Thursday afternoon, with reluctance and curiosity I joined a few dozen people who were protesting against Craigslist and the role their Adult Services advertisements play in the human trafficking of women and children.
My curiosity was generated by the press release from CATW (Coalition Against Trafficking in Women) which claimed over 75 advocacy groups were sponsoring the protest. With a single exception, I had quite frankly never heard of any of them.
My reluctance partially stemmed from the same. Over 75 advocacy sponsors, but the list did not include Polaris Project, Gemsgirls or the DNA Foundation, groups I consider to be working on the forefront against domestic human trafficking. (IJM and Restore International being two leaders from an international standpoint.)
Additional reluctance slowed me, as I am really not a march and protest type. My experience has been that the participants include, but are not limited to, professional protesters (who will show up to protest anything and everything) a handful of extremists whose intensity overshadows reality, and an army of media with cameras.
But, I had the time…I was curious…and as a bonus, I could hang out for a day or two with my daughter who lives in The City. I ignored the raised eyebrows of speculation from my beau and both my daughters, and decided to attend.
The protest was scheduled to run from noon to two o’clock pm. Not being familiar with that part of The City, I headed out a little early. Craigslist Headquarters is in a San Francisco house wedged in a row, on a typical street with homes, shops, and cafes all side by side.
CL HQ on a typical day
(photo taken from the internet)
As I approached the building I noticed they had changed its appearance. Scaffolding had been erected and draped, blocking the upper stories from view. A temporary makeshift sign depicting an insurance company hung above the gated, locked entrance. Two professionally attired painters were up on ladders painting over the Craigslist.org logo on the front of the building.
People began arriving around 11:30. Equipped with microphone, loudspeaker, and protest signs they began to chant slogans and encourage the growing crowd. Those running the show seemed professional and organized, so I walked up to the edge of the action.
The chants were a bit juvenile and interspersed with shout outs to Craig Newmark and CEO, Jim Buckmaster. I figured we were less than a mile from Haight Ashbury…and this was a protest after all. Chants and name calling were to be expected.
However, at this point, it went completely off the rails for me. A comedienne (who apparently wrote for Rosanne Barr) had dressed herself up as a parody of Craig. Pillow stuffed shirt, painted on facial hair, and some sort of pretend bald cap she strutted around calling herself a pimp and mocking just about every publicly known factoid about the founder of Craigslist. It was neither effective, nor entertaining.
Several of the legitimate speakers were excellent, although each only spoke for a couple of minutes. (see photos and links below) It became apparent that the large majority of protestors were there to speak to the issue of prostitution, both trafficked, and consensual. Ahhh…no wonder I was unfamiliar with the sponsors.
Joy Friedman (link) Terria Joseph
Victor Malarek (link) I’m going to read his books.
Two women were there to loudly protest the protest. They were in support of prostitution and claimed removing the Adult Services section from Craigslist would drive prostitutes to more dangerous and less beneficial avenues.
The assumption was they were there on behalf of Craigslist. (btw, Jim and Craig…as you review the footage, I am the one with the long dark hair, Ray-Bans, wearing a long black shirt and sweater with blue jeans.)
stuck her camera and microphone in my face and at others who were obviously merely spectators, while we were watching from the very back of the crowd. She also made a point of sticking her camera into children’s strollers. (If those had been my babies in those strollers, I would have broken her camera beyond repair…just sayin’)
There was plenty of media.
Halfway through the list of speakers, the loudspeaker went dead. Those who could speak without amplification, made a valid attempt. However, they were difficult to hear over the protestors and the street traffic.
Attention started to splinter into side conversations, and the protest lost its momentum. A representative from Congresswoman Speier was to read a message, but chose not to at that point.
As the crowd began to thin, a male prostitution rights advocate (who is apparently well known to the organizers) was engaging a couple of the speakers in some rather heated debate.
As the event was winding down he had an altercation with a woman he was arguing with. Maybe she had a camera. Maybe he smacked her had away. Maybe she was scratched by him. Either way the police got involved and a dozen people were filling out police reports several doors down from Craigslist Headquarters. Words were used like “assault” and “injury” and “traumatized”. It was overplayed drama, for very little reason.
I took this opportunity to introduce myself to the woman who was one of the main organizers, asking her name and which group she affiliated with. Incredibly defensive she gave me no straight answers. She asked me to repeat my name…three times over ten minutes. Kept asking me to spell it. (did she forget…or was she testing me?) She gave me someone else’s business card.
I understand that she thought I could have been with the opposition. However, I made it pretty clear I’d just come to see what it was all about. You’d think that I’m exactly the type of person she would want to join her cause. I have time, resources, and am already wanting Craigslist to change. Instead she was accusatory and rude.
Aside from the event organizers, the speakers, and the mass of media, there was no real turnout. Certainly not attended by all 75 sponsors. It came across as merely a photo op for a couple of the speakers. While it seemed to have been well planned, the execution was poor. Not a lot of local pre-publicity. (I looked for it over several days.) I’m guessing most of the post event coverage will be overshadowed by today’s Mehserle verdict. I think the use of the comedienne was ill advised. It made the protest silly and insulting. While most of the information delivered was factual, many statements made by the organizers were complete hyperbole. Several of the facts were slanted so extreme they were ridiculous.
Still…Craigslist needs to figure out a way to eliminate the advertisements which sell children, women and men, against their will. It could probably be achieved by a gifted code warrior or two. And they will need to be ever vigilant, because the sellers will keep finding a way around any barrier.
No matter your stand on the legality of prostitution, Craigslist is being used by criminals. Craigslist is profiting from the fees the criminals are charged, and that looks bad. I’m aware of the changes Craigslist has made and steps they’ve taken. But they’ve got to do more.
If it were “katherineslist”…there is no way I would allow it to be used by, or associated with, criminals who advertise to forcibly sell anyone for sexual exploitation. It appears Craig doesn’t mind.
A few other places where you can read about it: (edited)