City Pages is Cancelled

In October 2017 City Pages gave journalist Susan Du the platform to publish a front page article titled “Behind the fantasy at Minneapolis strip clubs”, which “unveils” the workplace struggles of strippers at downtown Minneapolis clubs. The article follows a general increase in coverage about and surveillance of the local sex industry due to the impending Super Bowl and cites a recent University “outreach” project examining “workplace hazards” in strip clubs. In “Behind the fantasy” Du uses unfounded hygienic details about what strippers “bring home from work” as a hook, as well as some horribly degrading and stigmatizing language in parts — calling strippers “flesh merchants” and the stripping industry the “skin trade” in the cover title. If readers are unclear about what stigma is: stigma puts the stripper pole under a microscope even though it is certain that you will find bacteria (“microbugs”) just as you would in your gut and on doorknobs, touchscreens and playgrounds. Stigma is what makes using comments about our hygiene an effective hook — it appeals to people’s pre-existing belief that strippers are dirty and degraded. We feel it is important to note, too, that to focus on the hygiene of sex workers and use language that resembles descriptions of human trafficking (such as “skin trade”) falls into a lineage of eugenicist projects of “social hygiene” that aimed to imprison, reform and sterilize sex workers using claims of their “dirtiness” as well as myths about “white slavery”.

While the rest of the article gestures at solidarity with strippers as workers and attempts to redeem its covert moralizing (and perhaps redeem several other anti-sex work articles that have been featured in City Pages in the last year also) by citing examples of very real workplace struggles and worker organizing, the opportunity for this article to be pro-sex worker was entirely missed. First, much of the solidarity aspect of the article is fabricated by further stigmatizing other forms of sex work (e.g. prostitution). Second, this article presents graphic, sensationalizing details which can easily reinforce negative attitudes toward stripping and paternalistic attitudes toward strippers. Third, by not naming the conditions of misogyny, white supremacy and rape culture that exist everywhere — read: in all workplaces — and which make strippers’ work more challenging and exhausting, this article only further normalizes these conditions.

The same week that “Behind the fantasy” came out City Pages also published a shockingly racist article by the same author titled “Moron gangbanger charged with threatening to kill Minneapolis cop on Facebook”. Calling a black man a “moron” for saying something against the police for being profiled is beyond a misstep, it is an extremely offensive and white supremacist framing of this incredibly tragic turn of events. In a country where black men are regularly killed by police with impunity and imprisoned at astronomical rates, the reality that we live in a white supremacy society is obvious and a headline like this one only reflects that. This kind of over-the-top stigmatizing of so-called criminal behavior is surprisingly uncritical and even beyond the level of most moderate liberal condemnations of “gang activity”. Further, by focusing on the fact that this man may or may not have been gang affiliated, the article entirely misses the real story: we live in a world where you might do 10 years in prison for posting something on Facebook. This level of pervasive surveillance — and the obviously selective, i.e. anti-Black, repression from the state — is far more horrifying and noteworthy than someone expressing their hatred of the forces destroying their life.

City Pages has also published multiple articles that have trivialized obstacles to LGBTQ community organizing in the Twin Cities. One article sensationalized the story of a popular community event being raided by police and another gave platform to a straight City Pages reader to give their opinion that they didn’t think re-opening gay bathhouses would “help anyone”. To not take a stand against homophobic policing and to give a straight person a platform to say what they think about LGBTQ people advocating for taking up space is insulting and harmful.

We are reminded through all this that journalism, like speech, is not neutral or objective: a black man interacting with a racist cop is referred to as a “moron gangbanger” while a white man that made a rape threat to a woman for ignoring him on Tinder is just a “college guy”. The cachet of City Pages as The Alternative paper of the Twin Cities generates expectations in readers that coverage of marginalized issues comes from a progressive perspective. We’ve noticed these mounting instances of conservatism in its pages and hope to see others respond as well.  What is considered “alternative” is not fixed or necessarily counter-hegemonic (as the emergence of the “alt-right” has certainly shown). When coverage under the “alternative” or “progressive” banner bolsters the policing of marginalized people via coded racism, whorephobia or homophobia, it will be challenged.

against stigma, not sex work

Print this mini zine here.

Stigma is what makes sex work potentially dangerous for sex workers, not sex work itself. Stigma exists in a nexus of capitalist exploitation of bodies, cis-hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy, not in a vacuum of morals as it is commonly treated. Stigma – meaning a “mark of shame” – is branded on the life choices and life events of sex workers by peers, family, university researchers, sex work abolitionist feminists and the state. Sex work will always be called the cause of a sex workers’ life crises, rather than the conditions of isolation due to stigma, or the myriad conditions of white supremacy and cis-hetero-patriarchy that might make their lives difficult.

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Stigma isolates sex workers, making them more vulnerable to dangerous scenarios and violence, across the infinitely varying lines of gender and racial identities and so-called state borders that sex workers inhabit. Stigma makes it less possible for marginalized, trans, black, brown, youth, and migrant sex workers to secure basic survival in this world such as housing, screening options for clientele, physical and mental health resources and support networks. The way sex work is stigmatized is similar to and often directly in interaction with the stigma of having a mental illness, physical disability or criminal record and this shows up whenever a sex worker talks about their work and are interpreted as a person that falls into the binary of either pitiful victim or crazed pervert.

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Stigma says that sex work is different than other paid work because sex workers use their bodies – their sacred bodies. It’s true. And so does your service job, your tech job, your teaching job: these make you use your sacred body for work. Imagine being asked if you were forced into the paid work you do by everyone that you told about it. Imagine being paternalistically talked to every time you brought up your paid work. Just like your paid work, sex work is something people do to survive, to eat, to have some stability and to fund whatever it is they care about. Imagine the risks associated with long desk shifts. Where is the rescue brigades for desk-workers? Stigma says that sex work is different because sex workers are selling sacred sex. Sex is different for everyone. Most of the whoring I do I don’t even consider sex. My sex is still very important and a great source of joy for me.

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Stigma tells us that the consensual sex industry enables sex-trafficking, but not the internet, cars, or femicidal patriarchy and rape culture. Stigma erases the white supremacist history of anti-trafficking campaigns which were a xenophobic response to racial diversity in the U.S. – a reframing of the myth of “white slavery” which has evolved now to simultaneously victimize and criminalize people of color that are doing sex work. Moral panic about sex-trafficking results in increased funding of law enforcement who brutalize, shame, harass and imprison sex workers. Johns (sex work clients) feel entitled to act disrespectfully or violently towards sex workers because the position of the sex worker is stigmatized. Management at shitty strip clubs feel more entitled to be paternalistic towards strippers because the position of a sex worker is infantilized and this makes strippers less likely to go to management when a john is being shitty to them. This is just one of the many examples of cycles of stigma.

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There are many hustles, many ways to make money and survive (legal or illegal) and to say that someone is doing sex work as an absolute last resort and that they have no choice in the matter is to: 1. believe in the logic of capitalism that wants us to choose to work when maybe we wouldn’t have to as much 2. erases the agency of sex workers and 3. offers nothing but useless and stigmatizing pity rather than material support that could improve the conditions of their life and work. If you want to disrupt the cycles of stigma that put sex workers at risk begin by recognizing and acting in accordance with the fact that it is not sex work inherently that is dangerous for sex workers but the stigma situated in conditions of oppression and marginalization around it that makes sex work difficult and dangerous for sex workers.

Further Reading/Pro-Whore Sources

Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry by Laura Maria Augustin

Prostitutes’ War Group

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Mellisa Gira Grant : “Police Work Vs. Sex Work”

Tits and Sass: By and About Sex Workers

SWOP Minneapolis: Sex Workers Outreach Project Minneapolis

Feminist Surveillance Studies Reader

Minneapolis Madams: The Lost History of Prostitution on the Riverfront by Penny Petersen

Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor by Wendy Chapkis

from LIES journal of materialist feminism: “A Disgrace Reserved for Prostitutes & the Beloved Community” by Pluma Sumac

“Grin and Bare It All: Against Liberal Conceptions of Sex Work” by luna celeste

Much Loved, 2017 (a Moroccan film available on Netflix) *CONTENT WARNING: sexual police violence* In spite of this horrific scene that was entirely unnecessary to include (directors must stop including rape scenes in films and shows — the horror of rape can and must be understood without a visual depiction of it that is potentially and violently re-traumatizing for far too many people and potentially numbing to everyone else) I still want to promote this film because I think it is the least stigmatizing (don’t let the trailer fool you! It is so so much more pro-whore and anti-morality than the trailer makes it look) and most real film about sex work I have yet to see. It is about whoring, stigma against sex-workers and whore love – but not only these things. It is about collective care; it is about cis-hetero-patriarchy; it is about solidarity; it is about struggle; it is about rage; it is about police brutality. Watch carefully and with close friends and be sure to take care of yourself and leave during parts that you need to. It is also full of humor and joy. 

because they are too afraid of seeing whiteness disappear: eclipse poem

astronomical events
such as the solar eclipse we watched today
have been considered omens.
even those of us laughing at people with their heads in boxes;
even those of us that decided we wanted to just feel it;
even we used a little pinhole projector
and ate strawberries in the parking lot
to seek a glimpse of a shadow,
a bright darkness,
and speculated what it might mean
to us or to someone
like Nat Turner
who envisioned an annular eclipse
as the hand of a black man
covering the sun
eclipsing white power and
killing the masters while they sleep:
burning the plantation
to survive.

this solar eclipse is no omen.
like, they have been considered omens,
but an omen appears unexpectedly
foretelling or inspiring
in a moment of uncommidifiable awe.
but we anticipate most astronomical events
like we do elections
long before they arrive
white people fill the cross-country path of the total eclipse
– “The Great American Solar Eclipse” –
(a “nation” claims a moon’s path)
and if we miss the opportunity to stand in the streets
or attend some expensive rooftop party with a philanthropic cause
we can easily sift through our feed
and see through another’s eclipse glasses
the inside of their projector box
their story
showing the bright-dark in various states and stages.

if we knew it was coming
– if some computation said so –
why weren’t we acting already?
what are you
there with your head in a box
looking like the cover of society of the spectacle (which i haven’t read)
what are you thinking
white people – if not how
we will have to sit with the discomfort
(of being in the moon’s bad graces)
and get used to discomfort
if we actually want to see a different world.
and could this media event
that eclipsed the nation’s attention today
be a catalyst for liberation
when it is declawed, wings clipped,
do-not-look-at-it-it-will-burn-your-organs?
it did not burn Nat Turner’s organs when he looked at it –
looking at the eclipse did not burn his organs but white people did.

white people will not want to read that
because they are 
too afraid
of seeing 
whiteness disappear
they need so badly to
believe in progress
to say that a slave rebellion is irrelevant to today
to argue that trump and his followers
use this talk about whiteness disappearing
to embolden white supremacy
when they use it to say that whiteness must be recovered
as if it is disappearing
and i say it because we are sadly
no where near seeing whiteness disappear
because white people believe in it so much
as if their well-intended whiteness serves liberation for the oppressed
on biodegradable picnic plates
as if
and explain to the younger generation:
; “there are set-backs”?
; “this is a set-back”?
; “there was a time when it was much worse”?
; “this is not normal”?
; “this is mentally ill”?
so, a time when: chattel slavery and rape culture.
when: all stolen land and rape culture.
when: prisons and rape culture.
when: cops murder & the life expectancy of black trans women.
when: all stolen land and still rape culture everywhere.
; “well, change happens very slowly”
what: omen are you waiting for to stop your cruel waiting?
white supremacy is not
a chronic disease or mental illness
or a social disorder that society is trying to cure.
that society is white supremacy
and is why 
whiteness has to disappear.

No Neutrality in a Rape Culture: Open Letter to Progressives

The idea for this letter was conceived collaboratively by rape survivors. It is intended to call attention to some of the ways in which progressives in our communities persistently protect rapists, hold victims accountable, and demand carceral solutions to sexual assault that return power to the partiarchal state. Our hope is that this letter could be: a resource for other rape victims/survivors and/or literally shown to progressives doing this (who it addresses) and/or provide some general contributions to the existing discourses on rape culture. The authors believe that rape culture pervades and shapes all culture – radical subculture not exempt – but chose to address the position of the progressive both because of the current liberal “#resist” frenzy which has opened many conversations and because in our experiences progressives have been the ones standing the most in the way of mobilizing community action aimed at holding rapists accountable.

Open Letter to Progressives from Rape Victims/Survivors

We hear your disgust and outrage about trump and his cabinet of evils’ pro-rape and anti-choice comments. We are glad you are engaging in conversations about the realities of structural racism, xenophobia and misogyny. For many the brutalities of cisheteropatriarchy, state repression, deportation, and white supremacy have been pressing realities long before a trump presidency was even considered a possibility. We know and have known that these conditions will persist until support and defense are built within our communities. In this letter we take on your hitherto failure to address rape in ways that: hold rapists rather than victims/survivors accountable; demonstrate an actual position against rape culture; do not rely on state power and carceral punishment to take action against rapists; and that make victims/survivors feel safe.

“We” are some people who are victims/survivors of rape. The “we” of this letter does not speak for all rape victims/survivors. To attempt to speak for every person that has suffered through rape would entirely flatten the realities of experiential differences and conflate all racial and gender identities. The “we” of this letter refers to just some of many, many victims/survivors – some who together chose a narrative aimed at educating. While processing what we went through, it was for some of us easier to say we were sexually assaulted and difficult to say we were raped. For all of us, however, it is easy to call our assaulters rapists. In theory, we would opt for the usage of the term “rape” because nothing about this action is or should be called sexual. In praxis, we understand that not everyone is comfortable using this word to describe what they have been through and so we will alternate between terms – similarly for “victim” and/or “survivor” since we don’t strongly identify with either of those terms but know their usefulness in praxis.

We have been told by the status quo, by TV shows and movies, by police, and often even by our friends and family, that what we have experienced was is not sexual assault/rape. We have been pried for details when we have unveiled these traumas to others, revealing how our interlocutors feel they must judge for themselves what happened and that it is not enough to hear us say how it felt for us. We have been told since we were children that rapists are crazed strangers that attack women walking alone at night with brute force. Statistically and experientially, these kinds of scenarios are the exception.

Sexual assault is a nauseatingly every day occurrence. More people are raped by non-strangers and by people they are know and/or are close to than by total strangers. Rape culture means that sexual violence is the norm, not a perverse act. More people we know that are feminized (either by their own choice and/or by the culture that would ascribe femininity to them) say they have been sexually assaulted/raped than not. We wonder what more information it will take for those who seem interested in opposing the dominant paradigm to actually begin to see that rape culture is everywhere around them. To make rape no longer the norm, others must begin treating it with a gravity comparable to the totally destabilizing weight it has on so many people’s lives.

We have been told by people, organizations, and businesses in our communities that without a police report we will not be supported in holding rapists accountable or taking measures to prevent perpetrators from sexually assaulting again. What these parties seem to have no knowledge of is that, like the general public, police and courts are far from likely to come to the defense of rape victims in the majority of rape scenarios. We have been following the outrage and protesting for #JusticeForTheo regarding the rape of a young black man by four police officers with their batons and know that this horrible case  is by no means exceptional or isolated.* For some, turning to police if they have been raped is not a viable option; for example going to police as an undocumented person or sex worker could put you at risk of deportation and/or arrest. Furthermore, for some of us it took days, weeks, months, years, to come to terms with something that never felt right but that we couldn’t – even for our own sake – call sexual assault or rape. Realizing one has been sexually assaulted is not always an instantaneous process that conveniently lends itself to the punctuality required for a police report (or, for that matter, a medical rape kit). But, the traumas we experienced accumulated and infiltrated our relationships with our bodies and our partners, to a point of suffering that eventually became unignorable.

We have experienced severe shame, blamed ourselves repeatedly, ignored feelings of discomfort and pain in our bodies and doubted the source of these sufferings. Many of us still have difficulty not periodically feeling responsible for the different situations in which we experienced manipulation, were taken advantage of, were forced to “give consent”, were in a physical position or state of intoxication in which giving consent was not possible, were talked into sex when we did not want to have it, were pestered to have unprotected sex, were touched and/or penetrated both when we said “no” or “stop” but also when we felt too stuck to say anything at all. It is still so extremely difficult for some of us to say aloud that the myriad scenarios in which we were sexually assaulted were not due to weaknesses on our part but rather a culture that entirely normalizes treating feminized people as sexual objects. We have to remind each other time and time again that we also internalize the brutalities of a social world built upon colonialism, enslavement, gendering, and rape and that we therefore must actively fight against the tendency to blame ourselves.

Self-blame is perpetuated by comments from peers and others that hint at victims/survivors needing to be more careful or grateful that we weren’t raped in “worse” ways. This abusive rhetoric places all accountability on the victim/survivor and we hear this from many people that think of themselves as progressive and against oppression. Rape across infinitely variable lines of addiction, citizenship, class, criminal status, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, mental illness, race, and religion, in the U.S. can manifest as infinitely variable traumas. Rape culture does not exist in a vacuum, nor is it a static condition that manifests or affects everyone in a uniform, generalizable way. Rape culture exists in a global war waged on feminized, marginalized, and deviant bodies. If sexual assault by a non-stranger (as in date rape) does not sound life-threatening enough to you to be considered an act of “war” then you do not know about the high risk of suicide and contracting sexually transmitted infections associated with any scenario of rape. If you find yourself defending rapists before defending victims/survivors let us tell you now that doing so demonstrates to us and others that you are choosing the side of rape and patriarchal brutalization that exists around the globe and that has been used as a weapon of colonization and repression for centuries.

On this same side are public figures from the alt-right movement who loudly deny the existence of rape culture and date rape. These trolls argue that these are fantasies made up by feminists to deprive men of their “rights” to feminine “sexuality”. Narrow understandings of rape/sexual assault and a continuous prioritization of the position of the perpetrator over that of victims/survivors by progressives in our communities echo these rape-denying/pro-rape stances taken by the alt-right. We see the existence of this tendency across the political board as a reflection of the pervasive cultural subordination and hypersexualization of femininity. This cultural norm is so pervasive and insidious that many of us have at times felt we were required to provide sex to partners whenever asked. Many of us have felt during different times of our lives as though it was a necessity to be “sexual” and we have have had to reconcile that before we were aware of this reality it implicitly confounded our sex with partners – and still can from time to time.

On hopeful days we see the era of a trump presidency as a time of mass awakening. However, if your activism is limited to symbolic protest only, it is entirely useless to those that are most vulnerable to state and status-quo repression and is therefore entirely empty to us. What we are writing to you about is not a distant political issue but an abuse that pervades and shapes every community, including yours. So please, continue to be loud in your protesting of a culture and an elected official that normalizes rape. But also listen when people tell you they have been a victim to it, survived it, or whatever other narrative they feel is true for them. Be patient and let them tell you on their own terms only. Please be responsible if you know a perpetrator and discuss with the victim/survivor what might be done in your community. Be loud and listen, for all rape victims/survivors. Without a doubt, you know several.

In hopes that our strength might teach,

Some Victims/Survivors/Bad-Ass-Motherfuckers-That-Can’t-Be-Broken-in-Your-Community

*Though herein we focus on the overwhelming prevalence of feminized people being sexually assaulted, rape as a manifestation of patriarchy is not solely directed at those perceived and/or identifying as feminine/female/woman. The #JusticeforTheo case is one of many examples in which cis men suffer under patriarchal violence and face the risk of sexual violence as well, especially by conditions imposed by the state. We address this specific example because it is prescient and we believe it needs attention by all those concerned with social justice. There are many other examples of police being sexual assaulters, and also of police arresting sexual assault victims, threatening people engaging in illegal activity with rape or arrest, entrapping sex workers with rape, covering up rape cases, and protecting rapists. We find it necessary to address these truths about police and sexual violence as requests for police reports repeatedly come up in our communities. We believe that understanding how police and the state enforce, protect and uphold rape culture is a critical tenet to any thorough understanding that could actualize resistance against this brutal condition of this world.

belli PROPOSES OPPOSITIONAL COMMUNE TO MN ARTISTS

Recently we learned about the possibility to make a submission to a local art hub for their Rethinking Public Spaces Throughout Minnesota grant. It would provide selected “artists” $5,000-$10,000 to carry out projects that would “encourage community engagement” by “redefining public space” or “utilizing neglected spaces”. With twenty-four hours until the opportunity closed, we decided we might as well put in our call for an ‘oppositional commune’: something that might press the comfortable non-engagement of “public art” against the fact that to truly rethink public space would mean making it inoperative – a zone of antagonism that would be detrimental to the city.

With the haste of a lovely pot-bellied pig at her trough, we assembled an “artist statement”, proposal, and non-résumé, in what we imagine will be the worst submission they will have to read through. What began as a hopeful proposal rapidly devolved into a genuine troll of MN artists. Projects like these are not what lend art its Cultural Reputation – no matter its lusty leanings towards process, concept and #resist! But, may the oppositional commune have multiple becomings and may “public space” be questioned – and ruptured – so long as it is a question.

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LOCAL PRAISE FOR PMs

Our recent piece, A Field Guide to Protests: The Protest Marshal, took most of its inspiration from experiences we shared apart and together – at precincts, in the streets and on highways in the Twin Cities – but we also learned much about the protest marshal from local reporting on the hidden mechanics that make demonstrations stay so regular.

The following three linked articles (their nature revealed as headlines alone) demonstrate with near crystalline perfection some of the actions, effects and possible manifestations of our local protest marshal as discussed in A Field Guide. The Twin Cities protest marshal, setting an example for protest control and management nationwide…

St. Paul police train Women’s March volunteers

An informative behind-the-scenes report released two days before the Women’s March in St. Paul assuring all Twin Cities pussy-hat paraders that the ‘event’ would be crawling with more than 100 deputized protest marshals, trained personally by the St. Paul Police Department. During the Women’s March it was some of these very marshals that rushed to the aid of a homophobic counter-protester after he accidentally pepper-sprayed himself while pepper-spraying a majority women of color group that confronted him and his bigotry. Evidently the SPPD trained these marshals well. They, all white women, were committed to deescalating this potentially disorderly confrontation rather than supporting some femmes of color engaging in conflict with white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy.

Mpls. police draw praise for nearly invisible role at recent marches

The language in this one was really insightful and inspiring though it only addresses the protest marshal implicitly. We’ll just let some of the praise of the MPD speak for itself:

“I think we share the same goal of having a peaceful and a safe environment for people to assemble,” said Lt. Gary Nelson, who organized the response to a recent demonstration in the Third Precinct. “I think in days past, it was handled more as crowd control.”

Nelson said that the approach was another example of the department dealing with demonstrations in a more nonconfrontational [sic: an absent hyphen perhaps indicating further the increasingly invisible new ‘confrontational’], friendly way, “as opposed to years prior where I think it was more trying to maintain law and order.”

“It’s important that there’s a middle ground between people who still want to advocate for change and reform and those who are out there and have a job to do.”

An image of a cop reaching for his or her baton captured on a bystander’s cellphone and beamed out via social media can change the narrative of a protest, he said. The focus should remain on the protesters and their message, he said. “It should not become a story about the Minneapolis police,” he said.

And when it is a story about the Minneapolis or St. Paul police (as it often is), is the focus of the protesters not necessarily a focus on the police? That incredible confusion aside, we are pretty sure that the police can chalk up a lot of this praise (mostly received from themselves) to the protest marshal. The protest marshal, that unspoken of “middle ground”, is the most friendly enforcer of crowd control and maintainer of law and order we’ve seen to date – a job they’ve taken upon themselves!

Protest monitors would provide eyes on all

To end on a realistically dystopic note, let’s talk about surveillance and everyone being watched constantly by human protest “monitors” that would be enlisted as “truly” “neutral” parties to observe protests. These “protest monitors” would allegedly be “different” from other observing and marshaling parties such as those from the ACLU and NLG (and we assume those interested in deploying the protest monitor would likewise think of them as different from other much less noted protest marshals deputized by local non-profits) in their somehow different true neutrality:

They would wear recognizable clothing and carry a camera.

“Part of the idea here is to have a designated, independent neutral party that’s visibly identifiable. They don’t work for the police, they’re not part of the protest. They stay on their own neutral turf but they’re monitoring both sides.”

Will the ‘protest marshal’ be replaced by the even more insidious sounding ‘protest monitor’? Are they different at all? Are there not already protest monitors everywhere already at protests? Will they be robots? The Office of Police Conduct Review and the Civil Rights Department are currently studying the idea. We are too.