International Whores' Day 2021 Official Statement
Despite culturally and financially benefitting from Berlin’s international image as a sex-positive city, time and time again we see those in control of media and political narratives in Germany refusing to engage with sex workers in public conversation: refusing to listen and report on our struggles; speaking about us, but never to us. This must change.
On June 2nd and June 5th Berlin based sex workers and our allies rallied in full force in aid of International Whores’ Day 2021. This historic day was marked by two direct actions organised by members of Berlin Sex Worker Action Group and our allies. On June 2nd we held an Anti-SWERF Counter Demo which took place at Washingtonplatz. On June 5th, we held our moving Demo beginning in the afternoon by U Hallesches Tor and moving through the streets of Berlin. We want to take some time here to reflect on these actions, archive our work, and present what we look to in the future as workers, allies and activists.
Both events were well attended and supported by our local allies, a range of sex worker identities, bodies, organisations, political groups and friends and we want to start this reflection by first of all thanking, sincerely, those who were able to join with us in solidarity. Without you these actions would simply not have been possible: a reality which is true of all activism and something we must remember as we move forward in the shared fight for representation, justice and liberation. A special thanks to Trans*SexWorks, QueerFem and WTF alliance, our sibling organisers who offered their time and skills in both the planning and execution of both demos from start to finish. Without your support, these actions simply would not have been possible and we look forward to returning the effort.
We would like to thank our collaborators for their participation and speeches at both demos. Thanks to Ban Ying, Berlin Collective Action E.V., Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe E.V., The Black Sex Workers Collective, Career Gxrls, DASPU, Deutsche Wohnen Enteignen, FAU AG-SW, Frauentreff OLGA, GLADT E.V., Hydra E.V., Koreaverband / AG Trostfrauen, Migrantifa, Objects of Desire, Pack Your Umbrella, PIC Amsterdam, POTSE, Lxs Putxs Con Lxs Putxs, Red Umbrella Sweden, Women in Exile and all our affiliated supporters. Intersectionality is at the core of our movement, and our ability to be heard is linked to the willingness of our allies to listen to us and to champion our voices. As activists in Berlin we look to a future of allyship where intersectionality as a practice defines all community action.
As we look towards an uncertain future with COVID-19, we think on how we can build even better structures for community organising, structures that protect us from digital fatigue or inaccessibility, structures that contain within them care and human affection, structures that facilitate joy, safety, power and action.
The run up to our actions was a frenzy of meetings, all organised and facilitated online of course due to COVID-19. For some of our team, the demos were the first time we got to meet our comrades in person. In our de-briefings, we have reflected upon how organising during COVID-19 affected our mental health as activists and the special form of emotional drain caused by digital activism as opposed to in-person work. Despite these difficult odds, feedback has been that these demos were well prepared, well executed and well attended. We reached people who would not have otherwise been reached. We supported and loved each other. As we look towards an uncertain future with COVID-19, we think on how we can build even better structures for community organising, structures that protect us from digital fatigue or inaccessibility, structures that contain within them care and human affection, structures that facilitate joy, safety, power and action.
Despite being subjected to last minute changes against our will, our Anti-SWERF action on Wednesday June 2nd was hugely successful. The original plan was to host a “community garden”, to create a safe and welcoming community space by and for sex workers. However, when news reached us shortly before the planned action that a group of Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs) were also planning an action on June 2nd at Alexanderplatz, we mobilised quickly and redesigned our entire action, planning instead a Counter-Demo, in direct contrast to the SWERFS, pro-nordic model rally, pro-lifers and fundamentalist Christian groups that dared to speak against us on our International Sex Workers Day. Just two days before this counter-demo, news reached us again that the SWERFS had quietly moved the location of their demo from Alexanderplatz to Washingtonplatz. Their reluctance to engage with us in dialogue was disappointing, but unsurprising. We pursued them, of course, at the last moment adapting all our outreach to spread the word that we had moved location. The stress and rage that this created could have immobilised us, but instead we and our allies worked with our rage, determined not to be beaten, not to let this group of people go unchallenged.
An entire story could be written about the day itself, but perhaps one moment worth a special mention was the official announcement by the AG-SW of the new Berlin Sex Workers Union, a working group within FAU (Freie-Arbeiter*innen Union) – Berlin, designed to build a section by and for the sex workers of Berlin.
We met our adversaries in the heat of the afternoon, standing within shouting distance of each other. Their protest was silent, ours was filled from start to finish with chanting, music, speeches, performances and cries of solidarity. You can check out the speeches that were read in our IWD2021 digital archives on our website. Despite various setbacks from forced location changes, technical difficulties, the heat, COVID the turnout was solid. Thank you once again to our allies, to everyone who gave their time to speak, worked the info-tables, and to everyone who attended. Our estimates put our turn out at around 150-200 at the demo’s peak. This number speaks to the reach our planning had, that despite all the changes, we filled the square with our voices, solidarity and love.
An entire story could be written about the day itself, but perhaps one moment worth a special mention was the official announcement by the AG-SW of the new Berlin Sex Workers Union, a working group within FAU (Freie-Arbeiter*innen Union) – Berlin, designed to build a section by and for the sex workers of Berlin. This historic moment was met with cries of joy, a huge balloon display, tears, sekt and dancing. This will be the first ever sex workers Union in Berlin as far as we know. If you’re interested in joining the union, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our second action on Saturday June 5th was planned to be our big celebration, of course continuing with our strong political current but mixed also with extra flamboyance, even louder music and an even bigger and more diverse presence. A big special thanks to our allies from the Lauti Gruppe who generously loaned us their van and lauti, you can check out pictures of our parade and all the speeches of course in our archives. The demonstration rallied by U Hallesches Tor in the mid-afternoon. The turn out was once again, solid. Our demo route took us from Hallsches Tor in Kreuzberg via Mehringdamm and Yorckstraße to Schöneberg's “gay village” where sex workers have a traditional and long lasting presence until today. When walking down Bülowstraße and crossing Frobenstraße towards Nollendorfplatz, sex workers from the area greeted and joined the demonstration, which was a joyous moment for all participants. The sun was extremely intense which looked beautiful but made walking on the roads quite inaccessible and extremely difficult for people. Despite the heat, sun cream and shade from the red umbrellas was shared, and the Trans*SexWorks community support bike held up the rear of the crowd giving out water to anyone in need.
A major set back that threw us a little was the last-minute decision from the police to forcibly change our demo route. We had originally planned to end the demonstration at Winterfeldplatz. However, at our first stop, the police informed us that we would not be allowed to gather at our planned end location due to another event taking place. We rallied quickly, changed our schedule and made it work. At its peak, our demo blocked the streets with at least 400 in attendance. Residents of Berlin waved their pots and pans from their balconies and windows, car horns beeped in support, many passers by took fliers and raised their voices in allyship. The heat beat down, and still we flooded the streets with our bodies: angry, tired, determined and powerful.
We believe that the success of the actions during International Sex Worker's Day 2021 in Berlin is also due to increased collective efforts in networking and mutual solidarity in the last years and we are looking forward to build on that momentum.
In the aftermath of our actions, we have received streams of positive feedback from those present and from other activist groups who were reached by our words and have since changed their stance on sex work politics who are now pushing conversations about decriminalisation and anti-stigma amongst their comrades. We have observed an increased interest in the sex workers’ struggle here in Berlin and are emboldened by the various groups coming out in solidarity with us since our actions took place. Due to the success of our actions, Sex Worker Action Group Berlin is committed to making June 2nd International Sex Worker’s Day an annual event here in Berlin and we look forward to even bigger and stronger rallies next year in 2022. Preparation will begin in January, and open meetings will be available for those who wish to join us in our work. We believe that the success of the actions during International Sex Worker's Day 2021 in Berlin is also due to increased collective efforts in networking and mutual solidarity in the last years and we are looking forward to build on that momentum.
In our final reflections, we look to the immediate future and to the press. Press coverage of our actions was disappointingly absent and what was written of us was overwhelmingly misinformed and anti-sex worker leaning. Despite culturally and financially benefitting from Berlin’s international image as a sex-positive city, time and time again we see those in control of media and political narratives in Germany refusing to engage with sex workers in public conversation: refusing to listen and report on our struggles; speaking about us, but never to us. This must change.
Sex working spaces in Berlin are under direct attack from gentrification, anti-sex work and anti-migrant sentiment and the rise of government practices which facilitate the social cleansing of those who no longer fit the tastes of the privileged. If you invite us to your demos, if you invite us to your protests, we will be present but only under the assurance that the support is mutual. In a time where sex work is increasingly “en vogue” culturally, we will not be lending our limited time, capacities or bodies to movements of people who do not show mutual action and support in exchange for our labour. We want to speak, we want to be heard, but we need to be able to do this safely and with structures of care at the core of this precarious work.
What we did this year was powerful, meaningful and has had tangible reach. What we go on to do will be even bigger. Join us in the fight.