As part of the PDX Stripper Strike, dancers in Portland have taken to the streets to protest against discrimination in strip clubs across the city
It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Portland, and chants of “no justice, no booty” ring out as a group of strippers in patent platform boots march through the city. Holding signs that read, ‘Hire Black strippers, tip Black strippers’, and ‘No reform, no perform’, they’re striking in protest against racial discrimination in Orgeon’s strip clubs.
Organised by activist group, the Haymarket Pole Collective, the demonstration is one of two weekly rallies that have been held since June 19, as part of the PDX Stripper Strike, bringing together dancers, DJs, bartenders, managers, and strip club owners.
“The thing I’ve heard over and over,” Cat Hollis, the group’s leader, tells Dazed, “is that it’s the most fun they’ve ever had at a protest. We usually have a sound system blasting music, and people wearing eight-inch high heels to walk the mile routes.”
Activists are campaigning against Portland strip club owners’ lack of compliance with current anti-discriminiation policies, which they say harm dancers of colour. “Separate is not equal,” Hollis continues. “Clubs say they have a certain aesthetic, or that they’re a rock and roll club, or suddenly aren’t holding auditions at the time they agreed on the phone after meeting someone in person – or they’re asking you to send photos beforehand.”
“These are all dog whistles for racism. They are techniques that have been used for a long time in many industries to disenfranchise Black workers.”
The group has a list of demands, which include cultural sensitivity training – regarding race, sexual assault awareness, and more – testimonials from current or past staff members about their experiences in the industry, and equal shifts for equal work.
“We aren’t asking for anything that we aren’t entitled to by our state, local, and federal laws,” Hollis continues. “I’m experienced in advocating for my own rights as a Black woman. Seeing the efficiency of past movements in reconciliation in South Africa, post-Jim Crow integration, and #MeToo, it was obvious to me that restorative justice was necessary.”
“We aren’t asking for anything that we aren’t entitled to by our state, local, and federal laws” – Cat Hollis, PDX Stripper Strike
The group plans to deliver their demands to every strip club in the Portland Metro area, and has already had a wealth of responses. “We have about 30 clubs in talks, and around 17 to 20 who we haven’t heard from. Post-COVID, it’s hard to tell which businesses are even open, let alone which ones will stay open. I’m certain many clubs who aren’t signed on with us are still doing their due diligence to be in compliance with the law.”
It’s not just strippers backing the strike. Hollis says customers have been “showing up with a tonne of support for us”, adding that they tend to be loyal to dancers as opposed to clubs. “Many of us already work at multiple clubs,” she explains, “and regular clients will come and see us wherever we’re working. Customers would rather support their favourite entertainers.”
As well as weekly marches, PDX Stripper Strike has set up a fundraiser, which, at the time of writing, has raised almost $4,000 (£3.2k) of its $10,000 (£8k) goal. Money donated will be used as a relief fund for those who have suffered income loss amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as for future fundraising, legal fees, permit applications so the group can picket particular clubs, and financial support for dancers.
“We’re raising money to cover the cost of training for dancers,” Hollis tells Dazed, “as we believe that a dramatic shift in culture will come through education. We’re also providing paid opportunities for Black dancers and dancers of colour to become certified trainers.”
With lockdown only just easing in some parts of the US, many sex workers have faced months with no employment. While some were able to continue their jobs socially distanced – see: Portland’s drive-thru strip club – most are only just returning to work. Although the PDX Stripper Strike is demanding change, it’s also encouraging customers to support strippers, especially at this time.
“The clubs which are attempting to get in compliance, and are signed onto our programme have had no work stoppages,” says Hollis.
“We are encouraging people to go out to strip clubs,” she concludes, “and not only tip Black butts, but tip all of the dancers, many of whom have not had access to unemployment funding during the crisis.”
You can donate to the PDX Stripper Strike fund here.