Homeless Grapevine Hosts NASNA Conference at CWRU

by Brian Davis

    Four years ago, editors and vendors with the assistance of the National Coalition for the Homeless came together to form the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA). In Chicago, the skeleton of an organization was constructed with members from Montreal to Seattle, from Boston to San Francisco and Cleveland to Atlanta.

    In 1999, NASNA came to Cleveland to regroup and set goals for hiring a staff for the future. July 22-25, over 80 people from all over North America gathered at Case Western Reserve University with twenty-six street papers represented. Two French language papers from the future country of Quebec attended the Fourth Annual conference under the theme of “Strength Through Unity”.

    Newly elected Executive Committee member and editor of the Edmonton street paper, “Our Voice”, Michael Walters said, “The conference in Cleveland was a great one for the maturity of NASNA as an organization.” Donald Whitehead, editor of “Street Vibes” in Cincinnati and frequent contributor to the “Grapevine” said, “NASNA seems on the verge of substantial growth as a movement, perhaps rivaling the underground newspaper movement of the past decades.”

    Boston poet Marc D. Goldfinger and local Cleveland poet Daniel Thompson performed at a welcoming session on Thursday evening July 22. These two beatniks filled the hot dormitory with ideas about poverty as vendors and newspaper staff rested from their travels.

    Congressman Dennis Kucinich welcomed the participants to the conference on Friday July 23. Kucinich, a former newspaper stringer with “The Plain Dealer” and local council member provided the proper context for the event. He talked about the importance of street newspapers to “tell the stories of the community”. He said that street newspapers are the best qualified to record the pulse of the city because they are closest to the real stories. Kucinich said, “If you want to find out what is really going on in a city, turn to the street newspaper.”

    The Congressman had kind words for the “Grapevine” and gave examples of the power of the written word. He gave a pep talk to the editors to continue to publish the forgotten stories and he said that eventually “your efforts will be rewarded”. Kucinich finished his talk with the story of his efforts to save the Salvation Army PASS program and the power of community pressure after a story is reported in the media.

    Norma Green of Columbia College updated her discussion of the “history of the Street Newspaper movement,” which received high praise from those gathered. Lee Stringer, a former vendor from New York’s street paper, “Street News” was the keynote speaker (see in this issue ‘With a Name Like Stringer, He Was Born to Write…’). Stringer detailed the transformation from homeless recycling king to professional vendor and now author of “Grand Central Winter”.

    The NASNA conference featured the education workshops with local professionals Cindy Barber, formerly editor of the “Free Times”, Roldo Baltimole, “Free Times” columnist and leading government critic. Gino Scarselli of the American Civil Liberties Union talked about the two cases that he assisted with: the homeless dumping case and the “ Grapevine” licensing case for a workshop entitled Civil Rights for Homeless People. There were forums on writing, vending the papers, fundraising and other sustainability issues for street newspapers.

    Newly elected co-chair of NASNA Eric Cimon from Montreal’s “Journal L’Itine’raire” said, “I think that movement is not just existing but a working organization. I think that the people are getting to know each other better and are communicating better. We are moving forward on the issues.”

    When asked about his priorities over the next year as co-chair, Eric said that he wants to make sure that the organizations within NASNA communicate with each other. He intends to work out some linkages with the International Street Newspaper Association. Finally, Cimon wants to “make sure that we go forward with the priorities that we have.”

    The heart of the conference was the business meeting to dream of things that could be and plan for things that must happen over the next year. The major priorities for the next years include establishing a paper in the 100 largest cities in North America by 2005, hiring a staff to coordinate the work of NASNA and obtain independent not-for-profit status for the organization. Unlike in previous years, there was pretty universal support for the priorities that were established by NASNA. In fact, one high priority was to update and maintain the NASNA website, which was accomplished in one week by Seattle’s Anitra Freeman.

    Walters of “Our Voice” said, “There was a lot of focus on the importance of the street paper movement and how specifically we need to work together to create a powerful mechanism that will help people living in poverty all across North America. In the past, this has indeed been an important issue but, in Cleveland, I think we started to believe that this was a realistic goal.”

    Walters and his staff will host the 2000 NASNA conference and he said that he hopes to continue the energy from the Cleveland conference and make the next gathering the best to date.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #37, August-September 1999