Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chicago Turns Its Budget Over To The People

Participatory Budgeting

You Have a Date With Democracy--
Decide How Your Tax Dollars Will Be
Spent in the Ward

Dear Neighbor,

Around the United States and here in Chicago, city leaders are increasingly asking residents for suggestions about budget spending. Here in the 49th Ward, we're going one step further. Through a novel experiment in democracy, I'm not just asking for your opinion--I'm asking you to make real decisions about how we spend our money.

Over the next few months, I will be asking my constituents--the residents of the 49th Ward--to decide how to spend over $1 million in tax dollars.

Each alderman in Chicago gets over $1 million a year to allocate for various infrastructure improvements in his or her ward. This so-called "menu money" goes to resurface streets and alleys, repair sidewalks and curbs and gutters, put in new streetlights, and the like. I've also used the money to subsidize special infrastructure projects, such as the Harold Washington Playlot and the Willye White Community Center. This menu money is spent at the total discretion of each alderman.

Next year, I am ceding my decision-making authority to the residents of my ward through a process known as "PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING" in which all 49th Ward residents will be eligible to vote directly on the infrastructure projects that will be funded in our community.

The 49th Ward will be the first political jurisdiction in the nation to try such an approach. If this process works, I will make it a permanent fixture in the ward and hopefully inspire other elected officials to do the same in their communities.

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making in which ordinary residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal budget. In essence, how it works is that the municipal authorities turn over a portion of their budget to community residents who decide the spending priorities.

To find out more about participatory budgeting, CLICK HERE or scroll to the bottom of this email and click on the links I've provided.

Last spring, I brought together leaders of over 50 civic, religious and community organizations in the 49th Ward, and asked them to appoint one or two representatives from their organizations to serve on a steering committee to design a participatory budgeting process for the 49th Ward. The Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee was chaired by Jamiko Rose, Executive Director of the Organization of the Northeast

After several months of meetings, the Steering Committee developed the following three-step process and timetable that will culminate in a ward-wide meeting next spring when the entire community will deliberate and vote on the 49th Ward infrastructure spending priorities for 2010:

Step 1--Neighborhood Assembly Meetings (November and December 2009)

The ward will be organized into eight sections or areas, with a "neighborhood assembly" held in each area. In addition, a Spanish language assembly will be held. The neighborhood assemblies will be open to any 49th Ward resident. At each neighborhood assembly, the attendees will be given brief description of the infrastructure menu program and the participatory budgeting process. Meeting attendees will then be asked to brainstorm ideas for possible uses of the infrastructure menu money.

At the conclusion of the meeting, those who attended each assembly will be asked to elect "community representatives" who will be charged with developing proposals for spending the 49th Ward's 2010 infrastructure menu allocation.

Step 2--Community Representative Meetings (December-February 2010)

The community representatives will meet to develop proposals for use of the infrastructure menu money to be presented at a ward-wide assembly in the spring. The representatives, at their discretion, may call additional neighborhood assembly meetings to solicit additional suggestions and bounce off ideas.

Step 3--Ward-Wide Assembly Meeting to Deliberate and Vote on 2010 Infrastructure Spending Priorities (March or April 2010)

In the final step of the process, community residents will gather at a ward-wide assembly to deliberate and vote on the 2010 infrastructure spending priorities for the 49th Ward.

The process begins next week (Tuesday, November 3rd) with the first of a series of neighborhood assemblies. We ask that you attend the neighborhood assembly in your area. However, if that's not possible, you are free to attend a neighborhood assembly in another area.



This experiment in democracy will not work unless we have full and complete participation from all sectors of our diverse community, so I urge you to attend one of the neighborhood assemblies and bring your 49th Ward friends and neighbors. Most importantly, I urge you to bring your ideas.

I have full faith that the residents of the 49th Ward can decide what's best for our neighborhood, when given enough time, information, and support.


Joe Moore

United Steelworkers Go Co-op?

PITTSBURGH--(ENEWSPF)--October 27, 2009. The United Steelworkers (USW) and MONDRAGON Internacional, S.A. today announced a framework agreement for collaboration in establishing MONDRAGON cooperatives in the manufacturing sector within the United States and Canada. The USW and MONDRAGON will work to establish manufacturing cooperatives that adapt collective bargaining principles to the MONDRAGON worker ownership model of “one worker, one vote.”

“We see today’s agreement as a historic first step towards making union co-ops a viable business model that can create good jobs, empower workers, and support communities in the United States and Canada,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollowing out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants. We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities.”

Josu Ugarte, President of MONDGRAGON Internacional added: “What we are announcing today represents a historic first – combining the world’s largest industrial worker cooperative with one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking manufacturing unions to work together so that our combined know-how and complimentary visions can transform manufacturing practices in North America.”

Highlighting the differences between Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and union co-ops, Gerard said, “We have lots of experience with ESOPs, but have found that it doesn’t take long for the Wall Street types to push workers aside and take back control. We see Mondragon’s cooperative model with ‘one worker, one vote’ ownership as a means to re-empower workers and make business accountable to Main Street instead of Wall Street.”

Both the USW and MONDRAGON emphasized the shared values that will drive this collaboration. Mr. Ugarte commented, “We feel inspired to take this step based on our common set of values with the Steelworkers who have proved time and again that the future belongs to those who connect vision and values to people and put all three first. We are excited about working with Mondragon because of our shared values, that work should empower workers and sustain families and communities,” Gerard added.

In the coming months, the USW and MONDRAGON will seek opportunities to implement this union co-op hybrid approach by sharing the common values put forward by the USW and MONDGRAGON and by operating in similar manufacturing segments in which both the USW and MONDRAGON already participate.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Economics of Peace

During the past week, several hundred people met in Sonoma with ambitious aspirations of radical economic change. The most popular topic of the conference was currencies: community currencies, business to business mutual credit systems, and the state of California issuing currency as its own bank (like North Dakota). This gave me confidence that my work with Bay Area Community Exchange is not just a pie in the sky and that it may be one of the most important, if not the most important, keys to shifting the economic power structure. Financing mechanisms for alternative economic projects and worker cooperatives were also prominent in the discussions.

Being immersed in currency research for the past year, most of the ideas were not new to me. Also, over a much longer time, I'd already come to understand most of the ideas about the economy in general that the keynote speakers were advocating so it's hard for me to give a good representation to the general reader of new sparkling ideas. To me there weren't many. Though the newcomer to alternative economics may have thought the conference mind-blowing. These were some common themes: there is no peace without economic justice; the power to control the economy must be returned to the people at the most local levels possible; our relationships, the Earth and our values must come before profit; debt is slavery and so the monetary and credit systems we have are modern forms of slavery.

However, there was one presentation that caught my attention, though not related to currencies. It was from the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain. The representatives described their elaborate cooperative structure of organizing their economy, which included not just worker cooperative businesses but also consumers, a school and a bank. Varying levels of democratic councils engaged in cooperative decision making with amazing attention to more engaged participation, equitable wealth sharing, and shared decision-making in the planning of their economy. The MCC does not represent the full spectrum of economic activity in the Basque region, only worker cooperatives and relies heavily on high tech exports for income, which was somewhat disappointing.

What struck me was the incredible amount of attention to cooperative planning. What if there was a similar organization in the Bay Area organizing the regional economy?

I can imagine popular management of the regional economy through an elaborate structure of democratic participation from all sectors of the economy, including small business and banks, local industry, municipal governments, and citizen/nonprofit representation as well as adequate geographical and economic status representation. This organization could work together to plan new currency platforms, local "stock exchanges", credit unions, government procurement policies and services provisions, import replacement, land management for common good, appropriate job training with an emphasis on worker cooperatives, slow money local investment plans with popular oversight, sharing infrastructure (like tools lending libraries, car shares, bike shares, timebanks) and so on.

This seems like a lot of work I know, but as it stands as the economy slides further and further down, economic innovation is taking place. What is missing is vision, assessment, planning, transparency, participation, and feedback by the general public. Right now the innovators and tried and true old school alternative institutions are doing their best on their own, without much popular input, and without inter-collaboration. One of the aims of Bay Area Community Exchange is to start this collaboration within the currency innovation sector, but the currencies are only as strong as the rest of the real economy. Currencies are tools of facilitation, but cannot stand alone.

JASecon, which put on the first Festival of Grassroots Economics in Oakland last month, I believe was a starting point for this dialogue. So where do we go from here?
Portland apparently did a kind of community visioning and assessment process.

Here, we could facilitate a similar survey and/or public dialogue to ask important foundational questions:
-what do we want our economy to look like?
-what purpose should it serve?
-what are our common values, goals, and needs?
-is our current economy meeting those values, goals and needs?
-how can we move towards them by improving and creating new tools, structures, organizations and rules or laws?
-how will we measure our movement towards them?
-who is being underserved and who is underparticipating and why?
-what are our under and overtapped resources?
-which sectors in what proportion of the economy are lacking for a (bio)regional self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable economy?
-how can we start investing in our people, local businesses, and local economic infrastructure to retain and create more wealth, energy and intelligence in our communities?
-what do we need to do to create greater economic equality and security for all?
-how can we reshape our economy for cooperation, peace and care of the Earth?
-how can we create an economy that fosters relationships rather than alienation?
-how can people become more active participants in the discussions regarding their economic futures?
-how can different sectors of the new economy collaborate to create more potent synergies?
-what are the fulcrum points?

This would be a great first project of JASecon or else a new Bay Area popular economic governance organization. This organization wouldn't need the force of law behind its decisions since it would bring forth the voice of the people, which is more powerful in many cases and potentially less vulnerable to corruption if designed properly.

Our highly dysfunctional economy has and now even the new economy is moving forward without enough deliberation, consciousness, collaboration and popular participation. Isolated ad hoc experiments are just not enough. We may be running out of time. I think it's time we got organized and design the new economy together.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Festival of Grassroots Economics asks: Where’s That New Economy?

Festival of Grassroots Economics asks: Where’s That New Economy? Offers powerful answers
Ryan Van Lenning
Published on Monday, October 19, 2009

“Let’s take back our economy. Let’s decentralize and democratize it,” Heather Young said, kicking off the panel called “Building the Alternative” at the Festival of Grassroots Economics, held September 26 at the Humanist Hall in Oakland.

Heather Young was one of the main organizers of the festival, a free, day-long gathering of roughly 250 Bay area people who gathered to meet and discuss how to evolve alternative economies that benefit working people, support local small businesses, support pay equity, and address work through the framework of race, class and privilege. Young, a co-founder of Bay Area Community Exchange wanted to make sure everyone arriving for the day understood that finding new economic models was the essence of the festival, whose slogan was “Building an Economy for the People and the Planet.”

Held in Humanist Hall just north of downtown Oakland, the event was organized with no external funding by JASecon (Just. Alternative. Sustainable. Economics) and a handful of local citizens and workers in cooperatives and non-profits interested in finding new ways to do business in the local economy. Some of these new ways adopt different ownership models and some don’t involve Uncle Sam’s dollar at all.

Bernard Marszalek, another central organizer, noted, "A goal of the Grassroots Economics Festival is to bring together a variety of economic projects for the public to see close up and to appreciate the creativity and value of bottom-up efforts to fulfill real needs."

At the heart of the festival were four panel discussions titled 1) Co-op 101, 2) Resources for the Grassroots Economy, 3) Urban Food Security, and 4) Building the Alternative. Each one provided concrete examples of the new economy in action and ideas on how to advance it.

Worker Cooperatives: Keeping Jobs, Profits and the Economy Local

Even as the main hall was abuzz with people exchanging information and networking, the festival kicked off in the main yard with a discussion of worker co-operatives as concrete and successful models of alternative economic enterprises that are locally rooted. They result in more equitable workplace structures and provide multiple community benefits. The panel was a primer on democratic workplaces, covering organizational, legal and financial aspects of worker-owned cooperatives, while highlighting concrete examples of how one functions.

The main presenter for the panel was Kasper Koczab, a worker-owner at Rainbow Grocery and a staff representative of Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC, pronounced “no boss”). Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco’s Mission District is one the Bay Area’s premiere worker co-ops and NoBAWC is an association of 37 businesses and organizations.

First, Koczab made it clear that most worker co-operatives are in the business of making money, among other things, and underscored that co-ops are “not some hippy-dippy enterprise.” The critical difference is that the money generated doesn’t go to outside investors, but rather the surplus is divided between all the worker-owners.

There is “no one single model” for worker-cooperatives, Koczab said. Yet there are certain key features and advantages of worker-owned cooperatives. They are all businesses that are owned and controlled democratically by their members, not by investors, typically on the principle ‘one worker, one vote’. Koczab described how at Rainbow Grocery profits are divided based on labor (hours worked, longevity). Part is paid out in cash and part is retained in an internal capital account (ICA) for capital improvements or expansion to support the business.

Koczab noted that not everybody is accustomed to taking on the responsibility of being their own boss.

“We’re educated to be part of a hierarchical system. The expectation is to be exploited or climb the corporate ladder. That mentality is hard to break. We’re simply not taught about democratic work-places, all the way up to MBA programs. They have their own set of needs on which we need to be educated, instead of how to generate profits for people who are already fuckin’ rich,” Koczab said.

At Rainbow, he continued, “you either take on the responsibility of being an owner-member or you move on. We don’t want two classes of workers,” again underscoring the egalitarian and democratic principles that guide worker-cooperatives.

Coops flourish in the Bay Area

The United States has relatively few worker cooperatives--just over 300, according to the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-operatives. Yet worker co-ops are well-represented in the Bay Area, ranging from bike shops (Box Dog Bikes), bakeries, (Nabalom, Arizmendi) and a juice bar (Juice Bar Collective), to graphics and print shops (Design Action, Inkworks Press)—even a San Francisco peep show called Lusty Lady, which has the recognition of being the world's only unionized worker-owned peep-show cooperative.

There are also organizations set up to help facilitate cooperatives. The two oldest Worker Cooperative Development Agencies in the Bay Area are Arizmendi and WAGES. Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives is a cooperative made up of five member businesses, four cooperative bakeries (Cheese Board, Arizmendi Lakeshore, Arizmendi 9th Avenue, Arizmendi San Pablo) and a development and support collective. The mission of WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security) is to build worker-owned green businesses that create healthy, dignified jobs for low-income women. (See here for list of Bay Area cooperatives)

Not wanting to give the impression that worker-coops are perfect, Koczab acknowledged that whenever you have 250 people you are going to have 250 different personalities. He noted that sometimes consensus decisions take longer, but the results are well worth that “inefficiency.” He then summed up the “endless” benefits, listing the rewards of being an active citizen, being part of a participatory democracy, giving your voice, keeping money local, having more responsibility to the local region, and living where you work.

One attendee, Michael Tank, commented, “I think it’s fantastic that co-ops like Rainbow are successful enough that they can start to offer themselves as models to learn from. It was very empowering to be able to look at the governing structures of co-ops so clearly in the Co-op 101 workshop, from what structure is right for how many people, to how co-ops could even be franchised."

Resources Panel: Accessing Money, Land and Other Tools

Discussion at the conference made it clear that one critical issue with the current economic system is that resources are less and less owned by communities, wealth is increasingly concentrated with a few people, and the financial system serves and is controlled by a limited group of people. In this environment, communities need access to financial and development resources to meet their needs and build their assets, invest in their own ideas and jump start their projects. Panelists discussed the concrete and potential resources available to community projects.

The panel consisted of Ian Winters, Executive Director of the Northern California Land Trust (NCLT), Jeannine Esposito of People’s Federal Credit Union, a division of Self-Help Federal Credit Union, in West Oakland, Jenny Kassan of Katovich Law firm, and Erin Kilmer-Neel, Program Officer at OneCalifornia Foundation. The panel was moderated by Janelle Orsi, attorney and co-author of The Sharing Solution with Emily Doskow.

Winters, also a resident of one of the NCLT’s cooperative housing properties, discussed the Community Land Trust Model (CLT) and the importance of taking land out of speculative real estate market. He said that under a coop model the value is keyed roughly to inflation, rather than the ups and downs of the real estate market, which results in less fluctuation or more stable prices.

“It is not just about having affordable housing, but about creating alternative ownership models, and tying community together.” Winter added.

Kilmer-Neel described OneCalifornia Bank as being founded to redistribute wealth and reinvest in the local community and programs. She said all profits go back into Foundation.

“I’m passionate about what we can do individually on day to day basis when we spend our money,” she said.

Esposito spoke on behalf of PFCU, the only deposit--taking financial institution in West Oakland. People’s is like a bank, but is non-profit, and when you open an account you become member and can vote on bank board members.

“There are numerous check cashing financial institutions but individuals can not open accounts there or save money like they can at a deposit-taking institution. There is one church-based credit union which is only open to members of the parish and one employer-based credit union open only to its employees. There are no commercial banks here, they all left in the 60’s,” Esposito noted.

One of the more novel ideas--and one that got people talking excitedly--at the entire conference was proposed by Jenny Kassan during this discussion. She suggested an alternative “new stock-exchange for local, socially-conscious businesses,” citing Michael Schuman’s book, The Small-Mart Revolution.

“There really is no such thing yet as a mutual fund of local, small businesses.”

When you invest in mutual funds, explained Kassan, you are sending your money far away and perhaps benefiting non-socially conscious businesses and projects. The NYSE doesn’t care about your neighborhood. Part of the problem is that security exchange laws which makes the legal requirements prohibitively costly for most small businesses. Could an alternative stock exchange be a way to invest in local business, boost local jobs, and increase accountability?

She asked: “How can we create a tool-kit for local businesses to go public?”

Bay Localize, an organization dedicated to promoting a self-reliant, sustainable, and socially just Bay Area, recently launched its Community Resilience Tool-Kit. A community financial resources section could be added to the ‘Jobs and Economy’ chapter or a similar tool-kit could be launched by a collaboration of like-minded individuals.

Kassen also proposed the creative use of business improvement districts. “Property owners vote to tax or assess themselves for events, cleaning sidewalks, etcetera. What if you used it in creative other ways? For example, hire a consultant to lessen carbon impact,” she said.

During the discussion, Winters noted that for-profit businesses essentially get an immediate 30% credit for every $1 investment in renewable energy. “How do we use for-profit models in ways that benefit community?” he asked. One likely answer he suggested is to use the worker co-op model, instead of big money corporate model, or for non-profits to create for-profit subsidiaries to take advantage of these tax benefits.

The audience was engaged, asking sometimes tough questions. One gentleman asked, “What mechanisms are in place as these projects scale up to keep it accountable and responsible to the community?”

Good question. Among the answers proffered were keeping ownership local (Kassen), utilizing B corporation (Kilmer-Neel) ratings, and imposing a limited lifespan (Winters).

Sharing resources is another way of distributing cost and risk. Moderator Janelle Orsi’s new book The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simply Your Life & Build Community, published by Nolo, covers in depth the legal and practical issues surrounding the sharing of food, housing, transportation, tools, workspaces, and childcare. The book concludes with two informative appendices of Resources and Forms.

Orsi closed the panel discussion by saying, “This has been an exciting panel. There have been so many inspiring ideas; it is rare that you listen and hear not just the problems, but real solutions.”

This is a sentiment that many attendees echoed with regard to the whole festival.

Food Security: Sustaining Ourselves Locally

“We really need food as part of the green jobs discourse. And we have to talk about food justice and economic justice together,” Gavin Raders of Planting Justice said.

The Urban Food Security panel was the only one dedicated to a single sector, consisting of Gavin Raders of Planting Justice, Dana Harvey and Dennis Terry of Mandela Marketplace, and David Roach of Mo’ Better Food—all Oakland-based. Like other cities across the nation, the Bay Area has pressing issues of food insecurity, health issues, and an unsustainable food system, There is a desire to put food production and choice back into the hands of the community. Individuals, organizations, and governments are asking how we are building just, sustainable, and locally-based food systems that meet our communities’ needs and provide meaningful work.

Harvey explained that nine Oakland community members work at and own Mandela Foods Cooperative, the most recent worker-coop in Oakland that focuses on selling healthy, organic, and locally sourced food.

“This is the other green economy,” that you don’t hear about as much in the national conversation, she said

Mo’ Better Food’s mission is to promote good food, healthy living and economic sustainability in underserved communities and to reconnect African-American farmers back into neighborhoods.

David Roach, a long-time Oakland organizer around issues of food security, stated “We are conditioned to eat cheetoes and soda. Food isn’t looked at enough as a preventative measure.”

Roach then charged that the area of urban food security “has become such a non-profit industry…When you are out grassroots organizing you are not thinking policy, but survival.” This was perhaps in response to the new Oakland Food Policy Council that has received foundation and city money recently. The subject was broached but not pursued. It was perhaps the beginning of a serious conversation that needs to take place.

One audience member raised the issue of gentrification, citing the case in the Bronx where beautification of a neighborhood via gardens lead to higher taxes and higher rent. Keeping such issues in mind will also likely have to be part of the conversation moving forward.

Raders responded to some of these issues by proposing that there are two models for community betterment: “One is charity. The other involves empowerment, employment, paid workers.”

Harvey concluded: “Take community seriously, they know the problems and how to fix them. Put economic control in their hands,” again stressing that it is not just about getting more food or even better food in our communities, but about getting assets into the hands of people.

Roach ended the panel with a final plea: “And by the way, take the fences down off our community gardens.”

Building the Alternative: Scaling up the Movement

“We are going to live more locally, regionally by design or by force,” panel moderator Gopal Dayenini of Movement Generation bluntly declared.

The final panel got under way as the afternoon sun progressed, and both the panels and the audience followed the shifting shade. The purpose was to ask ‘How can we grow all this? How can we nurture a local economy that gives working folks power and control over the economy and their work lives, leveraging available resources? How can we build a just, sustainable economic alternative to scale?’

Gopal “The first thing is it actually has to represent a real different way of doing things. It has to be meaningful, that is, accessible and replicable to the vast majority. In a word, it has to be ‘transcendent’—it can’t be dependent on the current market system.”

Panelists included Ali Ar Rasheed, AAR Development Consultants, Rhea Serna of the Mission Asset Fund, Tom Wetzel, a founder and past president of the San Francisco Community Land Trust, and Heather Young of Bay Area Community Exchange and one of the main organizers of the festival.

Ar Rasheed struck an introspective note and stressed self-reflection and shared values. “We have to start to live a new life based on shared values.” He encouraged creating “institutions that reflect the values of the people gathered here today and build that future day by day.”

“Answers reside in us, as seeds of change. But all this work starts with self.”

Wetzel discussed two types of organizing: organizing for self-management and organizing for struggle, represented by unions and environmental justice communities. He then spoke about the 7 year anti-eviction struggle by tenants in San Francisco, adding that in the current movements there “hasn’t been sufficient level of organizing and struggle.”

Rhea Serna of the Mission Asset Fund discussed how a part of the profit from the sale of Levi-Strauss Factory in the Mission was not divided up among dozens of non-profits as originally intended, but rather put into a fund to build and maintain wealth in the Mission communities as that was seen by the community as the greatest need. “We help people become part of the financial mainstream,” by aiding in asset management and ownership.

Heather Young highlighted a problem: “Every struggle ends up running into a better funded corporation and powers that be and the question is 'can we fight this?' And often the answer is 'no.'”

The solution--take back the economy.

For Young this means taking back the money supply, using credit unions, experimenting with participatory budgeting and complementary currencies, local procurement policies, and keeping things regional.

When asked to clarify her claim that we can’t fight those powers, she said, “I don't mean to make it sound like these are not worth fighting for at the national level, but that we have a lot of influence at the local level. There is much more participation, transparency, responsibility and accountability at the local level, which is nearly impossible going up against these better funded corporations, the federal government, the World Bank, etc. that we have almost no influence over given their scale and inordinate wealth and power and given that the capitalist structure is inherently designed to reward profit over any other value. The cards are stacked up against us in so many ways beyond the local level.”

The BACE Bucks, passed out by Bay Area Community Exchange, were a big hit. BACE Bucks are meant to be a type of complementary currency to offer a service to your community. Young mentioned the success of other complementary currencies such as the Berkshares, money printed by the community in Berkshires, Massachusetts. “Trust is the only currency” is the title of the Bay Area blog dedicated to regional complementary currencies.

Young said, “at least one of these BACE Bucks was traded with a vendor for a good, Chris Carlsson's book Nowtopia.”

Carlsson is a Bay-Area writer, editor, graphic & web designer, and activist, whose book carries the subtitle ‘How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today!’ It is published by Oakland-based AK Press, yet another worker-run collective.

When asked what he sees as most hopeful and most challenging in efforts to build the new economy, Carlsson noted, “So many people are already doing it, and not waiting for the initiative to arise from the government, or from someone else. The most challenging problem is to really break away from the surrounding economy that demands growth, wage-labor, prices, and the commodity form, even when self-managed... that's a real tough nut to crack.”

So according to these panelists, scaling up these efforts involves a variety of tools and strategies, including getting more assets in the hands of the local community, having more say in how are tax dollars are spent, experimenting with complementary currencies and alternative ownership models, organizing and fighting for what you want and need, minimizing divisive boundaries, sharing more, and building a more collective mind-set.

“If we have everything solid and in place, then when things collapse we will have that great local economy we’re always dreaming of.” Young concluded.

The Bay Area: Moving toward new economic models

“I believe we are on the cutting edge of a movement that will inevitably change the world more than we had ever hoped maybe even just 5 years ago,” organizer Heather Young said.

The festival was an exchange of novel ideas and a forging of new partnerships. Of course in one day you can’t cover all the issues, nor all sectors of the new economy. For example, many projects and models could only be alluded to, such as time banks and complementary currencies. Other ideas that floated to the surface were questions about how to give grants to small businesses, alternatives to 401ks, how to use for-profit models to take advantage of tax advantages on renewable energy but using cooperative models, and using the concept of business improvement districts in new and creative ways.

Since the festival, Michael Moore's film Captialism: A Love Story has been released, a special showing of which was announced at the festival. The film profiles two businesses as alternative work-place models: Alvarado St. Bakery, a worker-owned co-op in Petaluma, CA and Isthmus Engineering, a worker-owned co-op in Wisconsin that designs and builds automated systems, to provide a real face to these supposedly eccentric enterprises. Such models are getting wider exposure than ever before and perhaps have been given a boost in visibility by Moore’s film.

Regardless, I suspect this is the beginning of more robust sharing of ideas and learning from others in the Bay Area. The new economy isn’t the one that politicians are talking about in Washington, D.C. or the one being boasted about as being in revival on Wall Street. It’s the one that innovative community organizations and socially conscious local businesses are building one idea, one job, and one local dollar at a time in the Bay Area.

So when the question is posed, “Where’s that new economy?” The answer is--it is already here in the making.

[See feedback from participants and attendees of the festival HERE]

Take action:

Join the discussion on Oakland Local’s alternative local economy forum.

For more on Just, Alternative, and Sustainable Economies, email or get on the JASecon list-serve.

To learn more about NoBAWC and Bay Area cooperatives, contact Kasper Koczab or Dave Karoly at

To stay in the loop about alternative currencies in the Bay Area, visit Bay Area Community Exchange or join one of their list-serves.

Put your money in a local bank or credit union.

To learn more about building local living economies, visit BALLE (Business Alliance for Living Local Economies).

To participate in building a shareable world, visit Shareable: Design for a shareable world.

To learn more about the concept of a local stock exchange, visit Small-Mart.

To learn about consciously supporting local businesses and artists, visit Oakland Grown, Buy Local Berkeley, and the Sustainable Business Alliance.

To meet like-minded people and share in discussions, join the Bay Area Community Exchange Community on their social networking site.

Friday, October 16, 2009

General Strike in Puerto Rico

General Strike in Puerto Rico:
SAN JUAN, Oct 15 (Reuters) - A general strike in Puerto
Rico by public workers protesting government layoffs gripped
the capital's financial district on Thursday, shutting many
businesses and schools and disrupting official agencies.

Labor unions in the U.S. Caribbean island territory called
the 24-hour strike to protest the firing of thousands of
workers by the government, which is trying to shrink a $3.2
billion budget deficit.

Governor Luis Fortuno, who last month announced the firing
of 17,000 public workers, appealed for calm and said layoffs
would avoid further downgrade of the island's credit rating.

"Nobody supports firings, but there was no other option,"
he told local media. Over 4,000 workers were fired in June.

Puerto Rico's unemployment rate was 15.8 percent in August,
higher than any U.S. state.

The island, which has a population of nearly 4 million and
is a manufacturing hub for petrochemical, pharmaceutical and
technology companies, as well as a major tourism destination,
has been in recession for more than three years.

Police guarded government buildings in San Juan as
protesters converged on the Hato Rey financial district near
Plaza Las Americas, the Caribbean's largest mall.

The mall, with 300 stores and more than 10,000 employees,
shut its doors, as other area businesses and private schools.

With sound trucks blasting music, strikers chanted
"Struggle yes, surrender no" and held placards that read "Work
not Welfare."

Truck drivers tied up traffic in early morning protests and
many streets were empty as residents opted to stay home

Friday, October 9, 2009

History of Time Exchange During Depressions

Notes on History of Time Exchange During the Great Depression
(from John Curl’s Book “For All the People”, p. 36-38, 165,-172)

Robert Owen’s Cooperative Store
-at new harmony
-community members received supplies, groceries, clothing on credit, which they redeemed w/time credits for work performed
-labor notes used at store were also traded between communities

Josiah Warren’s Labor for Labor Store (aka Time Store)
-facilitated exchange between small , self-employed producers
-valued products based on time
-received time credits which they could use to buy goods
-everyone’s hour equal
-one hour equaled 12 lbs of corn

Philadelphia Producers’ Exchange Association
-goods priced based on time to produce, plus dollars for materials cost
-producers paid 25 cents/month for overhead
-run democratically
-spun off 2 more stores

Unemployed Exchange Association (UXA)
-Started in E. Oakland
-unemployed went around neighborhood offering to do home repairs for junk
-junk was taken to distribution warehouse/store
-at first barter, then scrip notes
-they could write checks against their accounts
-eventually allowed partial trade in cash
-all work equal to 100 points per hour (no differentiation)
-goods valued based on time to produce/fix with a little adjustment for market value sometimes
-association provided dental, medical, nursery school, barber, housing, firewood
-distributed 40 tons of food/week
-general assembly was decision-making body, highly functional and harmonious
-operating committee elected every 6 months to coordinate functions
-600 members in 1933, at its peak 1200 members
-eventually had production centers/factories: foundry, machine shop, woodshop, garage, soap factory, printshop, food conserving, nursery and adult school

Pacific Cooperators League
-22 self help groups in East Bay, 9 in SF and peninsula, and one in San Jose
-in Berkeley, garage, flour mill, wood yard, store, food conserving, weaving, newspaper, food from farm

Berkeley Unemployed Association (aka Berkeley Self Help Cooperative)
-sewing, weaving, shoe repair, barber, food conserving, wood yard, kitchen and dining, commissary, garage, machine shop, woodshop, painter, carpenter
-several hundred members with full medical and dental benefits

San Jose Self Help Coop
-had same services as Berkeley Pacific Cooperative League
-1200 people involved

LA County
-75000 people in 107 self help groups
-participation in fall harvest in exchange for crops
-names: LA Exchange, Compton Relief Association, Unemployed Association of Santa Ana
-morphed into united group called Unemployed Cooperative Relief Association (UCRA) with 200000 members
-held demonstrations and forced LA County Board of Supervisors and municipal governments to give grants to UCRA for gasoline, trucks, and food staples

Seattle Unemployed Citizens League
-early 1930s
-fishermen’s cooperative shared boats with unemployed
-local farmers donated unmarketable produce
-UCL had 22 local commissaries where food and fire wood could be exchanged for home repairs, doctors visits, etc.