they pay you and include you in order to ignore you. She wanted to not waste anymore time on the system and was starting her own newsletter.
Kelly, a native women's leader, was the most offensive speaker. Between suggesting that all the White people in uniforms should be in prisons and stating that our society "prostitutes" their [Native] women and children, she repeatedly used the term "prostitute" to insult anyone she didn't like. "Those prostitutes in there...," she shouted, pointing at the pre-trial centre.
Next a Native filmmaker/artist sang a song about: "a native woman standing on the corner with a piece of paper in her hand -- the $20... To buy cocaine... John circles around and around..."
Much of the rhetoric was offensive to sex workers. (I think I caught Amanda wincing.) Amanda came up later and apologized profusely because somehow we got put to the very end of the speakers list (Amanda was NOT happy about it). But in the end, it all worked out for the better.
If you who don't already know Raigen, she is a Native woman from Northern Alberta with a long and interesting past in the sex trade and on the street. She walked up to the megaphone, proudly showing off her 54 triple-D tits.
Raigen's was loud and her speech was emotional and hard-hitting. She opened with a joke, and asked the crowd if they were dead. "I see more action on Hastings Street at 1 a.m.!"
Raigen got straight to the point: "I'm going to step on some toes here, but I didn't come here to make friends. I came here to get our message across.
"When I started working I was working at a job for minimum wage in Alberta which was $3.75 an hour. Who can live on that? I turned to prostitution and never looked back.
"I've been working the streets for 18 years. I've worked in every major city in this country. Women have a right to work the streets.
Raigen went on to say that: "Welfare is $500 a month, is that enough to live on? Well, is it? Many women who work the streets do it put three square meals a day on the table, to buy clothes for their kids. Women are put in jail and hated by society for putting food on the table. You tell me what the hell is wrong with that."
Raigen thanked the organizers for inviting us and said that we rarely get the chance to express our views. She talked about how the press always picks "the sorriest lookin' ho" and says, 'This is prostitution.' "Prostitution and drug abuse are always put together. They have nothing to do with each other! Prostitution is not the problem, for many women it is a solution."
At the end she called me up as a SWAV founding member, and made the crowd hand out our "If Cops Want to Talk to You" cards to each other.
I have to say it was Raigen's best speech I've seen so far! We definitely made an impression!
I have to say that the Native woman, Kelly, didn't look too happy. But she did direct Raigen to an Asian man who she called a "fan who wants to meet you." (He was looking for a date!)
Amanda recorded audio of the event to broadcast on "Stark Raven." We hope to get a copy of Raigen's speech on cassette. (Thanks to Will P. for the great photos!)
-- Andrew Sorfleet
-- Photos by Will Pritchard
Created: September 3, 1999|
Last modified: April 1, 2008
Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver|
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710