Edmonton Hosts Street paper Conference and Poverty Protest

By Brian Davis

             Editors, vendors, and staff members from street papers throughout North America descended on Edmonton Canada for the fifth conference of street newspapers.  Edmonton is nestled between the Rocky Mountains and north of Calgary.  The conference began with a poetry meeting and ended with a uplifting speech from a winner of the North American vend off.

             Our Voice, the street paper of Edmonton, is a colorful, professional, eye catching paper, which the city has embraced.  Our Voice supports a large number of venders, and has become a fixture in this progressive and colorful city.  The University of Alberta was the site of the conference, which attracted 100 participants.

             The keynote address was by Pat Capponi, a self described crazy person, who wrote Upstairs at the Crazy House, about empowering those with mental health difficulties to get involved in their community.  She challenged everyone at the conference to rethink their interaction with people with a mental disability.  Capponi asked participants to look at the power structures that were put in place between clients and staff of agencies.  She said that some of those traditional power structures could be broken for better mental heath and better communities.

             Angelo Anderson and Dinah Black from the Homeless Grapevine both attended the conference.  Anderson resigned from his leadership in the North American Street Newspaper Association, but did complete in the vend off.

             Vendors from all over North America gathered one of the busiest streets in Edmonton during the conference to sell their own papers in the first annual North American Vend Off.  Greg from Boston, who appeared in Good Will Hunting, charmed pedestrians on Whyte Avenue as the Streetwise vendor ran through his routine about the Chicago paper.  In the end, Terry from Calgary Street Talk took home the title of best salesperson.  He is a quiet older man with a baseball hat who only recently began selling the paper in Calgary, Canada.  On the last day of the conference, he accepted the award the last day of the conference; he accepted the award giving a speech that brought the crown to their feet.  Beaming with pride, Terry said, “Only three weeks ago I started as a vendor, and now I am champion of North America.” 

             Terry was featured on the front of the Calgary paper, and won a trip to next year’s conference in San Francisco to compete in next year’s vend off.  The other award presented was for the new paper in Austin, Texas for their outstanding first year of publication.

             Michael Walters, editor of Our Voice and organizer of the NASNA conference, said, “It was a pretty good conference.”  He was especially impressed by the professionalism and lack of conflict at this conference over the previous years.  Walters led the participants in a rally against poverty, taking over one corner of Whyte Avenue with signs and slogans to draw attention to the extreme disparity between the rich and poor in North America.

             Aside from the fellowship among member papers and the workshops given to improve the production and distribution of the street newspapers, the conference was chance to set goals for the organization over the next year.  The one unifying goal was to hire a staff individual to be enable the organization to grow and do more than just a conference every year.  Other priorities set for NASNA over the next year include:

  1.  Exchange of Information and Text among member papers.
  2.  Host an annual meeting of the member papers to lay out the path for NASNA for the next year.
  3.  Creation and nurturing of member papers in cities without a street paper.
  4.  Develop a library of articles and stories from member papers.
  5.  Coordinate activities with international street newspapers.
  6.  Provide professional support for member papers to improve their operation.
  7.  Publicize the achievements of member papers
  8. Construct a continent wide training program to teach journalism to homeless people
  9. Coordinate co-operative activities for member papers to allow papers to work together.

      The street newspaper movement is alive with papers forming in St. Louis, Washington D.C. and varies cities in Florida.  There are assaults on the movement with cities attempting to restrict distribution, but all over North America homeless people are writing about life on the streets and selling their words to others.  NASNA attempts to link these geographically diverse interests into a force for social change.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #44 September 2000