Moving Back from RedUP

Big announcement time: after more than a decade doing sex worker rights activism in various forms and five years of founding and running Red Umbrella Project, by the end of February 2016 I will be moving back from the movement and from my role as Executive Director of RedUP.

I’m striving for transparency in my leadership and want to start talking about this now, during a good moment for both me and the organization. Stick with me for a long post as I lay out some ideas of why this is happening and WTF next.

Moving back, supporting new leadership: I have always intended to move back as the leader of RedUP at some point. From observing other organizations where founders hang on for decades and create a toxic environment, I have always known that I don’t want to be that person. I want RedUP, and the movement more broadly, to thrive without me being a central figure. I am a former sex worker, and at this point I have been a former / non-full time sex worker for many years. I’m also a middle class white cis woman with a masters’ degree who was an indoor, independent worker. The member base RedUP has established and continues to grow has radically different experiences of the sex trade than I do, and they are overwhelmingly trans and cis women of color. They, as women who are directly impacted by criminalization, need to be at the forefront of the movement, not me. The US sex worker rights movement is very white supremacist in its form and function - this is something that must be transformed. I don’t want to prop up entrenched, stuck leadership in this movement and I want to encourage other white sex worker rights leaders to consider their role, impact, and the space we take up, so I’m modelling this by moving back.

The personal toll of activism and trauma work: Last year when I was reeling as a very recent survivor of intimate partner violence, RedUP’s Board told me, “Its ok to quit.” I was determined not to, and though I have paid a personal toll for trying to keep doing work that I’m seriously burnt out on and often triggered by, I am glad that RedUP is now in a place that it can thrive without me, and that was not the case a year ago. Over the last year it has become very clear to me that the accumulation of years and years of trauma - my own and other people’s - has made me less effective and less empathetic, and I don’t want to be that person. I have put a lot of self and community care practices into effect over the past year, and I am taking that seriously in a way I never have before in my life. I have to keep reminding myself that my health and wellness, my survival, matters. It is not selfish, it is necessary. So though I am moving back for the above reasons, I am also moving back because I just cannot keep going the way I have been and honor my community and self without breaking down even more completely than I did this last year. I think I will come back to trauma and activism work in the future. But I need a break.

What happens now: Over six weeks, I will transition out of my role, and leading up to that I’m going to be working hard to raise funds for RedUP’s future and develop the organizational infrastructure further. I will celebrate all we have achieved at the Red Umbrella Project 5 Year Anniversary Gala on February 11th. On my departure, the very capable and brilliant Sarah Patterson will move into the role of RedUP’s Executive Director. Along with our community organizer Jenna Torres and our Board and members, including the Persist Health Project team, which became part of RedUP last year - they will kick ass. RedUP will become a community organizing-driven powerhouse beyond my capabilities as a leader, and that is something that makes me very proud. Within the next couple years, Sarah will also transition out and the organization will either move forward with women of color in paid leadership positions, or it will scale back dramatically.

What’s next in my life: The short answer is, I don’t know - but I am open to many possibilities. During the spring I will be taking a break to do a hard reset on my life. I want to have some adventures, so if you have suggestions or invitations that include bike touring, hiking, camping, road trips, weird history, other dog-inclusive outdoor experiences or something completely different - I want to hear about it. By late spring/early summer I will be making some career type and location decisions, and will hopefully be closer to answering big questions like NYC - stay or go? and what is next for me career-wise? I have some career ideas, which range from museums/history/arts education related stuff, to communications and advocacy work, to starting weird businesses in the woods. I’m open to having conversations with folks who have ideas and leads for me.

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Published on January 11, 2016 10:29
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