Comments on The Big Issue Issue (fwd)

Anitra Again (
Wed, 11 Feb 1998 23:37:31 -0800 (PST)

I just posted this to CSF, and I'm forwarding it here for those of you
not on that list.  And those of you who are on that list may see this
sooner, because the CSF mailing software is sometimes erratic.  

Most of the comments I make in this post are relevant to far more
issues than The Big Issue, so I hope that even those of you who are
burned out on that particular thread will hear me out.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 1998 23:29:11 -0800 (PST)
From: Anitra Again <>
To: Homeless Discussion List <>
Subject: Comments on The Big Issue Issue

I am once again going to address recent posts and forwards by Robert
Norse on The Big Issue, and I hope that he will address mine.  I hope
that others will also be patient enough to read through this, because
I am concerned with much more than one particular issue.

I am one of those who has criticised the tactics of The Big Issue in
the way they approached Los Angeles.  I have also supported
confrontation in the sense of "honest dialogue with" instead of
confrontation in the sense of "burn their house down."  I would like
to point out that after being called to account on broken promises,
Mr. Bird of The Big Issue *did* meet with Jennafer Waggoner, *has*
offered support to Making Change which Jennafer has accepted, and
Mr. Bird still has an upcoming meeting with Tim Harris of NASNA to
discuss the future of how The Big Issue operates on this continent.

In other words, dialogue is accomplishing something.

There are some voices in NASNA who hold to the opinion that *only*
hardcore activist papers managed by the homeless themselves have the
right to be called street newspapers, and that any paper operating
on any other basis should be blackballed.  The majority of the members
of NASNA are of the opinion that there is room for several models
within the movement -- those who concentrate on giving the vendors an
income and support services, those who concentrate on giving a voice
to homeless and low-income people and issues, those who concentrate on
political action, and more.

A majority is not a consensus.  I believe that all voices should be
heard, including the most strident.  But for the few to dictate to the
many is just as tyrannical as for the many to dictate to the few.  I
hear a small number of vocal activists decreeing what is best for ALL
the poor and homeless people in this country, and I want to ask just
who is really speaking for the poor here?

Los Angeles has a total population of over 8 million.  If the
demography is anything like Seattle, probably one out of every 150 is
homeless.  I would be more comfortable with giving approximately
55,000 people a choice of papers to vend, of groups to work with;  
I am not at all comfortable with deciding for them all who is "really"
for them.

The Big Issue was invited into Los Angeles by activists already
working there.  Some, at least, feel that The Big Issue has something
to offer them and the people they work with.  I have done a page count
of The Big Issue.  Only 20% of each issue is homeless-issues content,
yes; but each issue is five times or more larger than most
street-newspapers.  The overall content-count works out equal.  And
the content that is there is well-written, well-presented, and

The Big Issue puts money in the pockets of its vendors.  We have some
vendors in Seattle who care only about that income, who do not even
read our paper themselves.  Shall I dictate to them that they *must*
become activists in order to benefit from selling Real Change?

The Big Issue offers more support services to its vendors than almost
any North American street-paper, with the possible exception of
Chicago.  Some vendors may choose to work with papers that give them
more personal voice, and some may choose to work with papers that give
them more services instead.  I would rather the vendors had that
choice, than for me to make it for them.  Some people accuse The Big
Issue and papers like it of exploiting the poor to make profit for
themselves.  I would support making information about exploitative
practices available so that people can protect themselves.  Deciding
for myself what organizations people will be allowed to associate
with, in order to "protect" them from exploitation, seems

A lot of people talk about consensus who seem to act as if it means
"when you agree with me you are joining the consensus, but when you
disagree with me you are subverting it."  Here in Seattle we have a
growing coalition of groups who are starting to work together on
common causes in spite of individual political differences.  Even the
activist groups and the businesses and the government have
occasionally been able to work together.  Working together doesn't
prevent us from critiquing each other and critiquing each other
doesn't prevent us from working together -- sometimes.  The same
cooperation across the lines is happening in other locations.

This is going to have to spread, folks, if we are going to accomplish
any social change at all.  We're all going to have to spend more time
listening to each other and a little less time proclaiming The Way,
The Truth and The Light as we ourselves see it.  A little more time
thinking about the end result of live individual people fed and warm and
inside, and a little less preoccupation with the Political Correctness
of the methods used to get them there.  A little less talk about
consensus, and a lot more practice.

I want to acknowledge that most of the posts I have read on CSF have
been in the tone of information sharing and dialogue, and cooperation
for problem-solving.  I by no means object to open disagreement and
even the passionate statement of individual opinion -- which we have
also had here -- and in fact I'd like to see a few less panic-attacks
when such things occur.  But I still see more polarized debate than I
see true dialogue -- which involves those who disagree giving serious
respect and consideration to their dissenters, and occasionally even
learning something from them.  I'm not singling out CSF -- it's one of
my personal missions in life (if you haven't guessed by now) to
encourage more real dialogue *everywhere*.

I now yield the floor. :)

WRITE ON! -- Anitra