Election 2020

Brooklyn Democratic Socialist Campaigns on More Rights for Sex Workers

An organizer for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), in red shirt, coaches sex workers and allies before they canvass for Julia Salazar, who is running for the Democratic primary of the 18th district seat of the New York State Senate, on Aug. 19, 2018, in Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

More than 100 prostitutes, escorts, pornography actors and other people who willingly exchange sex, in one form or another, for money broke pizza together Aug. 1 to support the campaign of Democratic Socialist Julia Salazar for New York Senate.

Sex workers are backing Salazar because she “gets it,” as Lola Balcon, one of the organizers of the Salazar campaign pizza fundraiser, said.

“This is an issue that should be talked about in every single race. And so to be the fourth or fifth person talking about it is incredible,” Balcon also said to The Intercept.

Salazar is all about defending workers’ rights. And as far as the 27-year-old candidate to replace longtime New York Democratic Sen. Martin Dilan is concerned, whether a person is building cars in a factory or selling sex on the sidewalk, she needs to be protected from harassment and deserves decent working conditions.

Her sex-workers’-rights platform includes stopping NYPD officers from using anti-loitering laws to clear the city’s sidewalks of hookers.

“The majority of those charged live in Bushwick & East New York (our District!),” Salazar tweeted, “AND 94% are Black women.”

The Red Umbrella Project issued a “sex-worker led” 2014 report that also found 88 percent of those arrested in Brooklyn for prostitution faced at least three charges, if not more.

Salazar wants to stop police raids on massage parlors, work with prosecutors who charge sex workers with crimes, and help porn actors, prostitutes, escorts and others in the sex business find clean needles, housing and child care.

But Salazar’s campaign is not simply about sex workers. Her overall mission is to “stand up to the political machine in North Brooklyn,” which means Democrats like incumbent Sen. Dilan, who has been representing the district since Salazar was 11 years old.

But beyond that, Salazar sees the campaign to unseat Dilan in the New York Democratic Party’s Sept. 13 primary as one more step in the “fight for a democratic socialist society.”

“A massive affordable housing crisis is raising rents and displacing whole communities; our families are paying more and more just to put a roof over their heads and have less and less to spare for everything else,” reads a statement on Salazar’s campaign website.

“Immigrant communities and workers are under assault by the Trump administration, while millions of Americans are denied healthcare. Politicians stand by while the billionaires get richer and the working people they claim to represent struggle just to survive,” the Salazar for Senate website also proclaimed.

There is a synergy between Salazar, the daughter of Colombian immigrants, and fellow socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Both are committed leaders of the Democratic Socialists of America and support abolishing ICE.

“Most of all, Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez represent a new generation of young, diverse, unapologetically radical women poised to take over the Democratic Party,” Sam Adler-Bell, a  senior policy associate at The Century Foundation, declared in a profile article published by The Intercept.

In fact, Adler-Bell said the women have been sharing stages and campaigning arm-in-arm, knocking on doors together for several months.

“I can’t think of a better place to start the fight for progressives like us than helping get Julia Salizar [sic], Zephyr Teachout and Cynthia Nixon on the ballot!” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in an email to her supporters in July.

While his website doesn’t mention sex workers, Sen. Dilan’s campaign website stresses the Democrat has always been concerned with workers’ rights. He supported the Wage Protection Act in 2010 that offered protection for workers who were being cheated out of their pay by unscrupulous employers.

Dilan also criticizes the Supreme Court’s Janus decision that stripped union leaders of the power to collect dues from people who were protected by, but not members, of their organizations.

“The Janus case was always about the wealth, power, and protections of working Americans. It was never about whether you must pay union dues,” Dilan said in a website statement. “It was a special-interest-backed tool to pry bargaining power from the hands of hard-working Americans. The Supreme Court rolled over and obliged.”

While progressives like Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez call for free education, Dilan reminds them it was his vote that helped set up New York’s tuition-free college program. When it comes to criminal justice, Dilan is in the forefront of the drive to close Riker’s Island. But he also argues Riker’s Island is just a symptom, not the cause of a criminal justice system badly in need of reform. Dilan wants, as many progressives desire, an end to cash bail and automatic discovery before prosecutors offer defendants plea bargains.

He’s also riding on the affordable housing and climate change bandwagons. And while he’s been doing this since, as we noted, Salazar was 11, the socialist who wants his job has only been a Democrat for about a year.

What? Is she taking a page from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) playbook?

She might have borrowed one page from Bernie and another from Hillary. You see, Julia Salazar used to be a Republican.

The New York Daily News reported in late July that Salazar was a registered GOP voter before she moved to New York — that’s right, she’s not native to Brooklyn — and became a Democrat one year ago.

OK, Salazar hasn’t voted as a Republican in quite a while. She didn’t vote for Donald or Hillary or Bernie in 2016. Salazar didn’t vote for anyone in any election from 2010 to 2017, the year she registered as a Democrat.

Her campaign spokesman, Michael Kinnucan, said Salazar, a naturalized citizen who grew up in a conservative family, registered as a Republican because “she had conservative views” when she graduated from high school. But Kinnucan added those opinions quickly changed when Salazar went to college.

Dilan thinks that history leaves Salazar’s motivation open to question.

“How do you go from Republican to democratic socialist all of a sudden?” Dilan asked. “I think she needs to explain it to the community that she claims to want to represent.”