Friday, November 9, 2012

Student Coops: the Cutting Edge of the New Economy

By Mira Luna 

Registration desk at NASCO Institute.

While pundits debated failing macro-economic strategies in the media frenzy surrounding election day, students at NASCO Institute shared proven community-driven economic solutions, from coops to alternative currencies. Unlike the discourse on TV, it was realistic yet often passionately idealistic and led by determined college students at the cutting edge of new economic theory and practice.

On November 2-4th, 400 student cooperative members and other students gathered in Ann Arbor to attend NASCO Institute, “Cooperating to Survive and Thrive Beyond Capitalism: Building a Solidarity Economy.” The conference took place at the University of Michigan where 20 student cooperative houses and an Inter-Cooperative Council thrive with more than 600 residents. The common threads in the workshops were radical inclusion and cooperation, even amongst cooperatives.

Students coming mostly from the Midwest and East of the continental divide attended workshops such as “Deep Listening,” “Co-ops and the New Economy,” “Creating Community Agreements,” “How Can Your Co-op Support a Local Food Economy,” and “Room for Inclusion: Reaching Out for Diversity in the Co-ops.” I helped teach a workshop on the solidarity economy and led another on community currencies. The high quality of the workshops and the advanced knowledge of the student participants made it one of the most enlightening and useful conferences I've been to -- and most were led by youth themselves.

The students generally agreed on an emerging new economic framework based on sharing and equity, as well as radical inclusion to participate in this new economy. Outside of the workshops, students attended caucuses for people with disabilities, people of color, white allies, working class, owning class allies and queer and transgendered people. From talking with students and attending a caucus myself, I was encouraged that NASCO and the student coops are at the cutting edge of diversity work and theory. The undercurrent being that inclusion means listening to, understanding and working from the unique perspectives from the oppressed (i.e. all of us) to create radical inclusion, liberation and equity for everyone. A solidarity economy for all!

I was moderately surprised to hear that women at the student co-ops felt they had a ways to go toward gender equity and that there was sadly no gender caucus to discuss it, but one workshop did address gendered labor in co-ops. It was also the first time I heard nonviolent communication described as a communication tool that can be oppressive to those who don't share that communication style. This came from the Aorta Collective, a nonprofit that teaches communication skills.

Read more here.

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