DOPE is a radical publication making socio-political commentary accessible to society’s most marginalised
Amid what he calls the “online agitprop”, Vyvian Raoul, a part of not-for-profit publisher Dog Section Press, sought to make something to incite real-life change. “We wanted to have a more significant impact in terms of direct action,” they tell Dazed. That manifested itself in DOPE, a quarterly print arts and politics magazine, with an “anarchist, left-libertarian perspective”. DOPE can be sold by homeless people in London by collecting bundles of the mag from radical bookshop Freedom Books. A recent vendor, according to DOPE, made £100 from his. The magazine is also given out for free to prisoners, via Haven Distribution, who aim to support prisoners, mainly with educational literature, while others can subscribe for people they know who are incarcerated.
DOPE is now four issues in, with contributions from anarchist writers including Cindy Milstein and Lisa McKenzie, a piece by writer and dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, as well as work by British Iraqi rapper and activist Lowkey and Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson.
In 2019, they aim to distribute DOPE to street vendors in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol and Manchester, and a live Patreon allows DOPE to provide copies to those who need it for free. Below, DOPE’s Vyvian Raoul speaks to Stacey Clare of East London Strippers Collective about anarchy, their recent collaboration, and activism.
How are things at DOPE?
Vyvian Raoul: It's early days, but it’s all heading in the right direction and it’s grown pretty quickly. There is a long-standing anarchist critique of prison and homelessness, so one aim of DOPE is to build solidarity with those affected. Obviously, it’s similar to the Big Issue model of supporting vulnerable people, but even though that’s seen as a hugely positive thing, there are a lot of conditions that go with it…
Yes, I heard there is quite a lot of gatekeeping that goes on, sellers have to go through training and wear tabbards…
Vyvian Raoul: Yeah, so their tagline is ‘Working Not Begging’ – there are a lot of conditions for sellers to be clean and provide ID, and they have to buy copies in the first place. We thought we’d go with ‘Solidarity Not Charity’ by taking a less controlling and more inclusive approach. So far we’ve distributed around 2,000 copies to homeless people, which is around half our overall distribution of paper copies, with a street value of at least £6k. All profits go back into producing more DOPE, and since the costs of printing go down as the orders get bigger, the more money we can raise the more DOPE we can peddle. People can also support it by getting a subscription through our Patreon.
You’re having an exhibit and party fundraiser – can you tell us about that?
Vyvian Raoul: On Thursday February 7, we’re having an event at Flaxon Ptootch in Kentish Town, to celebrate one year of producing DOPE. It was started as something of an experiment, so even the fact that we’ve got to a year is something to celebrate. We’re definitely going to manage another year – it’s always a bit precarious but it is growing. We’ve billed the event as a party, an exhibition and a benefit. We’ll be exhibiting artwork from the covers (Peter Kennard, Hogre, Paul Insect & Goldpeg), some of the other Dog Section Press art, all of the portraits of contributors that have gone into the magazine. We’ll be selling copies of DOPE, and other publications and hopefully sell some of the art, so we’re aiming to raise some money as well.
We’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of offers to provide entertainment, East London Strippers Collective included. Liv Wynter, a young feminist poet who’s publishing a book with us, will be performing live, there's a set from Jack Tyson Charles and Ed West and Hylu from Unit 137 will be DJing. The venue is an indy arts space, and the event will be very much a DIY affair.
Sounds like a good night. Why did you pursue a collaboration with the East London Strippers Collective? I think it was you guys that reached out to us first, wasn’t it?
Vyvian Raoul: So we have three regular spreads in each issue of DOPE, which are written around three themes – liberation, prison and work. We approached you (Stacey) to write the ‘work’ piece for Issue 3, since we wanted to explore sex work as work, looking at sex work under capitalism.. And we then invited you to the Not The Anarchist Bookfair in November, to speak alongside Lisa McKenzie and End Deportations, about your work as an organisation. Then to raise more money we’ve had some DOPE T-shirts designed and produced by No Sweat, an anti-sweatshop company. We thought it would be excellent to ask ELSC to model the T-shirts in a solidarity photoshoot, since ELSC is a collective built on solidarity, there is quite a nice positive feedback loop in terms of doing something in solidarity with the homeless sellers. And it was fun.
It was. So, what do you think about the crossovers between the groups we’ve already mentioned – prisoners, homeless people and sex workers?
Vyvian Raoul: I think they are some of the most, if not the most, vulnerable and oppressed groups in society. You can’t get more oppressed than being in prison or being on the street. Another thing that ties them together is the way society views them, and how they are pathologised. Capitalism is this perfect system that takes the credit for laptops and space flight, and claims all the successes while trying to deny the failures. So in order to sidestep responsibility, the preferred narrative is to see victims of the system as having disordered behaviour. ‘There’s something wrong with people who are homeless, people choose to be homeless’, you hear announcements on TFL about begging, warning the public not to encourage this ‘behaviour’. I’ts not seen as people making choices within a particular economic system we live under, and the same can be said of prisoners, particularly from certain racial and class groups – there’s just something inherently, morally wrong with certain people.
And I guess it also applies to certain forms of sex work – you’ll know more about this than me – but even within feminist discourse you see whorephobia, and narratives about ‘good and bad women’. So, it’s important that we critique these narratives, and redirect the blame back onto the system that creates these economic realities.
Do you think also there’s some crossovers in terms of policy making? So, where policy makers assume that moralistic stance and flagrantly ignore the evidence, they design policy that aims to merely mask the symptoms and make the problem invisible. For example, in countries like Portugal where drugs have been decriminalised and New Zealand where sex work has been decriminalised, the stats are in… and the numbers look good. It’s clear from the experiment that decriminalising and supporting, rather than criminalising and pathologising, puts less of a strain on the public purse and empowers individuals. What also ties those groups together is an evidence-based approach, which is completely overlooked by policy makers, particularly in the UK.
Vyvian Raoul: Completely agree.
So what does anarchy and a solidarity-based approach have to offer these marginalised groups?
Vyvian Raoul: I think it comes back to how that policy is formulated. Currently it’s a very top-down, paternalistic approach. You don’t ask sex workers themselves what will keep them safe, you just impose it on them. You don’t ask homeless people what they want, because we’ll just look after them right? And, I mean, you wouldn’t dream of asking a prisoner how prisons should be run, based on their own experience. It’s never about what people want, rather what we do to them.
While there is an anarchist critique of the system that places the blame on Capitalism, critique isn’t enough really. Government doesn’t see these people as their responsibility; it only seeks to conceal the social fall out. Anarchy is built on the principles of direct action, taking responsibility and self-organising. The squatters who’ve just recently taken over a millionaire’s mansion and are providing housing to around 25 homeless people are currently addressing the problem in real time, by pushing the issue into the limelight in terms of directing the discourse, while at the same time providing an actual, real solution to the problem, however temporary, that’s people off the streets for a little while during the coldest nights of winter. So I think that's kind of how anarchist organising works, where there is an actual concrete, tangible outcome.
Yes. Amazing. Here’s to another year of strippers and DOPE.