Re: Big Deal Big Compromise -- LONG

Anitra Again (anitra@speakeasy.org)
Sat, 14 Feb 1998 18:42:41 -0800 (PST)


On Sat, 14 Feb 1998, Shawn Ewald wrote:

> Thank you for attempting to address these questions ...

Thank you for being willing to have a dialogue, Shawn.  I believe that
equally well-intentioned people can totally disagree, but they can
still understand each others viewpoint.

> And incidentally, you have not answered my question about whether the 
> allegations made by Jennafer, MC, and the homeless community in 
> Santa Monica are false or not.

I am trying to sort out individual points and get them clarified one
at a time, Shawn.  This doesn't mean that I am trying to put you
off.  But there has been quite a lot of "talking at" in this thread, and
very little "talking with".  I'm  willing to simplify the discussion
to one or two points per post until we at least agree on what we are
each saying. :)

Would you be willing to list the allegations you refer to?

> I admit that Robert's misquoting of Tim Harris 
> was wrong, and he is not helping MC or Jennafer by doing such
> things. 

Thank you, Shawn, for taking the time to check the sources yourself.
This is something that we all have to do regularly.  Just as I always
have someone else proofread an article for me because I will see on
the paper what is in my head, not what's actually on the paper, so I
also know that my perceptions are going to be shaped by what I
already believe, and my memory is going to be colored by my current
emotions, so I always need to crosscheck both regularly.

This is also why I actively seek to have friends with widely differing
belief systems and opinions, so that I get freequent reality checks
from different viewpoints.  And why I insist that the best solutions
come from open dialogue between as many different sides of the issue
as possible.  We all need cross-checks.

> But Robert is not directly affected by this situation, whereas 
> Jennafer, MC, and the homeless population of Santa Monica is, and 
> I have not seen anyone attempt to discredit Jennafer's credibility in 
> this matter, with the exception of certain hysterical and unfounded 
> accusations against her.

I am not sure what hysterical and unfounded accusations you refer to.
I certainly have the greatest respect for Jennafer's caring and
zeal.  As I read her letters, they have often appeared confused and
contradictory.  They appear to be getting clearer.  I am hoping to
exchange mail with Jennafer directly sometime in the next few days,
when we aren't both dashing in several differnt directions at once,
and perhaps we can clear up each others confusions.  I know that she
has some questions about my posts too.

You say of Tim Harris's letter to John Bird:
> He apparently is satisfied with not looking deeper into the issues 
> raised, because:
> 
> "I have closely examined your magazine, and have 
> found that, despite the emphasis on entertainment journalism, a 
> respectable proportion of the articles are advocacy related."
> 
> I'd like to know what a respectable portion is, and exactly what the 
> term "advocacy related" means?

Shawn, have you read The Big Issue yourself?  Several issues of it?

> Mr. Harris goes on:
> 
> "I also, as you will remember, had the pleasure of visiting your 
> London office 2 years ago, and was impressed with both the quality of 
> services offered to vendors and the number of ground-level staff that 
> had been hired from among the vendors."
> 
> What services were offered to the vendors? What positions were 
> "ground-level staff" promoted to?

Are you familiar with the operation of the Chicago paper?  That is a
primarily service-run paper, with a lot of support services for the
vendors, that hires among the vendors for staff positions.  An
accountant was a former vendor, for instance.  I attended a workshop
that included a videotape of the Chicago operation and services, but I
could not describe them in detail at this point.  Similarly, I have
had a description of the services offered to vendors in London,
talking informally with the London rep over lunch at the NASNA
conference -- but I could not describe them in any detail now.  My
impression at the time was that they were similar, except that the
Chicago paper was run by a non-profit service agency.

One bit of background that I'm not sure you have, by the way, is that
the economic structure and tax laws in Britain are quite different than
in the US.  There is no such thing as a "non-profit organization" as
we have here.  All organizations exist on the same basis -- if you
don't make any money, you don't pay taxes, if you do make money, you
pay taxes.  You don't formally announce that you aren't going to make
any money, it just happens.

> He brushes aside the concern that there is no homeless involvement on
> the decision-making level at the Big Issue, and the natural 
> expectation of such involvement by grassroots homeless paper 
> publishers, as being a problem of "identity politics"

Perhaps I can make this clearer.  There are some organizations I am
involved with, like SHARE, where to have any vote on policy decisions
you have to be a homeless or formerly homeless member and not on paid
staff in any capacity.  At the Real Change, however, while the members
of the editorial committee are all low-income and/or homeless and have
primary control over content and the development of future content,
Tim Harris makes business decisions along the lines of which printer
we are going to use, who is going to do the admin work, what bills are
going to get paid when.  At the Low Income Housing Institute,
one-third of the board of directors are low-income and/or homeless,
and the board of directors sets policy -- in actual fact, it is a
constant struggle to get the voice of the homeless represented in the
policies over the voice of the most persuasive and senior staff. 

In all of these environments, I have known some people who have never
been homeless who are capable of respecting the dignity of all people,
and recognizing the realities of the poor that they are working with.
I have known some who never can.  And i have known some homeless
people who have been able to respect the dignity of all people -- and
some who never can.

I, personally, am more willing to work with those who act on respect
for all, including the homeless, than those who have a homeless
"identity".


> As I see it, the real issues in this situation are:
> 
> 1. Has the Big Issue tried to muscle out smaller street papers in the 
> past? What happened in New York?

>From what I have read and been told, including by Tim Harris, The Big
Issue did indeed try to muscle in on New York and stage a "hostile
takeover" of the existing paper there.  They were trounced soundly.
when I first heard of their actions in LA I was afraid they were
attempting the same thing and I supported warning them off.

I read John Bird's responses to our warnings as acknowledging his
errors and being willing to work with local papers ("local" meaning
all of North America) instead of in competition.  I am still waiting
to see if that bears out.  I have seen no evidence yet that he is not
going to keep to his promises this time, after being called to account
for breaking them initially.  If he is going to break his promises,
there is plenty of time to escalate action against him before April. 

I will have to close this out for now without answering all of your
points in this post.  I have been up for over 24 hours and my bus is
leaving. 

I do want to bring up the matter of the word "business".  This appears
to be a loaded word here, but I did not intend it as such.  Jennafer
is concetrned about The Big Issue taking traffic, support, readers
away from Making Change -- that is "business". "Business" does not
equal "corporate pinstripes."

Goodnight and I will see you again later.
___________________
WRITE ON! -- Anitra