Political Women (2): Mandy Vere
Feminist, campaigner for social justice, mother of 2 grown up children, radical bookseller………..
Mandy Vere was born and grew up in Stockport. Her parents were Quakers and socialists, activists of the Labour Party:
I grew up in a Quaker household and it had a big influence on me and my sister. The community was all around me and their ideas of pacifism and social justice have stayed with me all my life.
Aged just 17, she went to Belfast to take part in a Quaker work camp. This was at the height of the conflict between Republicans and the British state:
I didn’t know anything about the politics of Northern Ireland. I learnt so much and my experiences there were very influential on my politics throughout my life.
On her return Mandy went to Liverpool University but dropped out in the first year, preferring to get involved in radical politics. Previously she had been involved with the Non Violent Direct Action Movement and she now joined the British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign
Supporters of the BWNIC leafleted soldiers giving them information on their rights to conscientious objection. At this time there were soldiers who were deserting the army rather than serve in Northern Ireland. The government charged14 BWNIC members with conspiracy to disaffection over their actions. A number of these were from Liverpool and Mandy became involved in their defence campaign. All 14 were eventually found not guilty:
It combined my interests in pacifism, non- violence and the Irish struggle. The defence campaign allowed us to raise lots of issues about the occupation of N. Ireland and militarism.
The 1970s was also the beginning of a new wave of the women’s movement and Mandy became very involved;
It hit me like a joyful barrage. It was so exciting and exhilarating to be involved at that time. There were lots of small groups discussing our experiences as women and out of that a movement grew. It showed us that as women we were repressed and that we could provide a body of evidence to prove this.
This level of discusions and conscious raising is something that Mandy feels is missing from the latest wave of feminism;
In those days we did discuss class and race and learn about other people’s experiences. I think that the latest feminist groups have grown out of universities and therefore tend to be quite middle class.
Mandy combined her interests in feminism and Ireland by taking part in some of the big campaigns of the early 80s:
I got involved with the Women and Ireland group and campaigned against stripsearching, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and organised delegations to Northern Ireland. It was a hard time because there was so much anti-Irish racism in England.
Underpinning Mandy’s politics has been her involvement in the radical bookshop News from Nowhere:
“ I started working in NFN in 76 and my politics have run parallel to my work in the shop. I had my kids in the 80s and that, with the bookshop, has meant that I haven’t had the time to put my energy into having a direct role in campaigns.”
Like many activists who have children Mandy had to make decisions about how and where she put her energies:
It was a big change for me becoming a Mum and I became more focussed on my child and my home life. But it also made me aware of how little power young people have. It is the last big liberation movement. Young people do not have a voice or any way of expressing themselves. Parenting is the most important job in the world in bringing up the next generation .
Mandy feels that the Occupy movement has given young people the opportunity to express their feelings and get together with other individuals and groups to campaign for change:
Occupy in Liverpool had lots of young people involved who were willing to be out in all weathers and be passionate about their politics. I went down to their base and brought them blankets and had this young lad teaching me about capitalism. It was great! I loved it and they were so brave
In 2012 Mandy is still involved with NFN and the bookshop gives her the opportunity to be involved in making connections with a diverse range of campaigns and community groups;
It allows me to combine cultural and political issues. As an independent bookshop we can react to local, national and global campaigns. Recently in response to the Pussy Riot trial in Russia we organised a dramatic rendition of their testimony at the shop. It was picked up by local radio and we were able to raise consciousness about feminism, freedom of speech and Putin’s Russia.
NFN is facing a major challenge from online retailers such as Amazon who dominate the bookselling world and can aggressively discount not just books but many other items. Mandy is calling on lefties to appreciate traditional bookshops such as theirs, who can offer an online service including accessing every book in print, browse recommended booklists and order online.
“If people on the left do not spend their money in our bookshop, then we will disappear. In other words shop with the real Amazons!”
And Mandy’s advice for young women today?
Be yourself. You can learn from older women and feminists but you will always do it differently. Don’t ever believe you are not having an effect. I really admire young women activists because there is lots of repression now. It is different, in the 70s the movement for change was much more mainstream and campaigns such as Greenham Common did get publicity and produced a debate. Nowadays the media has such a stranglehold . I think UKUncut are one of the best things that have happened recently, particularly in the way they have used the new media to organise themselves.”
“I am hopeful about the future. I look at my daughter, who doesn’t see herself as political, but she takes for granted all the things we fought for. She spoke out at work and organised against a bullying boss. There are lots of young people who are willing to speak out and there is much to be optimistic about in the new wave of feminism.