An Interview with Soma Snakeoil
Her organization, The Sidewalk Project, operates with an emphasis on community and wellness through direct action. At a time when the world is in such dire need of healing, the efforts of The Sidewalk Project have a deep and lasting impact in the local Los Angeles community and beyond.
What was your inspiration to start The Sidewalk Project?
I started The Sidewalk Project about three and a half years ago. It’s a lived experience organization and it’s really based on community activism and the experiences of other people who work with the organization. At the time, I was writing Home Street Home and I was newly sober. I’d been working on [Home Street Home] for about ten years with my ex, Fat Mike.
When you’re freshly sober, it’s a little bit like being born. Your eyes are really fresh with everything and you’re more sensitive to everything in the world. I really felt like I couldn’t just write about these experiences, I felt it needed direct action. I’ve been unhoused and I’m a former person who uses drugs and a longtime sex worker, so it felt really important to give back to the community.
We had a lot of conversations first, like “What do we actually want to do?” When it came to this idea of wellness through the arts – which was something that was a constant through each of our lives – we felt that it was something that uplifts community. So that was really the start of The Sidewalk Project. Somewhere along the line we ended up doing harm reduction and then it got really intense. It was like “How did we go from this very sweet art and music organization to doing crisis response on the street?”.
How do you see the world of art intersecting with that of public health?
One of the things that we say at The Sidewalk Project is: “Happiness grows as it’s shared.” It sounds really sweet, but there’s actually science behind that. When we were founding The Sidewalk Project, we did a lot of research around the idea of community and the idea that people experience more wellness when they are in groups of people in a community. When there are groups of happy people, the happiness spreads. And conversely, the same happens with groups of unhappy people. So, we want to be a group of people that shares happiness.
You can think of that in terms of what that looks like in large scales around social recovery. Right now, there are awful things that are happening in Los Angeles right down the road in my neighborhood where there’s massive oppression of unhoused people in a pandemic when before it was actually a happy community of unhoused people just banding together in a park in a terrible time of economic crisis. We know there are going to be more unhoused people on the street in the next few years. And then you bring in a bunch of riot cops with guns and batons and rubber bullets and all of that stuff and that is the opposite of public health and happiness and wellness. That’s trauma for the entire community and you can see it all over the news. Everyone in the neighborhood is unhappy. Whereas, when you look at community building activities where people are painting murals together and playing music and eating food together, that’s community building. That’s social recovery. That’s the opposite of trauma and that’s what we want to see in society: Anti-trauma.
How has your career in the adult industry inspired your world view?
I think it’s greatly affected my world view in a very positive way. There’s just more flexibility on a larger scale about how sex positive people view the world. You can look at it around sexuality, but that can actually transfer to other aspects of life. If there’s an ease to one aspect, that might carry over to other places in life. And, if you’re getting laid, you’re probably happier. And we know this through science. Your blood pressure drops, it’s better for prostate health, it’s better for digestion, etc.
It’s good to fuck, right?