“Just imagine, the whole place being upset by one little Chinese girl in the scullery.” (Anna May Wong in the scullery in Piccadilly, 1929)
I’m reposting my article, A Bad Case of the Trots, which was published in Tribune magazine, September 2003 following my time establishing and running the Socialist Alliance (SA) and Stop The War Coalition (STWC) press offices. (Also on What Next? Journal.)
In the light of the recent rape allegations and attacks on feminism in the far left, it’s not surprising to learn that working-class non-white women who are also bright sparks, aren’t allowed to have their input acknowledged on the left and in the histories. Indeed, any pioneering work is airbrushed out or relegated to background maid status, serving the dull white folk who, quite frankly in this instance, hadn’t made any public impact before a methodical and robust engagement with the gatekeepers of the mainstream media took place.
Ian Sinclair, author of The march that shook Blair, the history that isn’t written by STWC, and the second to contain interviews from “press officers” who weren’t the ones who fought the battle at the media coalface, says:
“I was not aware of Anna’s contribution or testimony until after my book was published. No one I spoke to – over 70 face-to-face interviews and 50 written interviews – mentioned her. I do not recall seeing her name mentioned in any of the written documents or articles I read in my research.”
Wow. At least maids get paid. Butterfly McQueen in Gone With the Wind received better billing than me.
For the record, I worked from 8am till gone midnight for no wages, going deep into debt to ensure the STWC anti-war movement had a press office. Both my physical and intellectual labour was appropriated and expropriated by the white middle-class males who dominate the far left organisations … and their lady friends.
It’s clear that my practise of not propelling myself to the forefront (like certain Princess Pushies) but making sure that others had their names emblazoned all over my press releases, was far from wise. So I’m making sure that an accurate representation of events are on the record and safe from airbrushing mitts.
Anyone who only wants the “official” version had better look away now …
Paul Foot called me the “best press officer in the country”.
Mike Marqusee, who wrote most of the press releases for the SA and STWC and worked closely with me on both campaigns, stated that, for the Socialist Alliance, I’d done single-handedly the equivalent of the Countryside Alliance’s 6 full-time paid press officers and their support with “flair and imagination”. So I was pleased to repeat the teamwork for STWC — with him writing most of the releases and me battling on the media frontline to get us heard.
Weekly Worker called my unprecedented press successes “uncanny”.
John Rees described my task as being like turning a tanker around mid-ocean, or mining for diamonds.
Charles Shaar Murray has commented that he saw me work: “… on a day-to-day basis from the start, and observed the effect it had as the media slowly responded and swung around from a position of hostility; witnessed how pleased many of your [Ian Sinclair] interviewees were with the results — notably John Rees and especially Mike Marqusee who got the starring role in all the press releases she sent out — I’m shocked with the way she has been Stalinised out of existence in your accounts.”
Apart from the Amazing Disappearing Act, this was what I was up against when it came to fighting against war with Iraq: read The BBC and Iraq ten years on
I was pleased to spearhead the anti Iraq War press campaign (more details of what that entailed here) and delighted to get it relatively coasting — at which point various parties saw there was something up for grabs and have claimed credit for themselves — not very socialist, you might think.
I’ve now dug out my emails from the 2000-2003 period, which have been an effective refresher for me.
I’d forgotten that I got Ken Loach on board the STWC in October 2001, and won him interviews in the media right up until the huge million-strong demo in February 2003. I have a written eyewitness account, from writer and broadcaster Dale Reynolds, of the Football Match for Peace the weekend before the big demo, in which Americans Against the War played a team of Iraqi students in north London and which I turned into a national media even and warm-up event for the Feb 15th March. I’ll be posting that soon.
Another example of the sort of work I was doing: in the course of my work as the STWC press officer (when no-one else apart from Mike Marqusee thought this important, as it was only the “bourgeois press” and “they never take any notice of us”) I tackled the problem of the BBC’s under-reporting of demo attendance. After 2001, as well as regularly sending our press releases to Richard Sambrook,head of BBC news, I also wrote to him whenever we had a march (including pre-9/11 demos), challenging the figures they gave, which were invariably the same as the police’s 15,000. Equally invariably, he ignored them.
When, after one Media Workers Against the War (MWAW) meeting, I and one other person drafted a letter then signed by Lindsey and Pilger among others, the BBC’s response was to not only ignore us, but to report an even lower 10,000 for the next demo, which I thought was pretty dirty pool.
Because I then pursued other avenues (Rees always did say he liked my creative and lateral thinking), I finally got Sambrook on the back foot and received my first reply from him, a defensive missive showing that he was stung. After being belligerent for so long, it was a huge turnaround. He even wrote: “The relevant pages on BBC News Online were also updated. I accept we ought to have known your higher figure a little earlier.”
And so on, in the same vein.
I forwarded this email to Lindsey German and other esteemed leaders, asking them who would like to respond. No answer.
I then wrote to them again asking whether they wanted me to pursue this or if they would prefer to deal with it themselves. Again, nothing. Which is when I realised that all their bleating about the awful way the media and BBC in particular was covering the anti-war movement was nothing more than hot air.
This particular brand of “left” is too stupid to look after their assets and our achievements. The blokey blokes who write the histories of the movement [excluding Ian Sinclair ’cause he didn’t do it deliberately] only skate on the surface, reluctant to dig deeper. In other words, a complete shower. With serious consequences.
MORE TO COME …
The People’s Assembly led by the same characters who destroyed the Socialist Alliance (People’s Assembly MkI) when it suited them, and Respect.
More SWP rape accusations: “a dangerous place for a woman”
Anna’s food blog here: