Workers in underground economies often face a common set of needs and challenges unique to their industry and locality–either because of the work itself, or because the common attributes workers share which led them to the work. However, since the work is stigmatized, criminalized, or both, conventional strategies for organizing and advocacy are not always available to stigmatized workers when organizing. 

Sex worker-organizers and Asian migrant massage worker-organizers across North America have repeatedly turned to art and creative expression in their tactics to build community, raise funds, change public perceptions, and advocate for political change. These artistic projects are able to create spaces for communication and understanding that aren’t bound by ordinary social rules — including the social ‘rules’ that ordinarily attend stigma, and invalidate or punish criminalized workers for speaking up.

Through creating artistic works and employing creative expression, presenters have experienced channeling difficult-to-convey emotions and experiences into impactful organization and advocacy strategies. We will explore both community- and organizer-led projects, such as Massage Parlor Outreach Project’s use of zines to inspire conversation and build connection, as well as projects enabling and uplifting worker voices, such as Massage Parlor Outreach Project’s oral histories collection and Butterfly’s Butterfly Voices project.


Diana Xin, Lauren Robinson Levitt, Esther K

Area of Focus

Sex Work