Everyone knows about The Big Issue, and the importance of its existence for London's homeless people. But recently, you may have seen another publication being sold on the streets of London. Its name is DOPE Magazine and it's being described by some as the 'anarchist Big Issue'. Craig Clark from DOPE's publisher, Dog Section Press, tells us more.
We started DOPE just over two years ago. It's a quarterly publication in a newspaper format, which is pretty much a journal of radical art and politics. It features various perspectives, from anarchists like Ruth Kinna and Carne Ross, to more mainstream radical voices such as Benjamin Zephaniah and Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods. We try to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible, so it also features a lot of artists, including people like Paul Insect, Stanley Donwood and Gee Vaucher.
"We started handing out copies to local homeless people to sell, as a bit of an experiment"
Our office is situated above Freedom Books in Whitechapel, London, where homelessness is shockingly visible. We started handing out copies to local homeless people to sell, as a bit of an experiment. We knew it was possible, because there's an odd quirk of law (which goes back to the English Civil War) that means you don't need a license to sell a newspaper in a public place. We wanted to get our newspaper out to as many people as possible, and we thought this was a nice way to practice mutual aid. We like to say that it's solidarity, not charity.
When we started distributing papers in this way, we decided not to put any conditions on our vendors, make them wear bibs or have accreditation or anything. But it wasn't long before vendors actually started asking for something to make them look legit. So DOPE now comes in plastic bags we had made specially for this purpose. As well as keeping the papers dry, the bags have 'Official Vendor' on the front, and the vendor's rights around selling in a public place. This legal protection also means that the people selling DOPE on the streets can't get moved on or hassled by the police or council workers, whereas begging is illegal in most places.
"We've gone from printing 1,000 copies to 10,000"
In London, DOPE is distributed by Refugee Community Kitchen around Camden, Food Not Bombs in Tottenham (outside Seven Sisters station every other Saturday) and by our comrades at Freedom Books in Whitechapel and 56a Infoshop in Elephant and Castle. Those areas are where you're most likely to find people selling them, although we know that sometimes vendors do travel to collect papers to sell in other locations. Keep an eye out!
We're working on getting more of them out to more places, too. We've gone from printing 1,000 copies of each issue to 10,000 this last issue. As well as four distribution sites in London now, it's also distributed in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Dundee, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Southampton. This still feels like a drop in the ocean: as homelessness increases year on year, there's unfortunately a lot more we can do. We run out of solidarity copies for our vendors every issue, demand far outstrips supply. So, we're concentrating on increasing our circulation as much as possible — both in terms of quantity but also in terms of distribution points around London and the UK.
DOPE is completely independent; we're not linked to any political parties or NGOs. We don't carry any advertising and we don't receive any funding, either. We rely on people supporting the project by either buying a copy of DOPE online or supporting our Patreon (where you can also get a subscription to DOPE). We've reached the point in the economies of scale now where it costs just £75 to print an extra thousand copies, which is worth around £3,000 to our vendors on the streets.
We believe that it's important to give support directly to those that need it. Please pick up a copy if you see someone selling it on the streets around London.