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Word In The Trees
From the Guardian
Monday January 6th 1997
The Word In The Trees
The weekly SchNEWS
is printed on A4 paper in a community centre. But, says Alex Bellos
it's a growing voice of the people
IF THE mark of a good
newspaper is one that knows its readers, there can be few better
than the SchNEWS. But then the Brighton-based weekly probably contains
the only journalists who travel the country reading out their articles
to people who aren't their relatives.
Now two years old, the
campaigning pamphlet mixes issues like civil rights, genetic engineering,
animal rights and the environment together with quality reportage.
SchNEWS's legacy has been to give the vast and disparate network
of direct action activists a new cohesion.
"History gets written
by academics and historians. We are activists writing history as
it happens," says Warren, one of the core team of a dozen writers.
"But SchNEWS is more than a newsletter. People call us all
the time for help. It's like a CAB for activists. If someone has
been arrested at a protest, we know the lawyers that can help."
SchNEWS is a product
of the backlash against Michael Howard's 1994 Criminal Justice Act
which famously persecuted ravers, squatters and hunt saboteurs.
Justice?, a Brighton "disorganisation" set up to fight
the CJA, realised that the Act had given these minority groups a
new sense of strength and identity that went beyond their immediate
aims. "Howard was the best thing that happened to us,"
jokes one Justice? member.
Pop group The Levellers
gave Justice? a room rent-free at their studio and the group started
to produce the SchNEWS, whose name is a reference to the US religious
parody, the Church of the SubGenius. Between 2,000-4,000 double-sided
A4 sheets are printed each week on a community centre press, at
£40 per 2,000, although this can double if there is an important
protest on the go, such as the battle against the Newbury bypass
a year ago where every self respecting tree-dweller was an avid
reader. SchNEWS is anti-copyright and urges readers to photocopy,
fax and distribute, which many do. One magazine, Dream Creation
Inc, reprints the whole lot.
FROM its inception, SchNEWS
earned a reputation as an entertaining and informative read, with
an energy in the style reflecting its writers' sense that they are
on the frontline of a war against the state. Cult items include
the arrestometer - a running count of CJA arrests - and the Crap
Arrest Of The Week.
The SchNEWS office is
still a tiny, freezing cold room in The Levellers' HQ. None of the
staff is paid: most are on the dole and they spend much of their
time following up the 150 or so letters sent in every week telling
them about direct actions around the country. They check them out,
type a bit on the one computer that sits in the corner and hand
on to the next person. "You have to be unprecious about what
you are doing," says Tammy. "It's not one person's effort.
I do a lot of the research. Someone else comes in who is good with
words. A revolutionary communist then puts in something which we
will rip to pieces. It's a unique way of writing but that's how
SchNEWS is refreshing
because it shows that young people can be passionate about changing
the world without using the rhetoric of party politics. Justice?
functions almost as a political lobby group in Brighton and its
many high profile actions - such as the squatters' estate agency
- attract rational coverage. But even though most of those involved
are originally leftwing, they are shunned by all parties apart from
Warren says: "We ring Labour up occasionally just for a joke
quote. But they won't oppose anything. Labour councillors bend over
backwards to try not to be seen as pro-anarchistic. The whole left
has moved to the right and there is a vacuum we have filled."
The police, also the
enemies of Justice? and the SchNEWS, are heavy-handed when dealing
with actions. One friend of a contributor was allegedly approached
by the police to infiltrate meetings. At the national direct action
conference held at a squatted venue in Brighton, the police allegedly
evicted them illegally, says Warren, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge
of squatting laws. "If people didn't feel as we do, the SchNEWS
would have fizzled out a long time ago. But after Newbury, more
and more people are getting on the direct action trip. Because we
don't have any advertisers, we can write what we like. People tell
us stories a long time before the mainstream.
"SchNEWS keeps you
a bit hopeful that there are things being done. You can see how
important it is just by reading our postbag."
SchNEWSround, a collection
of SchNEWS Issues 51-100. Including a directory of UK campaigning
groups, is available at selected bookstores at £4.99; Justice?
can be contacted at PO Box 2600, Brighton BN2 2DX.
DROP OF TRUTH IN AN OCEAN OF BULLSHIT