[Hpn] Letter to StreetWise Board

Timothy Harris rchange@speakeasy.org
Fri, 09 Feb 2001 00:11:38 -0700

Dear StreetWise Board Member,

I am writing to express my deep concern over recent events at the
StreetWise newspaper.  I have great respect for StreetWise as a leading
model for what a streetpaper can achieve, both as an empowering
organization for the vendors and as a quality newspaper in the
community.  I have followed the paper for more than five years, and have
always been impressed by the achievements of your organization.  Recent
events, however, could easily destroy the good reputation of StreetWise,
both in Chicago and as a leading paper in the North American Streetpaper

As a founding Chair of the North American Street Newspaper Association,
I can help you to understand how your problem in Chicago is likely to be
seen by other street newspapers.  There has always been a tendency in
our movement toward division between those papers that are more
commercially viable and those who emphasize the inclusion of homeless
people's voices.  During the years I was Chair (I resigned in 1999,
after holding the position for 3 years, but remain on the Executive
Committee) this tension resulted in a major rift within NASNA as The Big
Issue attempted to gain a foothold in North America.  Issues were raised
regarding the fairness of the Big Issue toward an existing streetpaper
in LA, and such tactics as advertiser boycotts, international petitions,
and critical media campaigns were discussed within the Executive
Committee of NASNA.

During those years, I invested enormous energy in preventing the
implementation of these tactics.  I considered the whole affair to be
overblown and divisive, and worked to ensure that NASNA would transcend
our divisions and emerge a stronger, more inclusive organization.  In
large part, these efforts succeeded.  Most street papers in NASNA now
realize that there is no one correct model for a street newspaper, and
that different approaches achieve different ends.

Recent events in Chicago, however, stand opposed to the most basic
standards of fair labor practice.  If I may make a generalization, it is
a fair statement that members of NASNA have been very impressed by
certain StreetWise staff we have been privileged to meet and work with.
They have shown brilliance, talent, and deep commitment.  These staff
have been fired.  While I speak only for myself, I think I'm correct in
saying that StreetWise is in danger of being regarded as an outlaw
member of  NASNA.

I cannot predict the future.  I can only inform you of probabilities.
It seems likely to me that, should the Board of StreetWise fail to
responsibly mediate this deplorable chain of events, StreetWise will
play the role of the next villain of the street paper movement.  In this
instance, even I would be likely to take sides.

I beg you to reinstate all recently fired personnel and bring in outside
mediation to fairly investigate all grievances being made. StreetWise
has always provided an example for what a street newspaper can achieve
at its best.  I sincerely hope you can rise to the challenge before you.

Timothy Harris,
Exec. Dir., Real Change, Seattle

Timothy Harris, Exec. Director,
Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project
2129 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA  98121
(206) 441-3247   rchange@speakeasy.org

"Organize, Educate, Build Alliances."