At a time when sex workers have to fight just to be seen as human beings whose sheer existence doesn’t threaten anyone else’s, walking into City Hall to tell officials their laws are failing to protect the vulnerable requires particular boldness.
Andi Snow—with her fierce eyes and rainbow hair—possesses precisely this tenacity.
Snow is a founding member of Minneapolis’ Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP). The small, volunteer-run Twin Cities branch of the national social justice network has been operating for five years, functioning as a collective dedicated to harm reduction, outreach, and community-building.
“Sex work is very isolating, so in the beginning, we were overcome with the feelings,” recalls Snow. “[At first] we struggled with how to organize, what we wanted it to be like. Non-hierarchical, consensus-based, autonomous, anarchist organizing is not easy or streamlined, so we went through a lot of stuff where it was very social.
“I’ve been an activist and action-minded my whole life, so to me I’ve been like, ‘C’mon, catch up!’” Snow says, waving like a third-base coach before recounting SWOP’s flashpoint moment.
Right before Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl, the city raided all the strip clubs. These raids, followed by a University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) report, revealed a host of workers’ rights issues within adult entertainment—which were old news to dancers.
“They didn’t find any evidence of [sex] trafficking, but they did uncover some of the real problems that were there,” says Snow. “The point is that our carpet is fucked-up, and there are cracks in the stage, and there are health and safety hazards all over the place because nobody cares about us.
“[UROC’s] data wasn’t very good.... But we read the report and were like, ‘There’s actually kinda some good stuff in here. We can do better .’”
SWOP spent the next two years meeting with city officials, focusing on how to strengthen an ordinance addressing workers’ safety without creating unintended consequences for dancers. When the vote came in this past August, City Council members, many of whom arrived dressed head-to-toe in red in support of SWOP’s members, unanimously approved the new ordinance.
“It addresses actual health and safety concerns that dancers have, it addresses illegal stuff having to do with contracts and discrimination and favoritism—and my favorite part is that it addresses some of the financial abuses,” says Snow. “Primarily it is now illegal for managers to accept tips from dancers, which to anyone who is not a dancer is, like, duh.”
With this massive victory in their pocket, Snow sees SWOP’s next challenge as communicating the new rights throughout the community. She’s currently applying for grant money so SWOP can launch a decriminalization campaign this spring: “I want to invest in ourselves and our community.”
Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to find a way to get paid for what’s become a full-time advocacy gig in addition to dancing.
“Everyone else at the table was getting a salary for being at [those meetings], and we weren’t,” she says. “And this is the most important shit I’ve ever done in my life.”
Click here to read other profiles from this year's City Pages People Issue.