Radical Bookshop Celebrates 36 Years
Power of the Word
By Mandy Vere
News from Nowhere was 36 this Mayday. From small beginnings on Manchester St, we have moved three times to our current building, which we now own, on Bold Street.
There have been many changes in that time, not least the size, scope and profile of the bookshop, but the original principles on which it was founded hold true - that information is power and that books can provide a key to unlock the potential, in individuals and societies, to change themselves and the world around them.
We have always tried to live out our ideals in the way we work, so we are a Workers' Co-op, we have no hierarchy, we all get paid the same (currently the minimum wage) and we all share the cleaning, the serving and the paperwork. And while we exist in a commercial environment - we have no funding and rely entirely on sale of books and rents generated by the building - we have always been much more than a bookshop. Collaborations, coalitions and mutual support with progressive organizations, whether political, cultural or literary, have always been at the heart of our work. Indeed you could say we see our role as furthering the politics of creativity and the creativity of politics, and where the two interact, particularly in critical thinking and action, there is our home.
Our building now houses Windows Poetry Project, Nerve Grassroots Arts & Culture Magazine, the Methodist Bread Church and the activist centre, Next to Nowhere, and we are centrally involved with Bold St Village Traders, who stage the Bold St Festival every September and are raising the profile of Bold St as a uniquely bohemian and diverse area of the city. We also venture into music with the best selection of World Music CDs and our partnerships with Africa Oye, the Working-Class Music Festival and recently our support for Folk Against Fascism.
But our primary focus has always been to foster social and political change, to promote anti-oppressive literature and provide information about and encourage liberation movements - Think Global, Act Local. So, as a women's collective, the women's liberation movement has always been our bedrock, as a left-wing bookshop subject to a campaign of arson attacks in the 80s, and more recent attention from the BNP, anti-fascism and anti-racism are at our heart, and as an "outsider" project we have always identified with marginalized and excluded groups and campaigns.
For instance we spend a lot of time supporting the Big Issue sellers on the pitch outside the shop, Sahir House use our window every World Aids Day, we pioneered groups for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, and we sell tickets for coaches to anti-war demos.
And we have not been afraid of supporting controversial causes over the years, be it Irish Republicanism, a woman's right to abortion, or the Liverpool Friends of Palestine. We boycotted cheques from Barclays Bank during apartheid, were a collection point for Coal not Dole during the Miners' Strike and shamelessly promoted homosexuality while Section 28 was in force, causes which have now entered the mainstream.
When we celebrated our 30th Birthday, our supporters were invited to the Town Hall for a Civic Reception, and we were honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from John Moores University, which felt very much like being brought in from the cold, and as such we could be in danger of becoming a bit mainstream ourselves.
But to the extent that we are now a recognized part of the cultural life of the city, we feel a responsibility to use that recognition and the contacts we have with organizations such as the Bluecoat and JMU to bring other groups in from the cold and to provide a warm home and a voice to the marginalized and dispossessed.
Too often Liverpool seems content to trade on its cultural heritage of the Beatles, football, Matthew St, Scouse comedians and the Grand National, which is not only narrow and lazy, but positively excluding and unrepresentative of the Liverpool character. We feel that personally, because we reckon Liverpool is lucky to have one of the few radical bookshops in the country. But in a wider sense, too many talented artists are ignored, too many communities are under attack, too much grassroots work is undervalued and obstructed by the forces of capital and property.
There is much work to be done empowering young people and oppressed groups and from our position outside the "funded" organizations, we are inclined to see funding as a double-edged sword which can lead to containment and neutralizing of radicalism and traditional Liverpool bolshiness. Is it coincidental that when we have grievances in our communities we don't automatically take to the streets as we used to in the 70s and 80s, when no-one had any funding? Maybe with the inevitable cuts in the arts in the near future, we will see a return to the principles of co-operation, and the practice of mutual aid, when if something needs to be done we get together and do it, rather than applying for funding for a coordinator to set up a focus group to organize it in six months time.
Meanwhile News from Nowhere is always open to suggestions from fellow travellers, be it to make use of our High St window, to collaborate on an event, to invite us to provide a bookstall, or just to buy some books from us - please!
We are always on the edge financially but we hope that keeps us on the cutting edge politically.
Sorry Comments Closed
Comment on this article: