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August 12, 2008

Alternative Economies… networks upon networks!

Projects, meetings and wild ideas seem to be spawning everywhere – all in the name of alternative economies. In my two home cities (Portland and Boston) there are newly forming networks of people and groups aligning around reworking our social fabric via economics. It’s exciting!

The basic idea is that there are many, many avenues for creating our social, political and economic systems that are based on human and environmental rights (as opposed to growth and profit), and that it’s time to align these efforts as well as take them to the next level.


While in Boston, I attended the second meeting of the BEAN/BASEN group (Boston Economic Alternatives Network/Boston Area Solidarity Economy Network). The meeting was energizing… an interesting mix of folks weaving together various threads of the new economy. The group, at the moment, includes an economy professor, a political economy professor, a global network organizer, a labor union activist, a community economic development student, two immigrants, and a few other interesting organizers (note: a handful of these folks founded the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network at the US Social Forum last year).

As a newly forming group, their strategy is to focus on one specific activity at a time so that they can accomplish it together, reflect, and then choose the next task until they get into their flow. Sounds like a good strategy. Their first collective activity is to host a visiting scholar for an evening discussion.

They also spent some time visioning about what they all meant by the practices of the solidarity economy. While on the one hand the list they generated (see below) contains a broad spectrum of big, daunting and fun ideas (begging the questions of where and how to start), the conversation led to a few interesting insights, including:

* Many of these ideas sound far off or far-fetched, but we are in a time of rapid transformation. Maybe our work is to simple be ready for when a crisis allows the doors to open for what may now sound like radical or unachievable ideas. We must be ready to implement these ideas when the time comes! (That certainly gives me motivation to work on the more wild ideas!)*

And: *Solidarity is a resource*

Get involved! Email orionk@gmail.com.

U.S. Solidarity Economy Network

TheUSSEN formed during the US Social Forum last year (the two women pictured hereat the far end of the table are some of the founders). In their words, they looked “beyond the traditional critiques of neoliberal capitalist economics to focus on an economic way forward. We decided to showcase the alternative economic values and institutions that have been proliferating in the U.S., and this ended up leading us to include as well the solidarity economy movements abroad which have begun to create networks of these alternatives.”

“The solidarity economy emphasizes our relationships to other people, and to our environment, and inserts solidaritous values into these relationships. Solidaritous values are cooperative, egalitarian, democratic, locally based, and sustainable. It strives for an economy based on human needs rather than an insatiable drive for profit. The ultimate aim of the solidarity economy is the breakdown of oppressive economic hierarchies of all types, the development of human potential, and the preservation of our communities and environment.”

Good stuff: U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (U.S. SEN, www.USSEN.org),

European Social Forum

In Boston, I also met with Pasqualino, an Italian man who has been in Boston for 28+ years working with labor union organizing. He is now organizing alternative economies events for the European Social Forum, which is coming up in September. In hearing about the breadth and depth of the ESF solidarity economy events, I learned some interesting tidbits about Europe, like the fact that any company that works in more than one EU country must include workers in all decisions of the company. Cool!

Pasqualino also offered me the idea that a very essential moment in life is the condition of the worker when he/she gets paid. This transaction is the soul of the relationship between management, workers and the work. The question, then, is “how do you make this moment meaningful and just?”

Another interesting tidbit: 25% of liquidity in the United States are union pension funds.


It’s happening here too! A recent meeting brought together more than a dozen folks all working on different aspects of alternative economies. Together, they brainstormed, “what’s working well?” and “what’s missing?” in Portland. If you’d like the notes and/or invitations to future meetings, email me (jennyleis@riseup.net) or brush (brush@tryonfarm.org).


The point here is that the idea of forming networks that link many forms of the solidarity economy is HOT. And exciting. And moving.

Maybe it’s just the latest lingo, but the evolving language of ‘sustainability’ helps us frame, connect and understand what we are doing together. We humans tend to get either stuck or energized by the words we choose to describe large ideas and social movements. I think that using the language of economics is a really great way to link the current world with the world of our ideals. Yeah!

Click here to read the recent brainstorms of the Boston and Portland alternative economy meetings…

*****IN PORTLAND:*****

What's working well?

* LEED system. Cascadia Green Building Council. Making people conscious of green building.

* Community Way-- bringing unused capacity into the non-profit sector. Support charitable organization. Community Credits are sold to members at par to the dollar. Non-profits gain new innovative fundraising tool and consumers do not lose any buying power. Credits can be recirculated and sold between business. Bartering and fundraising tool.

* Community Prosper that will be up at the end of the month. Social networking for organization. Into beta testing phase.

* Worker cooperatives. People's Co-op. Red and Black. Frong Song Model in Cotati, California.

* Co-housing. Portland Collective Housing. Working on program to help people develop cohousing.

* PRA-- predominately activist groups, but some community groups. Mostly radical. Trying to start a free market. Food not bombs. Food not lawns. Getting people to plant gardens and do servings. Geared towards collectives. The biggest problem is maintaining communication. How can we make school and good programs feasible. Need other means to do the work. Creating associations that generate workable relationships.

* Free cycle and internet based exchange. Craig lists.

* City Repair.

* Pedalpolooza. Less Driver miles.

* Women in trades on NE Alberta.

* Connected to the unions. IWW. SEIU.

* Free boxes. Who gets to incorporate what into the economy? A lot of DIY. Cultural events.

* Farmers Markets.

* Community Gardens.

* Food stamps for rent.

* Mainstream business-- sustainable business network. Nike doing a lot of sustainability. Portland business community leader in sustainability.

* Alternative media and KBOO. PCAST. Independent Resource Center.

* Free Geek

* The rebuilding Center. Making waste streams useful.

* Questions? Intentional Communities? Co-housing? Basic idea is creating collective living situations.

* Directory.ic.org.

* Developing a census of these projects.

What's missing?

* Communication system. To maximize resources.

* Visualizing scale of activities.


* The financial system-- how we get money to buy houses. Separation from banking system. Have our own banks. A better way of getting the cash.

* Needing microfinance.

* Burden on cooperatives is too high. Bureaucracy involved is crushing. Extra set of hurdles because large legal system does not have an understanding.

* Need more people who understand the process-- having to relearn the process.

* Need a system of exchange that does not involved the banking system.

* Need for independent financial systems.

* Clarity on the issue-- what is this new model? Need some agreement.

* The whole idea of socialism-- it is imbedded in our system. If we can point how it already exists-- bringing back the commons. It has not reached popular culture. What are the main elements that we want to see in this new economy. Neighborhood Association has trouble with diversity-- ethnic families-- how to approach them. Sharing on how we plant our gardens. Start developing commonalities.

* Communication mediation-- Communication. People not working there when it is just a lack of communication.

* Links to healthcare, medical care, mental healthcare.

* Jobs that pay a living wage.

* Challenge that needs to be removed-- what are the "real" activities. Such a huge bar to get to another meeting outside of work-- past failed attempts disable new attempts.

* What about those who do not want a typical full-time job. Can they get paid with food. Balance-job complex-- participating in many multiple jobs.

* WE NEED MONEY!!!??? Direct interaction between individuals-- unused capacity of individuals.

* Debt Strikes-- risking foreclosure-- students?

* Engage the mainstream economy. There are mutual win situations.

* Cooperative Daycare.

* Radical Parenting Cooperative.

* Freeskhool-- NEED HELP!

* Local currency? PDX Currency is now Community Way.

* How to list services and trade services.

* A place to advertise-- I want my house painted and I'll do your computer work.

* Helping individuals connect with each other-- infrastructure that helps people find communities. Link with trainings, collective group of employers. A collective HR structure. Like WIkipedia but more for RSS Feeds. Radical legal collective-- supporting the interface between the capitalist legal system and alternative trade systems/economies. Need people with skills.

* Circle Group-- a lot of common patterns about how to work effectively around power structures, burnout-- building networks around what works and does not. Support infrastructure-- Air Force plane fueling other planes midair.

* Encouraging people to deal with the issues. Ignoring pending disasters.

* An alternative economy needs to include more than Portland-- Oregon-- Cascadia.

* Limiting corporate personhood-- supreme court decision analysis.

* Community supportive gardening.

Conversation topics

* What do people hold in common-- what do people share. Developing the Commons.

* Community Prosper-- build relationships for people to use the program. Social networking site work based on the number of people who participate. Open with a really big O.

* What's going to encourage people to network?

* Developing Worker Collectives-- networking cooperatives.

* Flex-jobs: flexible labor exchange (FLE).

* Study groups to conceptualize this new economy-- studying what people have in common. Developing the Commons.



-- csa participation way up

-- community savings account – community ida; people put money into it, use for community ;; Michigan

-- people have lots more time; more focus on wellbeing, time spent with family , friends, hobbies, hanging out – less focus on efficiency, profit-making cogs; signals shift in cultural priorities and values; policies valuing family and childcare (exist in some scandanavian countries)

-- lots of intersecting democratic institutional connections; worker owned and operating business cooperativing with each other, local politicians, credit unions, etc. – democracy isn’t just voting once every four years, is way of life, way people engage with one another; schools are transformed or no schools, are in community, or if schooling, focus on how to learn skills of community, conflict resolution, how to be in community through dialogue, open to transform yourself constantly (vs. fixed idea of identity). People have spiritual and psychol wherewithal to transform themselves; explosion of new cultural forms; new integrated and previously unimagined forms – not just multicultural, many cultures, but many new global cultures, we are rooted here in boston but with deep and profound connections across the globe –

-- consumers being able to differentiate among goods not just based on price – solidarity economy seal; wikis to evaluate product according to values –

-- multiple community currencies supporting different kinds of values; guy who wanted to increase recycling in poor community – get scrip for recycling

-- community wealth ownership and community credit – and control over that – not controlled by banks

-- not cool to consume a lot – not bad to live simply

-- new forms of cooperative, collective housing; retrofitting,

-- cap income

-- many fewer cars – many roads taken back, transformed into parks—personal rapid transit (public transit)

-- boston as leader in adapting alternative energy sources, prototypes – using universities

-- productin – things made to last –

-- boston, resource wealthy, lots of water – how be open to immigration, people from all over the world being welcomed here – and us connecting to other cities around the world

-- how can immigrants integrate into the community without feeling “new” -- -- are here bec forced to be here. Understand what brought them here. Push for us foreign policy – that supports democratic leaders and real development – so people aren’t forced to emigrate

-- greater level of consciousness on part of public of choices that we’re making – effects of our economic choices – (the whole world has been affected by the US, are trying to copy us) – and see how our choices are affecting others

-- breaking down of division between lives and work – manifest passions in our work

-- more worker coops, consumer coops, solidarity coops; participatory budgeting;

-- actual bike lanes

-- people have understanding of what we get or make locally/regionally vs. internationally – understand feedback loops – as much locally grown food as possible; deep understanding of fair trade to get the rest

-- new myths – of spiritual connection to natural environment; re-indigenizing, help us understand out natural cycles; being connected to dynamics of this part of the earth; learning to listen; listening peoples – live in connection to selves and world around them

-- economy that values in terms of peopls’ work – artists and musicians and people working for justice can earn a living, including caring work

-- be conscious consumers – why are prices high for teff – because farmers are producing flowers rather than food

-- unified theory that brings all of these things together

-- work and relationships at work – power relationships, decision making, micro and macro level – new model which is horizontal, participatory, based on real knowledge,education, skills—creates quality products – abolish all managerial functions, transform property to collective property

-- there is a crisis with imminent problems that require imminent solutions – defend country through economic transformation and participation –

-- corporations can’t just maximize profit – not acceptable; corporate charters different.

-- note about crisis and transformation: if we’re entering a period of rapid transformation – crises – things can really change quickly; people get it that things aren’t working; it’s fertile ground for change – our organizing now can make us ready for these crises with real solutions

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