Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Know Before You Vote: Rethinking Prop V and K

Written by, Ellen-Rae Cachola, Annie Fukushima, Debbie Lee, Gwyn Kirk and Sandra Schwartz

Prop K, also known as the Decriminalization of Prostitution Ordinance, and Prop V, a ballot measure to reinstate Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (JROTC), deserve deeper discussions and critique. Prop K has been hailed as liberatory within San Francisco’s sex-positive culture. But questions of race, class, gender and nation continue to be silenced in that struggle toward liberating sexuality. Prop V was a no brainer for many people in liberal anti-war San Francisco. But when young people gave testimony to defend their right to JROTC, some capitulated to the culture of militarism that pervades US society, of which JROTC is a part.

The purpose of this editorial is not to dictate anyone’s vote, but to invite people to think deeper into these propositions up for vote this November 4, 2008. What are their long term and larger implications if they pass or not pass? How will these proposed changes help or hamper San Francisco’s claim to fame as a city of progressives?

Some Points to think about when Voting Prop K

  • Without legal enforcement behind them, prostitutes may have limited backing in protecting themselves from the abuse of traffickers. This decriminalizing measure does not necessarily mean prostitution will be any safer for prostitutes. This measure not only decriminalizes prostitutes, but also those considered "management." What are the power dynamics in prostitution that are being ignored in Prop K? Will this lead to an "open door" of human trafficking?
  • Cases such as Operation Gilded Cage (2005) where over 100 Korean women were found to be prostituted into San Francisco massage parlors suggests that human trafficking into prostitution impacts migrant communities. Does Prop K address the complexity for immigrants who can’t go to authorities to report working conditions for fear of prosecution due to their immigrant status, not necessarily their "occupation". In addition, traditional western forms of political organizing and empowerment may be culturally incongruent to immigrants and women who have had histories of abuse.
  • There will be a decrease in funding for non-profits that provide exit strategies for people who want to leave prostitution. An organization that will be affected is Safe House, one of five organizations in the U.S. that addresses homelessness and prostitution. Another is The SAGE project that, although critiqued for it's "John School", also provides a myriad of healing services and programs for people who want to leave prostitution.
  • The average age for people to enter prostitution is 13 years. Will decriminalizing prostitution address the fact that many begin "working" as minors? How will getting rid of exit strategy programs limit the options for those in prostitution?

Some Points to think about when Voting Prop V

  • JROTC is a Department of Defense program. The instructors are retired military personnel, the textbooks are selected by the military, and the military provides 50% of the funding for salaries. Having a JROTC program in a school normalizes militarism in our schools. Former Defense Secretary, William Cohen, stated that “JROTC is one of the best recruiting devices we could have.” Commanders from every branch of the military have testified repeatedly before the House Armed Services Committee regarding the success of JROTC programs to recruit.
  • Alternatives to JROTC exist. The JROTC Alternative Task Force recommended to the San Francisco Board of Education on June 9, 2008 a replacement program for JROTC. The task force proposed that the district develop a “Leadership Pathway” program with an Ethnic Studies and Leadership Development course as the foundation course. This program is being piloted at two San Francisco high schools this year. The task force also recommended that drum and bugle corps also be piloted as an after school programs. This program was chosen in response to a survey given to the JROTC cadets. Community service was the most frequently given answer regarding what they liked about the program. The Leadership Pathway will include a service learning focus in 10th grade, an internship in a non-profit in 11th grade, and an independent leadership project in 12th grade. L
  • Additional alternatives include after school programs, youth groups, sports, art organizations, AmeriCorps, and hundreds of volunteer and internship programs.
  • Although JROTC has changed the lives for many young people, it does not take into account the issues of economic and political inequality that produced the initial disempowerment in their community. To say that JROTC is a positive solution for communities does not look at the purpose of military culture, which is to produce violence and disempowerment of others for another people’s gain.

This message is not to sway peoples’ decisions, but to really think about other stakeholders who are usually silenced in these debates. There needs more policies that can address issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and nation so that nuances of communities’ realities can be recognized and justly accounted for in our government.