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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 it works."

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 the Greens.
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.



SchNEWS, PO Box 2600, Brighton, BN2 0EF, England
Phone/Fax: +44 (0)1273 685913
email: schnews@brighton.co.uk

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