I first met Dawn at the tail end of the noughties when we were at a blogging conference in London. Back then we were both idealistic young bloggers convinced we were changing the world one Blogspot post at a time. Her own blog, a diary of the regular harassment she received as a young woman cycling around London, felt to me like a thrilling attempt to take back power from the “101 Wankers” who were attempting to take it from her. It was an immediate success and helped her, as a working-class woman with few of the connections shared by other commentators, launch a brilliant career in journalism.
Back then I can remember being pleased to discover that Dawn was exactly the same person as she appeared online - funny, direct, and totally uncompromising.
One of my earliest memories of her is of us leaving the Congress Centre in central London together, only to look back and see she had stopped on the street in order to tell some leafleters from the rape culture apologists of the SWP to fuck off. Dawn, to her enormous credit, never moderated her opinions either in her articles or in real life. It’s often said of people after they die that they “spoke their mind,” but it’s rarely true. In Dawn’s case, it actually was. She wrote and said what she believed, regardless of whether people were comfortable hearing it.
In the hours since Dawn’s death was announced lots of people have commented on the support and kindness she showed them. She showed me that same kindness when I most needed it at the start of my career. On multiple occasions, she took the time to recommend me to her editors, tip me off about articles I should pitch, and champion my work on Twitter and elsewhere. I will always be grateful to her for that.
As my family and workload grew, I went out less and saw Dawn far less than I would have liked. But it was always a joy to discover we were at the same event together and every year we would meet up at party conferences, drink ourselves silly and hold the world to rights at crowded conference bars among the incoming tide of bad canapés and party activists.
Over time I probably lost a part of the fiery idealism we both shared at the start of our careers, but Dawn never did. Her groundbreaking work on feminism, inequality, housing, and poverty will stand as a greater lasting testament to her than anything I could hope to write here.
It’s a cliche that you only know what you’ve got once it’s gone but in the case of Dawn it’s true. Despite her chronic health problems, always documented with humour and without a trace of self-pity on Twitter, I never thought for one minute that she could be leaving us all so soon.
When I saw the tweets from her close friends yesterday announcing her sudden death a part of me thought it must be a joke. How could it be true? Surely she would be along in a minute to bring us all into the joke and drag us all back down to the pub.
The truth is she never will be. The brilliant person I first met more than a decade ago has now left us forever. My only hope is that she understood how much she will be missed.
You can donate to a good cause championed by Dawn here.