We are joining communities in Seattle and across North America responding to the rise of anti-Asian violence and to the murder of eight individuals, including six Asian women workers, at Atlanta-area massage parlors earlier this week with calls to support community-led and community-centered safety solutions instead of increasing police surveillance of our communities.
Members of Seattle-based Massage Parlor Outreach Project (MPOP), which began in 2018 as a collaboration between Parisol (Pacific Rim Solidarity Network), CID Coalition, API Chaya, and the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade, reached out to some of the women working at massage parlors in International District/Chinatown the morning after the news of violence in Atlanta. Understandably, they were scared.
MPOP is putting on a vigil Monday (March 22nd) morning. We will provide more information as they become available. You can donate to MPOP via Venmo at mpop_sea to support outreach and advocacy for massage parlor workers. Other organizations doing similar work include Red Canary Song in New York, Butterfly in Toronto, and SWAN Vancouver. Barnard Center for Research on Women has compiled a resources page for other community responses across North America.
Below is a copy of the statement presented by Emi at a virtual vigil on March 18th hosted by Red Canary Song:
Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight. It’s great to share space with you all despite such horrible circumstances.
My name is Emi and some of you know me as the Coordinatrix of the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade in Seattle. I am also a member of the Massage Parlor Outreach Project, which is a collaboration between Parisol, or Pacific Rim Solidarity Network, CID (Chinatown/International District) Coalition, API Chaya, and the Coalition for Rights & Safety.
MPOP originally started as an internship project of one of our founders, but became more organized after the largest raid on massage parlors in Seattle’s history in February 2019. The police claimed that they “rescued” 26 women from sex trafficking, but the reality was that women working at these establishments were simply displaced. None of the managers or owners of massage parlors were charged with human trafficking, and the workers lost their jobs and any housing connected to their jobs, and many had their cash savings and important papers confiscated.
Most of the workers we reach speak Chinese, and some speak Vietnamese, so we sent outreach workers and volunteers who speak these languages to connect with them. We distributed care packages, health and safety information, and other important supplies. Many workers are feeling scared. They rely on each other and their boyfriends for safety, although we know that because of the nature of heteropatriarchy, boyfriends can sometimes be dangerous too. When asked what makes them feel safe, not a single person mentioned the police, and they never called 911 when they were assaulted.
Many workers are excited about the vigil we are planning in Seattle next week. We scheduled it on Monday morning to make it possible for actual massage parlor workers to attend before their work shift begins. We will have dim sum breakfast and provide care package for these workers. We hope to deliver any leftovers to other workers who could not show up.
In response to the recent spate of anti-Asian violence, our Mayor has pledged to send more police officers to the International District/Chinatown, but we do not feel safe with that. You know who routinely stroll around Seattle’s International District/Chinatown equipped with weapons, terrorizing and intimidating Asian American neighbors for no reason? The ICE vans. We firmly echo the massage parlor workers’ sentiments: More cops do not make us feel safer. We need to divest from the police and reinvest resources into community-based safety solutions, like we at MPOP are working towards, and look to other groups such as Red Canary Song, Butterfly, and SWAN Vancouver for example.
Our organizing today is informed by and made possible in large parts thanks to the Black-led uprisings that have been ongoing for centuries, and became extra visible since last summer. While the recent rise of anti-Asian violence deserves our attention, we must also keep fighting anti-Black racism and refuse to allow our community’s need for safety to rationalize the expansion of state institutions that especially targets and attacks Black communities. We must also resist the urge to co-op slogans like #BlackLivesMatter, erasing Black people from a message intended to resist the erasure of Black lives.
Thank you for our friends in Asian communities, sex worker communities, and all others gathered together to remember the victims of violence in Georgia as well as victims and survivors of state and non-state violence against our shared communities. Please keep taking care of yourself, your family and friends, and your neighbors in this scary time, as you have for centuries.