The Sidewalk Project

Article by Deb Kavis

In the BDSM world, things like service to your community is really held to the forefront in a very big way. Both as submissives, but also, we really think it’s important to take care of other people and family is important. We have BDSM families and that’s a very big aspect to my world view. And I’ve taken that over into how I function within activism.

What projects do you have currently coming up?

The Sidewalk Project is ongoing, so it happens every single day. It’s a living, breathing project and always evolving. One of the things I’m really excited about that we’re working on is a “Bad Date” List. The list is specifically for street-based sex workers. We take information on bad, violent, negative dates with street-based sex workers anonymously while we do our rounds with the needle exchange. This is a vital aspect to harm reduction for sex workers because it’s based in this anonymous, autonomous, and empowering way to offer information between sex workers so that they can make choices about which cars to get into.

This very much feeds into not just sex positivity, but this idea of empowerment as opposed to salvation. Within the sex worker community, we say: “Support not salvation” and that’s such a vital thing. In this time right now when there’s so much rhetoric around human trafficking and the conflation of human trafficking and sex work and misunderstanding about what’s going on. We had this very bad policy, SESTA/FOSTA, that’s hurt a lot of our people in our community and has actually pushed people back out onto the street. It’s dangerous for street-based sex workers, so we need to be able to offer support systems. Also, it’s feminist as fuck. I love that.

We’re also on a team with The Sidewalk Project where we’re doing education and engagement with the houseless community to let them know about COVID vaccinations. We actually take people to get their vaccinations. And I’m really excited to be involved with that because that feels very lifesaving.

Also, Punk Rock and Paintbrushes, which I’ve been a part of for quite a few years now, put out a book with a bunch of musicians and people from the punk rock community and I’m in that book. I share some of my stories and some of my art and the book is being released pretty soon. There’s going to be a signing at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach. It will be outdoors and it’s really cool because we haven’t been able to do any in person events for the punk community. We’re doing a COVID-safe event. People have been starting to vaccinate and it’s an outdoor event with a limited capacity, people wearing masks, social distancing. I’m happy to do that.

What goals do you have for the future of The Sidewalk Project and your art?

I have so many goals and then sometimes I think about how right now I already work so hard every day and so many people already work so hard every day. And we think of these ideas of the goals for the future, and we all have to have these goals. Even though I do have them, I was just thinking about how we are so conditioned by capitalism. We’ve always got to do the next bigger, better, more glamorous thing. And sometimes I just want to let it be.

One of the goals that I have for The Sidewalk Project is a kibbutz or a village of some sort. We keep talking about what that looks like and sometimes we want to just do it right now because they’re sweeping the streets and now there’s riot cops and it’s just like this fascist occupation out there. It’s like “Can we find a piece of land already to put a bunch of people on it?” There’s just such an impulse to find safe spaces for humans. There’s definitely that sense of ‘What does a community look like?’ It’s about people being empowered to make their own choices as we move forward.

How can people get involved with The Sidewalk Project?

We are accepting volunteers both for in-person and online. We do a lot of activism, so if people want to get involved and they’re not comfortable leaving their homes, they can get involved with online activism, raising donations, or putting together hygiene kits. Fighting back against bad policies is also really great. Also, come out with us. One of things we say is: “Wherever there’s a sidewalk, there’s an opportunity for a Sidewalk Project.” You can also just be nice to people. Hand someone a bottle of water. We like to think of it as a movement rather than just this idea of one set organized experience. Be good to yourself and be good to your neighbors.

Video: Matt Nathanson
Photography: Michael Diaz / Surgeon Studios

The need for something like The Sidewalk Project underlines how far we still need to travel in caring for everyone. You can help. Whether that be a little or a lot, please do. Pay it forward.