by Michael Love
I think the lesson to be learned here for this writer, but also for our community members as a whole, is that events that support our community, an event and community you believe in, will die without your support.
Slutwalk Portland began in 2011, founded by Sophia St. James and Ryan Basille It would go on hiatus for a couple of years and return again in 2014. With a new support staff, it has grown into an event that has become something of a Portland staple for our ethical non-monogamy community, even though our Slutwalk is part of a bigger global movement with Slutwalk events held in many major cities all over the world.
You may be asking… What is Slutwalk? According to Elle Lynn Stanger, co-organizer for Portland Slutwalk, “Slutwalk is an international, peaceful demonstration against sexual assault and victim blaming. It began in 2011, when a Toronto Constable gave a speech to a small group of mixed gender college students on campus about how to avoid campus rape, by saying that women could avoid being raped if they stop dressing like sluts.”
According to RAINN, more people are assaulted by their acquaintances, current or former partners, parents or relatives, than by someone they don’t know. The founders of Slutwalk assert that regardless of a person’s clothing, what they wear is not an invitation for non-consensual touch.
By engaging in peaceful demonstrations and marches, Slutwalk participants hope to raise awareness about the plight of people who are affected by rape, slut shaming, and sexual assault.
“In Portland, we focus a lot on the people who are most impacted by sexual assault, those who are also in marginalized populations, which tend to be queer, people who are homeless, people of color, and sex workers.” says Stanger.
Typically Slutwalk consists of a short march through Downtown Portland; some Slutwalk participants intentionally dress “slutty” to attract attention to their protest, others like Stanger dress pretty conservative. “I’ve worn the last thing I wore when I was sexually harassed, which is usually pants and a jacket. I walk around a lot, so I get catcalled, regardless of how covered I am,” says Stanger.
Slutwalk participants march a small downtown route after listening to guest speakers who are often licensed professionals working with sex education or therapy, and sex workers themselves. Slutwalk speakers talk about anything from consent, sexual boundaries, what safer sex looks like, or problems within the kink or queer communities.
Slutwalk attracts people from all walks of life to have community with other people of like minds, and also for those who are curious. It’s an excellent and peaceful outreach to the community to raise awareness that sex is a normal part of our everyday lives and doesn’t have to be something that is shuttered and shamed.
Unfortunately, there are those who would disagree… It is not uncommon for ultra conservative and Christian groups to protest the march and the rally. Where the counter protests are usually peaceful, in our current political climate, violent responses are a cause for concern.
“We’ve never had any problems” says Stanger, “It’s not like when Patriot Prayer comes to town. Many of the riots and violent protests; like the August 4th protest, was due to the presence of white nationalists.”
Which is why Stanger was surprised when she was met with resistance from the Portland Police Department when her application for police escort was denied. “We were told we had to have at least 250 people RSVP’d to our Facebook event before they would consider police escort, but then we were denied again after getting up to 500 people RSVP’d and again at 900.”
In light of credible threats and out of concern for the safety of their demonstrators, and in the hopes of maintaining a peaceful protest, co-organizers Elle Stanger and Sterling Clark worked hard to obtain police escort, but were denied at every turn. “We were suggested by Police Sergeant Brett Burnam to call 911 if we had any problems. So, when a fight broke out due to the fundamentalists and a couple of the street youths who were nearby, who had escalated it… I called 911”
A couple of the organization’s “Volunteer Peacekeepers” were hit and had liquids thrown on them, but the Peacekeepers were able to restore order before police were able to arrive. “Four officers arrived and asked if we would like them to escort us the remainder of our abbreviated march, even though we had previously been denied this very service.
“I think it’s easy to disregard an event with the word “slut” in it, which just really speaks to how impactful the word still is and why. I really feel like it shouldn’t be this difficult to hold a peaceful demonstration that costs about $1,100 and takes about two hours, especially with the enormous amount of resources that are funneled into protecting out-of-town protesters,” says Stanger
The Slutwalk event costs a significant amount of money; “Application fees, permits, and insurance costs us about $1,100 per year”. It’s an amount that at one point was funded by the organizers themselves, but fortunately they were able to raise the money with fundraisers and event sponsors the last two years. “This year our sponsors Pizza Slut and Cult of Orpheus, which is a downtown theatre company, along with the support of SPEEC PDX and other members of the community.”
Insurance proved to be a big challenge this year too. “We cannot get an insurance policy until our permit is approved. Our permit was approved immediately after the August 4th riots, so it made it especially difficult to obtain insurance. We called 10 different companies and 9 never even returned our calls. The one who did, the same insurance company we used last year, increased our rate by nearly 25% and asked a lot of questions they never had before, questions like, ‘Will Antifa be invited to attend the demonstration?’” and, most ironically, “What do your participants wear?”
Slutwalk has never been about violence or confrontation. It has always been about creating awareness. The cost of the event, along with the current political climate and the oppositions propensity to violence, along with the city’s lack of cooperation due to low turnout, have the organizers reconsidering their options for next year. Says Stanger, “We would prefer our time, money, and resources go into something that is met with less opposition and could be more productive. So, I don’t know what Slutwalk is going to look like next year… Maybe we can create some kind of community gathering or fundraiser and just not have to deal with the city and the police.”
We as a community need to gather and support events like this, to help continue to raise awareness of our lifestyle and community, and to keep our voices from being silenced.
Images courtesy of Ninjaphoto – Please support your local art photographer. You can find him on the web at www.ninjaphoto.com or by following him on instagram at @ninjaphoto_pdx