Years ago I used to work on the newsdesk of the NME. It was very good fun.
Much of the brief was as you’d expect – ‘Make sure we get the news of that Oasis single FIRST!’; ‘What do you mean Granddaddy have given Melody Maker an exclusive?!’ But there was always the chance of a tip and a lead that could generate something more.
One of the people who rang me frequently was Peter Tatchell. He rang more or less every week. He was a tireless voice for gay rights a long time before the mainstream press were listening.
Initially, he was great. He could be relied on to deliver a useful line or two. But as time went on, he became more and more of a pest, increasingly trying to confect a story that felt more like a stunt. Hardly surprising from the man who attempted a citizen’s arrest on Robert Mugabe.
That was all nearly 20 years ago. I still think he knows the value of a stunt. But boy, is he brave.
Last week, he travelled to Moscow, on his own, to stand in the middle of the city and campaign for LGBT rights. He clearly knew that the world’s media was heading to Russia for the World Cup so there would be some attention, but he still ran the risk of arrest, and who knows what, by his actions. He did it anyway.
Calmly, peacefully, without a rent-a-mob around him, he headed towards Red Square and set out his belief in the injustice and prejudice LGBT people face in Russia and Chechnya. And then he was led away in the back of a police car.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
That’s a hell of a thing to do. It takes some balls. And while the mechanics are similar to other stunts by other poeple, it should not be seen in the same light.
This is an era when it is easy to sit in front of a computer and claim you’re standing up for rights. It is easy to get a mob behind you by being arrested and jailed (legitimately) for contempt of court and then having that mob claim you are a freedom fighter and being held illegally for nothing more than speaking the truth. Which is one way of couching naked prejudice, Tommy Robinson.
This is the time when smug millionaires who claim to speak for those without a voice can refuse to answer questions in parliament, including about where their money came from – money that helped fund the Brexit vote – and be saluted as agitators for the common man, sticking it to the self-serving liberal elite.
So many men and women across Britain have worked, frequently for generations, in the space under railway arches. They’ve created livelihoods and communities.
This week we back the Guardians of The Arches campaign to keep thousands of small businesses thriving. So many men and women across Britain have worked, frequently for generations, in the space under railway arches. They’ve created livelihoods and communities.
Now, they could be sold out by a government keen to make a quick buck.
The Big Issue is proud to speak up for them. We will continue to fight for them and for any others, whose just cause we can amplify and hopefully help them deliver change.
Up from the street, we rise.
Image: Sarah Ainslie