Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Global Plans to Replace the Dollar

#1 on Top 25 of 2011 Project Censored

Nations have reached their limit in subsidizing the United States’ military adventures. During meetings in June 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, world leaders such as China’s President Hu Jintao, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation took the first formal step to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The United States was denied admission to the meetings. If the world leaders succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value; the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket; and interest rates will climb.
Student Researchers:

Nicole Fletcher (Sonoma State University)
Krystal Alexander (Indian River State College)
Bridgette Grillo (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluators:

Ronald Lopez (Sonoma State University)
Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)
Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)

Foreigners see the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as Washington surrogates in a financial system backed by US military bases and aircraft carriers encircling the globe. But this military domination is a vestige of an American empire no longer able to rule by economic strength. US military power is muscle-bound, based more on atomic weaponry and long-distance air strikes than on ground operations, which have become too politically unpopular to mount on any large scale.

As Chris Hedges wrote in June 2009, “The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. US military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official US defense budget for fiscal year 2008 was $623 billion. The next closest national military budget was China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.”

To fund the permanent war economy, the US has been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States, then the exchange rate against the dollar increases, penalizing exporters. This has allowed the US to print money without restraint, to buy imports and foreign companies, to fund military expansion, and to ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy American treasury bonds.

In July 2009, President Medvedev illustrated his call for a supranational currency to replace the dollar by pulling from his pocket a sample coin of a “united future world currency.” The coin, which bears the words “Unity in Diversity,” was minted in Belgium and presented to the heads of G8 delegations.

In September 2009, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development proposed creating a new artificial currency that would replace the dollar as reserve currency. The UN wants to redesign the Bretton Woods system of international exchange. Formation of this currency would be the largest monetary overhaul since World War II. China is involved in deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan, while Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies.

Additionally, nine Latin American countries have agreed on the creation of a regional currency, the sucre, aimed at scaling back the use of the US dollar. The countries, members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a leftist bloc conceived by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, met in Bolivia where they vowed to press ahead with a new currency for intraregional trade. The sucre would be rolled out beginning in 2010 in a nonpaper form. ALBA’s member states are Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

The cycle supporting a permanent US war economy appears to be almost over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys US treasury bonds, the American global military empire collapses. The impact on daily living for the US population could be severe.

Our authors predict that in addition to increased costs, states and cities will see their pension funds drained. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. People will be increasingly charged for privatized utilities that were once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless.
Update by Michael Hudson

Foreign countries are presently seeking to create an international monetary system in which central bank savings do not fund the United States’ military deficit. At present, foreign “dollar holdings” take the form of US treasury bonds, used to finance the (largely military) US domestic budget deficit, a deficit that is largely due to military spending.

Russia, China, India, and Brazil have taken the lead in seeking an alternative system. But almost no information about such a system was available in the US or even the European press, except for a shorter version of my “De-Dollarization” article that I published as an op-ed in the Financial Times of London.

Discussions about creating an alternative monetary system have not been public. I was invited to China to discuss my views with officials there and to lecture at three universities, and was subsequently asked to write up my proposals for Premier Wen Jiabao, pending another visit just prior to this year’s meetings between China, Russia, India, and Brazil, with Iran attending with visitor status. All of this signals that other countries are seeking an alternative. Now that the euro has collapsed, there’s currently little alternative to the dollar as a reserve currency. This implies that there is no national currency that is a stable store of value for international savings.

Meanwhile, US money managers are leading the flight from the dollar to Brazil, China, and other “emerging market” countries. As matters stand, these countries are selling their resources and companies for free—as the dollars being spent to buy them end up in their central banks, to be recycled into US treasury bonds, or to be used to purchase euro debt that is plunging in international value.

The result of this conundrum is the pressure to end the postwar era of “free capital movements” and to introduce capital controls.

There has been almost no press discussion of my story or indeed of the issue itself. US and European media have successfully ignored the proposal of an alternative to the existing state of affairs.
Update by Fred Weir

This story illustrates one aspect of post–Soviet Russia’s search for a place in the US-led global order—a position that would reflect that country’s own distinct geopolitical interests and how it differs from the West in terms of history, culture, and level of economic development. Russia inherited from the former Soviet Union close relations with many countries that the US regards as “rogue states,” including Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. There continues to be a lot of official, public sympathy for those countries and their opposition to the US global system, even though Moscow no longer has any grand sense of anti-Western ideology or even any practical goal of mobilizing toward an “alliance” that would serve Russia’s ends.

Under the George W. Bush administration, Moscow felt itself under pressure from what it viewed as Western encroachments into the post-Soviet space, what Russians term the “near abroad.” This took the form of “colored revolutions,” or what the Western media referred to as “pro-democracy uprisings” in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, which removed corrupt but Moscow-friendly regimes and brought to power much more outspoken and active pro-Western ones. The Kremlin, rightly or wrongly, interpreted these upheavals as US-sponsored and orchestrated attempts to reengineer the political loyalties of neighboring states with which Russia has deep historical ties. Two of those new leaders, Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko, sought to put their countries on a fast track to membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a prospect that Russia viewed with alarm bordering on panic. Another Bush-era initiative that engendered deep hostility in Moscow was a plan to station strategic antimissile interceptors in neighboring Poland, with associated radars in the Czech Republic. Russian military experts argued these deployments were the beginning of a strategic process that might eventually undermine Russia’s own aging, Soviet-era nuclear deterrent, which is the main priority of Russia’s national defense.

In response to these perceived threats, Russia seemed to sometimes go out of its way to cultivate relationships with other countries that were at odds with the US, which is the subject of this story. The Russians also held war games with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean, resumed cold war–era nuclear bomber patrols along the North American coast, and talked about revitalizing former Soviet air bases in Cuba.

In the past year, with substantially changed foreign policy priorities brought in by President Barack Obama, Moscow’s attitude has relaxed somewhat. Obama shelved the controversial plan to station antimissile weapons in Poland, and implicitly removed from the agenda any question of inducting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. The so-called Obama “reset” of relations between Moscow and Washington seems to be improving prospects for cooperation, even on such thorny issues as Iran, though it may be too early to draw any firm conclusions.


Chris Hedges, “The American Empire Is Bankrupt,” Truthdig, June 15, 2009, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090614_the_american_empire_is_bankrupt/.

Michael Hudson, “De-Dollarization: Dismantling America’s Financial-Military Empire: The Yekaterinburg Turning Point,” Global Research, June 13, 2009, http://www.globalresearch.ca/PrintArticle.php?articleId=13969.

Fred Weir, “Iran and Russia Nip at US Global Dominance” Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2009, http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0616/p06s12-woeu.html.

Lyubov Pronina, “Medvedev Shows Off Sample Coin of New ‘World Currency’ at G-8,” Bloomberg, July 10, 2009, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087 &sid=aeFVNYQpByU4.

Edmund Conway, “UN Wants New Global Currency to Replace Dollar,” Telegraph (UK), September 7, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/currency/6152204/UN-wants-new-global-currency-to-replace-dollar.html.

Jose Arturo Cardenas, “Latin American Leftists Tackle Dollar with New Currency,” Agence France-Presse, October 16, 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ ALeqM5jisHEg79Cz8uRtYfZR6WK4JmWsIg.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Counter Currencies

Counter Currencies
In the midst of an ugly recession, alternative currencies are getting a second look — and some of the most successful models are right in our backyard
By Stefene Russell
February 2009
St. Louis Magazine

When Argentina's economy collapsed in 2001, the country went through five presidents in less than two weeks. Bank accounts were frozen; the peso plunged. But the crédito — a local barter scrip — flourished. Buenos Aires was soon overflowing with trueque clubs, where cashless Argentinians traded shoes for cabbages, hand-knit scarves for pirated DVDs. As 46-year-old Irma Gonzales explained to Time in 2002: "If you don't have any money, this is the only way to survive."

It's hard to imagine the recession reducing Market Street to market stalls, though it's definitely expanding the barter economy — including the use of what are called complementary currencies. New York's Ithaca HOURS, a time-based local currency established in 1991, saw a noticeable increase in circulation last year; so did St. Louis' own M.O.R.E. (Member Organized Resource Exchange) Time Dollars, which are issued through Grace Hill Settlement House. Though Ithaca HOURS have a larger circulation —

900 small businesses accept them — the M.O.R.E. exchange is a pioneering program that has been around for three decades and is considered a national model.

"We went to Madison this year — TimeBanks USA had a big conference there," says Grace Hill's M.O.R.E. director, Rose Beaver. "We spoke at the workshops. And we do get people coming in from everywhere and taking tours, just basically to sit with us and ask us questions about how it's working. We have arranged to take visitors to neighbors' homes to observe one-on-one; we've done that quite a lot."

What visitors see, simply, is Grace Hill's mission statement in action: "Neighbors helping neighbors." A retiree watches kids for a swing-shift mom, who in turn picks up medicine or rakes leaves for someone who's housebound. A team of people weatherizes a house; its occupant pays off that balance by reading to kids at a neighborhood center. Time Dollars are just a tracking method, albeit a rather sophisticated one — at one point, Grace Hill mailed out Time Dollar letters, similar to a bank statement (though the system is now completely online, at gracehill.org). People can also spend Time Dollars on goods at neighborhood centers with Time Dollar stores, which are stocked with clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies and even toys (nice new ones, Beaver emphasizes). Unlike the swift, impersonal I'll-trade-you-that-moped-for-my-Xbox transactions of Craigslist, Time Dollars do more than preserve cash: They weave neighborhood connections that are as tough as steel-mesh fabric. And just as important, they recognize the value in watching a toddler, bagging leaves or spending time with an isolated, elderly neighbor — even if the market doesn't.

Though digital Time Dollars are less of a headache and have helped Grace Hill track usage (last year, their annual report recorded 22,743 exchanges — since one Time Dollar is valued at minimum wage, that's equivalent to $151,241), managing director Betty Marver, who has watched the program unfold since its inception, says the paper statements were a great litmus test.

"We had neighbors coming in with letters, furious," she says. "There was a line outside of [the Time Dollar coordinator's] office. I was worried; but I looked in her office, and she was so happy. I said, 'They're all mad at you! Why are you happy?' She said, 'It's working! They care!' And I said, 'Wow! You're right!' So she solved their problems and corrected them; what's more, we discovered neighbors were finding ways to exchange services beyond what we'd thought of."

As the program expands and grows more sophisticated — Grace Hill hopes to set up a foundation that can loan up to 1,300 Time Dollars for business start-ups — what really guarantees the currency's success is its utility: It simply patches the gap between unmet needs and untapped resources in communities that have lots of both.

"A community currency only works if you have a community to serve," agrees Nathan Brown. Brown is the administrator of ELMs (Exchange Local Money), a community currency created by Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Rutledge, Mo., near the state's northeast corner. "That's why I think our community currency has been so successful," he says. "It took some work and some creative thinking to get it circulating, but now it's just as good as dollars."

In fact, Brown says, they can boast of something that he's pretty sure no one else in the world can: They have members who pay all their expenses with ELMs. (This is why other systems like Ithaca HOURS are often referred to as complementary currencies.) The 10,000 ELMs currently in circulation are used in a fairly complex manner: The community has even used them to extend interest-free lines of credit to Dancing Rabbit LLC, to help pay mortgage payments or support the vehicle co-op. Unlike the community's original currency, which used physical bills as well as checks, ELMs are equivalent to dollars and are traded entirely online ("It's just like using PayPal to send somebody money," Brown explains).

Brown, who spent his last year of college working on a pilot LETSystem (Local Exchange Trading System) in San Antonio, Texas, says that a local currency is as much of a mind game as "real money"; it doesn't work if people don't believe they can spend it in useful ways. Brown would love to expand ELMs outside Dancing Rabbit, but admits this will be challenging: Rutledge Garage, which works on the village's cars, spends most of its money nationally, and the Mennonite family that grows their produce doesn't have a computer. So he's moving cautiously. ELMs have been in existence for about two years, and he doesn't want to start from scratch again.

"All it takes is for people to lose faith in the system, and it collapses," Brown notes. "Not because there's anything wrong with the system, but because of the loss of faith itself. I want to make sure that doesn't happen when we expand outside the community, because anyone holding onto ELMs will lose a lot of buying power — which is the same thing that's happening in the U.S. dollar economy right now."

That loss of faith is exactly why there may be a more mainstream adoption of systems like LETS, the barter exchange network Brown worked with in Texas. Founded in 1982, LETS has flourished in England, South Africa and Australia but hasn't caught on to that degree in the U.S. — yet. Though LETS is technically not tax-exempt like M.O.R.E. Time Dollars (whose users are 70 to 80 percent low-income), their aims are similar: to use money to strengthen, rather than weaken, community bonds; to tap into resources that are undervalued by the market; to help retain wealth for local economies.

CES (Community Exchange System) is an online global network of local exchanges (www.ces.org.za) that offers free software to anyone who wants to start an exchange; it's even branched into social networking, at communityexchange.ning.com. Of course, that doesn't exempt an administrator from the truly hard part of establishing a local trading network peopled with users willing to actively trade on a regular basis. Even in Australia, where LETS has a long and robust history, the listings are chock-full of charming, but not always useful offerings like quince paste and didgeridoo lessons — and of course, it's the basic, necessary services (car repair, dentistry, haircuts) that keep an exchange functioning.

In St. Louis, Webster Groves residents David and Alexandra Wechsler have already taken the initiative to set up the St. Louis Community Exchange (stlcommunityexchange.com) through CES. At press time, SLCE had 34 active users. (I signed up, too, in order to use the software and really figure out how CES works.) David Wechsler, who worked with LETS creator Michael Linton directly when setting up the exchange, says Linton told him that things usually don't "hit critical mass" until the roster is at about 100 users and that the process usually takes about a year. Wechsler is cheerful and optimistic, though — he thought he would have to create something from scratch before discovering CES. "It's completely free, anyone can start an exchange — you can have 10 different exchanges within St. Louis, and they could all trade with each other through this centralized model," he says. "And I really liked that it allowed you to trade globally, where you could mow someone's lawn over here and then travel to Australia and stay in a bed-and-breakfast." (In fact, Wechsler notes that there's a CES user who traveled the globe, favor by favor.) And just like ELMs and Time Dollars, CES exchanges have the ability to be pooled and used in ways that push them far beyond the traditional dis-for-dat barter between two people.

"Not only can you list yourself as being from a subarea, like the Hill," Wechsler says, "but you can have a Hill group, with a message board, and do trades as a group. So you have the Lions Club trading with the Hill, and the Hill Association gives them a venue and food; then the Lions Club turns around and gives to the community in a really big way."

There's probably no one in the bistate area who's pondered alternative currencies longer than Bob Blain, who maintains the educational site hourmoney.org. A professor emeritus in sociology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Blain began giving lectures in the 1970s about the illogical nature of our current money system. "We produce things all over the world, and they are all measured very precisely using the same standards," he says. "But money doesn't have the equivalent of a meter stick." The beauty of local currencies, he says, is that they naturally lead people to the same epiphany he had years ago: "When people start using them, they have to make a decision about the unit. When they face that, as babes in the woods, and ask, 'What are we gonna use?' the correct answer comes to mind naturally: time." Indeed, the local currencies that have prevailed — Ithaca HOURS, Time Dollars, LETS — all have that in common. But Blain says that righting a global economy that's in the midst of a terrifying St. Vitus' Dance is a job that's too large for local currencies.

"The metric system's global. Why does it work? It works because everyone has access to a meter stick," Blain says. "We've got to get the larger economy right, not just the United States'. It has to be global. That's why I keep coming back to using the hour as the money unit." As he points out, the "center of gravity" for exchange rates is work time; instituting a global, hourly currency would equalize overvalued currencies (the dollar) with undervalued ones (the Chinese yuan). Similarly, it would close the gap between CEOs and workers. Of course, there are still folks who benefit from the present system; during the boom years, when more people were benefiting, there was no reason for people to investigate alternative money systems. But if the economy continues to falter, that may change.

"The current crisis has everyone paying attention," Blain says, "and asking some deep questions, because all these experts don't seem to know what's going on. If they were firemen in a forest fire, they'd be telling you, 'Hey, we've got a fire. Look at it — it's over there, it's really burning hard.' Then you ask them, 'Hey, how are we goihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifng to put it out?' 'Well, I don't know, it's going to take a while. We need more equipment. Uh, we'll see, it might take a year, maybe two years.' What? They can't tell you," he chuckles.

Whether hour money becomes the world's euro anytime soon, Americans' increasing use of barter and community currencies — even if it's the result of decidedly nonphilosophical things like growling stomachs or mounting medical bills — may shock us into some interesting culture shifts. After all, it's been a while since we've walked out of our houses, stepped out of our cars, looked around and realized how much we really need each other.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The New Economy Movement

The Nation
by Gar Alperovitz
May 25, 2011

The idea that we need a “new economy”—that the entire economic system must be radically restructured if critical social and environmental goals are to be met—runs directly counter to the American creed that capitalism as we know it is the best, and only possible, option. Over the past few decades, however, a deepening sense of the profound ecological challenges facing the planet and growing despair at the inability of traditional politics to address economic failings have fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders. Most of the projects, ideas and research efforts have gained traction slowly and with little notice. But in the wake of the financial crisis, they have proliferated and earned a surprising amount of support—and not only among the usual suspects on the left. As the threat of a global climate crisis grows increasingly dire and the nation sinks deeper into an economic slump for which conventional wisdom offers no adequate remedies, more and more Americans are coming to realize that it is time to begin defining, demanding and organizing to build a new-economy movement.

That the term “new economy” has begun to explode into public use in diverse areas may be an indication that the movement has reached a critical stage of development—and a sign that the domination of traditional thinking may be starting to weaken. Although precisely what “changing the system” means is a matter of considerable debate, certain key points are clear: the movement seeks an economy that is increasingly green and socially responsible, and one that is based on rethinking the nature of ownership and the growth paradigm that guides conventional policies.

This, in turn, leads to an emphasis on institutions whose priorities are broader than those that typically flow from the corporate emphasis on the bottom line. At the cutting edge of experimentation are the growing number of egalitarian, and often green, worker-owned cooperatives. Hundreds of “social enterprises” that use profits for environmental, social or community-serving goals are also expanding rapidly. In many communities urban agricultural efforts have made common cause with groups concerned about healthy nonprocessed food. And all this is to say nothing of 1.6 million nonprofit corporations that often cross over into economic activity.

For-profits have developed alternatives as well. There are, for example, more than 11,000 companies owned entirely or in significant part by some 13.6 million employees. Most have adopted Employee Stock Ownership Plans; these so-called ESOPs democratize ownership, though only some of them involve participatory management. W.L. Gore, maker of Gore-Tex and many other products, is a leading example: the company has some 9,000 employee-owners at forty-five locations worldwide and generates annual sales of $2.5 billion. Litecontrol, which manufactures high-efficiency, high-performance architectural lighting fixtures, operates as a less typical ESOP; the Massachusetts-based company is entirely owned by roughly 200 employees and fully unionized with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

A different large-scale corporation, Seventh Generation—the nation’s leader in “green” detergents, dishwashing soap, baby wipes, tissues, paper towels and other household products—has internal policies requiring that no one be paid more than fourteen times the lowest base pay or five times higher than the average employee.

In certain states, companies that want to brandish their new-economy values can now also register as B Corporations. B Corp registration (the “B” stands for “benefit”) allows a company to subordinate profits to social and environmental goals. Without this legal authorization, a CEO could in theory be sued by stockholders if profit-making is not his sole objective. Such status ensures that specific goals are met by different companies (manufacturers have different requirements from retail stores). It also helps with social marketing and branding. Thus, King Arthur Flour, a highly successful Vermont-based, 100 percent employee-owned ESOP, can be explicit, stating that “making money in itself is not our highest priority.” Four states—Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey and Virginia—have passed legislation that permits B Corp chartering, with many others likely to follow.

Cooperatives may not be a new idea—with at least 130 million members (more than one in three Americans), co-ops have broad political and cultural support—but they are becoming increasingly important in new-economy efforts. A widely discussed strategy in Cleveland suggests a possible next stage of development: the Evergreen Cooperatives are linked through a nonprofit corporation, a revolving loan fund and the common goal of rebuilding the economically devastated Greater University Circle neighborhoods. A thoroughly green industrial-scale laundry, a solar installation company and a soon-to-be-opened large-scale commercial greenhouse (capable of producing about 5 million heads of lettuce a year) make up the first of a group of linked co-ops projected to expand in years to come. The effort is unique in that Evergreen is building on the purchasing power of the area’s large hospital, university and other anchor institutions, which buy some
$3 billion of goods and services a year—virtually none of which, until recently, had come from local business. Senator Sherrod Brown is expected to introduce national legislation aimed at developing Evergreen-style models in other cities. (Full disclosure: the Democracy Collaborative of the University of Maryland, which I co-founded, has played an important role in Evergreen’s development.)

* * *

Along with the rapid expansion of small and medium-size businesses committed to building the new economy has come a sense of community and shared mission. Staff, managers and owners at many of these companies are finding more opportunities to share ideas and pool resources with like-minded professionals. The American Sustainable Business Council, a growing alliance of 150,000 business professionals and thirty business organizations, has emerged as a leading venue for such activity. Most members are “triple bottom line” companies and social enterprises committed to the environment and social outcomes as well as profits.

In many ways the council operates like any advocacy group attempting to lobby, educate and promote legislation and strategies. Thirty-five leaders recently met with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, for instance, to make clear that the US Chamber of Commerce does not speak for all American business, to seek her help with specific projects and issues, and to fill her in on a range of environmentally and socially concerned economic efforts that definitely do not do business as usual. The names of some of the council’s constituent organizations offer a sense of what this means: Green America, Business for Shared Prosperity, Social Enterprise Alliance, Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, California Association for Microenterprise Opportunity. Although ecological concerns are at the top, the council’s agenda is highly supportive of other progressive social and economic goals. A recent blog by Jeffrey Hollender, chair of the council’s advisory board (and former CEO of Seventh Generation), attacked the US Chamber of Commerce for “fighting democracy and destroying America’s economic future.”

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), made up of more than 22,000 small businesses, is another rapidly growing organization that works to strengthen new-economy networks. BALLE brings together locally owned efforts dedicated to building ecologically sustainable “living economies,” with the ambitious long-term goal of developing a global system of interconnected local communities that function in harmony with their ecosystems. The group’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Hub, the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, recognizes area businesses that “demonstrate a strong social and environmental impact while also making a profit.” A recent example is GreenLine Paper, a company that produces green products and works to preserve forests and prevent climate change. By participating in the network, GreenLine Paper gains brand recognition and promotion, as well as marketing, policy support, technical assistance and access to a like-minded coalition of businesses.

Sarah Stranahan, a longtime board member at the Needmor Fund, recalls having a sense in late 2009 that large numbers of Americans were beginning to understand that something is profoundly wrong with the economy. Bearing this in mind, with a small group of other activists she brought leaders of diverse organizations together in early September of that year to explore ways to build a larger movement. The New Economy Network (NEN), a loosely organized umbrella effort comprising roughly 200 to 250 new-economy leaders and organizations, was the low-budget product of their meeting. NEN acts primarily as a clearinghouse for information and research produced by member organizations. “However, our most important role,” says Stranahan, who serves as the network coordinator, “has been to help create a larger sense of shared common direction in a time of crisis—a sense that the new-economy movement is much greater than the sum of its diverse parts.”

* * *

Several initiatives have begun to deal systematically with fundamental problems of vision, theory and longer-term strategy. The New Economics Institute (NEI), which is in formation, is a joint venture that brings together the former E.F. Schumacher Society and the New Economics Foundation, in Britain. Among the environmentalists and economists involved are Gus Speth, David Orr, Richard Norgaard, Bill McKibben, Neva Goodwin, John Fullerton and Peter Victor.

“For the most part, advocates for change have worked within the current system of political economy,” says Speth, a former adviser to Presidents Carter and Clinton, onetime administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and the recently retired dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, who has emerged as one of the new-economy movement’s leading figures. “But in the end,” Speth declares, “this approach will not succeed when what is needed is transformative change in the system itself.”

NEI is teaming up with other organizations, like the progressive think tank Demos, on several projects. One shared effort is attempting to develop detailed indicators of sustainable economic activity. As many scholars have demonstrated, the gross national product indicator is profoundly misleading: for instance, both work that generates pollution and work that cleans it up are registered as positive in the GNP, although the net real-world economic gain is zero, and there is a huge waste of labor on both sides of the effort. Precisely how to develop a “dashboard” of indicators that measure genuine economic gain, environmental destruction, even human happiness is one of NEI’s high priorities. Another is a detailed econometric model of how a very large economic system can move away from growth as its central objective. Related to both are earlier and ongoing Great Transition studies by the Tellus Institute, a think tank concerned with sustainability.

* * *

A less academic effort concerned with vision and long-term institutional and policy reform is the New Economy Working Group, a joint venture of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and YES! Magazine. Among other things, the working group (which includes people, like Speth, who are concurrently involved in other initiatives) is attempting to create detailed designs for state and local banks in support of new-economy institutional development. (The longstanding Bank of North Dakota is one important precedent.) The larger goal of the Working Group is to advance a coherent vision of an economy organized around sustainable local community economies. John Cavanagh, on leave as director of IPS, and his wife, Robin Broad, a professor of international development at American University, emphasize the importance to developing nations of communities that provide economic, social and environmental “rootedness” in an “age of vulnerability.” David Korten, board chair of YES! Magazine and author of Agenda for a New Economy, stresses a radically decentralized domestic free-market vision of “self-organizing” communities that rely almost entirely on local resources. He envisions a trajectory of cultural change that could not only reduce conventionally defined economic growth but even reverse it—in part to make up for past ecological and resource destruction, and also to deal with global warming.

It is possible, even likely, that the explosion and ongoing development of institutional forms, along with new and more aggressive advocacy, will continue to gather substantial momentum as economic and ecological conditions worsen. It is by no means obvious, however, how even a very expansive vision of such trends would lead to “systemic” or “transformative” change. Moreover, different new-economy advocates are clearly divided on matters of vision and strategy. Speth, for instance, sees far-reaching change as essential if the massive threat posed by climate change is ever to be dealt with; he views the various experiments as one vector of development that may help lay groundwork for more profound systemic change that challenges fundamental corporate priorities. Others, like David Levine, executive director of the American Sustainable Business Council, emphasize more immediate reforms and stress the need for a progressive business voice in near-term policy battles. What to do about the power of large private or public corporations in the long term is an unresolved question facing all parties.

* * *

Obviously, any movement that urges changing the system faces major challenges. Apart from the central issue of how political power might be built over time, three in particular are clearly daunting: first, many new-economy advocates concerned about global warming and resource limits hold that conventionally defined economic growth must be slowed or even reversed. In theory an economic model that redistributes employment, consumption and investment in a zero- or reduced-growth system is feasible, but it is a very hard sell in times of unemployment, and it is a direct challenge to the central operating principle of the economic system. It is also a challenge to the priorities of most elements of the progressive coalition that has long based its economic hopes on Keynesian strategies aimed at increasing growth.

A related problem concerns the labor movement. Many new-economy advocates hold progressive views on most issues of concern to labor. In a recent letter supporting progressives in Wisconsin, for instance, the American Sustainable Business Council wrote that “eliminating collective bargaining is misguided, unsustainable and the wrong approach to solving deeper, more systemic economic issues”—hardly the standard Chamber of Commerce point of view! Still, the ultimate goal of reducing growth is incompatible with the interests of most labor leaders.

Although there have been tentative off-the-record explorations of how to narrow differences among groups, no direction for agreement has emerged. That some cooperation is possible is clear, however, from common efforts in support of “green jobs,” such as the Apollo Alliance (which aims to create 5 million “high-quality, green-collar jobs” over the coming ten years) and the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of major labor and environmental groups dedicated to expanding the quality and availability of green jobs. IPS director Cavanagh is working with a small group of theorists and activists on a plan for green jobs that attempts to integrate new-economy concerns with those of labor and other progressive groups, and to link the expanding local efforts with traditional national strategies.

A further line of possible long-term convergence is new interest by the United Steelworkers in alternative forms of economic enterprise—and, importantly, larger-scale efforts. The Steelworkers signed an agreement with the Mondragon Corporation in 2009 to collaborate in establishing unionized cooperatives based on the Mondragon model in manufacturing here and in Canada. (Mondragon, based in the Basque region of Spain, has nearly 100,000 workers and is one of the largest and most successful cooperative enterprises in the world.)

A third and very different challenge is presented by traditional environmental organizations. Speth, a board member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, has found very little willingness among his fellow board members to discuss system-changing strategies, even if understood as long-term developmental efforts. The traditional organizations spend most of their time trying to put out fires in Washington, he notes, and have little capacity to stand back and consider deeper strategic issues—particularly if they involve movement building and challenges to the current orthodoxy.

* * *

For all the difficulties and despite the challenges facing progressive politics, there are reasons to think that new-economy efforts have the capacity to gather momentum as time goes on. The first is obvious: as citizen uprisings from Tunisia to Madison, Wisconsin, remind us, judgments that serious change cannot take place often miss the quiet buildup of potentially explosive underlying forces of change. Nor were the eruptions of many other powerful movements—from late-nineteenth-century populism to civil rights to feminism and gay rights—predicted by those who viewed politics only through the narrow prism of the current moment.

Many years ago, I was legislative director to Senator Gaylord Nelson, known today as the founder of Earth Day. No one in the months and years leading up to Earth Day predicted the extraordinary wave of environmental activism that would follow—especially since environmental demands are largely focused on morally informed, society-wide concerns, unlike those of the labor, civil rights and feminist movements, all of which involve specific gains important to specific people.

In my judgment, new-economy efforts will ultimately pose much more radical systemic challenges than many have contemplated. Nonetheless, new-economy advocates are beginning to tap into sources of moral concern similar to those of the early environmental movement. As the economy continues to falter, the possibility that these advocates—along with many other Americans who share their broader concerns—will help define a viable path toward long-term systemic change is not to be easily dismissed. In fact, it would be in keeping with many earlier chapters of this nation’s history.

Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is an active participant in various systemic-change efforts, including some of the new economy projects described in this article. Among his most recent books are America Beyond Capitalism and (with Lew Daly) Unjust Deserts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Time is Money for Timebank Participants

Potrero View
May 2011
By Mary Purpura

People are losing their homes to foreclosures and short sales; unemployment rates are high. The Bay Area Community Exchange (BACE) is trying to help hard-pressed families through current difficult times. BACE, a network of individuals and grassroots organizations that support the development of alternative means of exchange in the San Francisco Bay Area, introduced the BACE Timebank as its first project a little more than a year ago. “We were discussing various alternative currency projects, and many of us thought Timebank was a good one to start with, particularly since it didn’t require issuing alternative currency,” explained Visitacion Valley resident Tara Hui, a BACE Timebank founder and board member.

Anyone can join the Timebank by going to http://timebank.sfbace.org and opening an account. Participants identify the skills – grouped into one of 19 categories, such as food, mechanical, transportation, and legal – they’re willing to offer, and post a short biography and photograph. “We encourage people to use real photos of themselves,” said Hui, “since one of our goals is to build community and trust. It helps to see images of the real people you’re trading with.”

Timebank exchanges are prompted by member requests. A participant may need a ride to and from the grocery store. The post requests to tag along with someone doing a shopping trip. Another Timebank member responds, and an amount of time to complete the task is agreed upon. That time is debited from the recipient’s account, and credited to the individual providing the car share. “The Timebank itself always maintains a neutral balance,” said Hui. “We are just a recording mechanism, essentially keeping a ledger.” The only currency exchanged is time; everyone’s time is valued equally.

“When everyone is compensated equally, it changes the way you feel about the work you do,” said Amber Yada, a freelance videographer who created a video about the Timebank and other local economic alternatives. “You don’t feel like you always have to grab your share, or like you’re being exploited. When I trade through the Timebank, I feel like my work is being valued fairly.”

“I’m a big fan of barter too, but I think the Timebank opens up more possibilities,” said Yada. “If I’m going to barter with someone, we’re limited to our specific skill sets,” but because Timebank uses time as the currency exchanged, members aren’t bound to direct trades. Likewise, the Internal Revenue Service taxes barter exchanges in dollars and cents, even though no money changes hands. Timebanking is tax-free. One member can offer an hour of garden work to another member, and receive two hours of instruction in French from a third. The time values credited and debited to an individual member don’t have to be equivalent; running a negative – or positive – balance is allowed.

“Often people will wait for an opportunity to earn before they spend,” said Hui. “With money, that’s a responsible thing to do. But with the Timebank, we don’t discourage negative balances. Negative balances mean that trading is happening in the community, and that’s our goal,” she added. While negative balances are acceptable, and even encouraged, Timebank, which is run entirely by volunteers, will contact members who have a negative or positive balance of 25 hours, said Hui. “We want to discourage both hoarding and taking advantage of others,” she explained. “We don’t cut somebody off from Timebank if they hit that 25-hour limit, but we do communicate with them to see what’s going on. For example, someone with a big negative balance might have a big project underway that they’re using a lot of Timebank help to complete. Once the project is done, they’ll be able to give back to the Timebank community.”

“While everyone needs to exercise any precautions that they would also use in a transaction that involves money, I think the Timebank allows you to gather a lot of information about someone you might be trading with,” said Hui. “Once you’re a member, you can see the transaction history of any other member. You can see who they’ve transacted with in the past, and you can contact those people for recommendations.” Individual email addresses are never made public through Timebank – even to other members – but an email address is used for verification purposes when someone first sets up an account. All email communication happens through the Timebank webmail system.

The BACE Timebank has roughly 300 members, about 100 of whom are active. “We have members as far away as Eureka and Big Sur,” said Hui. “That’s because lots of skills – like editing and writing – can be shared virtually.” Still, Timebank’s heart is face-to-face interaction. “We’re really trying to encourage transactions between people,” said Hui. “People get to know each other; it’s very local and we’re really building community at a basic level.”

“Timebank provides an economic alternative, but it’s also a social tool,” said Hui. “We want everyone to feel valued,” including the elderly and disabled, who are often marginalized in terms of economic exchange. “We want to encourage people to see their intrinsic value, not seeing their marketability as employees as their only source of worth. There’s always something you can offer and share and do with others. You can read to people, tell stories, share knowledge.” Current requests for services on Timebank include a graphic design for a book layout; a sketch of a jackal for a shirt design; surplus veggies from local gardeners; and help building shelves in a chicken coop. Offers range from yard work and housecleaning to therapeutic body work to conversational German to worms for composting.

“It takes people a while to get away from a scarcity mentality and from viewing everything through the lens of money,” said Hui. “We can have a very rich, interconnected community if we can think about wealth as more than just money,” said Yada. “There’s a motivation behind our starting the Timebank at a moment of economic crisis, trying to help people to not feel helpless and hopeless,” said Hui. “We can’t change the system, but we can offer an alternative to people to get some basic needs met and to strengthen their communities.”

You can view Amber Yada’s video about Timebank and other local economic alternatives at http://timebank.sfbace.org/home/show/8. Tara Hui and her Timebank colleagues invite programmers familiar with Ruby on Rails or Ajax to help with the project. Programmers will be credited on Timebank for the hours they invest.

The Law of Mother Earth: Behind Bolivia’s Historic Bill

by Nick Buxton
YES! Magazine
April 21, 2011

A new law expected to pass in Bolivia mandates a fundamental ecological reorientation of the nation’s economy and society.

Indigenous and campesino (small-scale farmer) movements in the Andean nation of Bolivia are on the verge of pushing through one of the most radical environmental bills in global history. The "Mother Earth" law under debate in Bolivia's legislature will almost certainly be approved, as it has already been agreed to by the majority governing party, Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS).

The law draws deeply on indigenous concepts that view nature as a sacred home, the Pachamama (Mother Earth) on which we intimately depend. As the law states, “Mother Earth is a living dynamic system made up of the undivided community of all living beings, who are all interconnected, interdependent and complementary, sharing a common destiny.”
The law would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life, regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration.

The law would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration. Bolivia's law mandates a fundamental ecological reorientation of Bolivia's economy and society, requiring all existing and future laws to adapt to the Mother Earth law and accept the ecological limits set by nature. It calls for public policy to be guided by Sumaj Kawsay (an indigenous concept meaning “living well,” or living in harmony with nature and people), rather than the current focus on producing more goods and stimulating consumption.

In practical terms, the law requires the government to transition from non-renewable to renewable energy; to develop new economic indicators that will assess the ecological impact of all economic activity; to carry out ecological audits of all private and state companies; to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to develop policies of food and renewable energy sovereignty; to research and invest resources in energy efficiency, ecological practices, and organic agriculture; and to require all companies and individuals to be accountable for environmental contamination with a duty to restore damaged environments.

Mt. Shasta, photo by Jill ClardyCorporate Control? Not in These Communities
In the U.S., municipalities are passing laws lifting the rights of nature and communities above those of corporations.

The law will be backed up by a new Ministry of Mother Earth, an inter-Ministry Advisory Council, and an Ombudsman. Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5 million-strong campesino movement CSUTCB, which helped draft the law, believes this legislation represents a turning point in Bolivian law: "Existing laws are not strong enough. This will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional, and local levels."

However, there is also strong awareness among Bolivia's social movements—in particular for the Pacto de Unidad (Unity Pact), a coalition of the country's five largest social movements and a key force behind the law—that the existence of a new law will not be enough to prompt real change in environmental practices.

A major obstacle is the fact that Bolivia is structurally dependent on extractive industries. Since the discovery of silver by the Spanish in the 16th Century, Bolivia's history has been tied to ruthless exploitation of its people and its environment in order to transfer wealth to the richest countries; poet and historian Eduardo Galeano’s famous book Open Veins draws largely on the brutal story of how Bolivia's exploitation fuelled the industrial expansion of Europe. In 2010, 70 percent of Bolivia's exports were still in the form of minerals, gas, and oil. This structural dependence will be very difficult to unravel.
In 2010, 70 percent of Bolivia's exports were still in the form of minerals, gas, and oil. This structural dependence will be very difficult to unravel.

Moreover, there is a great deal of opposition from powerful sectors, particularly mining and agro-industrial enterprises, to any ecological laws that would threaten profits. The main organization of soya producers, which claimed that the law “will make the productive sector inviable,” is one of many powerful groups who have already come out against the law. Within the government, there are many ministries and officials that would also like the law to remain nothing more than a visionary but ultimately meaningless statement.

Raul Prada, one of the advisors to Pacto de Unidad, explained that the Mother Earth law was developed by Bolivia's largest social movements in response to their perceived exclusion from policy-making by the MAS government, led by indigenous President Evo Morales. They have generally supported MAS since its resounding election victory in 2005, but were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of progress. Rather than merely expressing their concern, these movements—comprised mainly of indigenous and farming communities—are pro-actively developing a series of new laws. Their first priority was the passage of the Mother Earth Law, based on a commitment made at the historic global Peoples Conference on Climate Change held in Bolivia in April 2010. To some surprise, the diverse movements soon developed a consensual agreement that was supported by MAS legislators.

OrangutanWhat's So Special About Humans?

We take for granted that humans have rights. Courts say corporations do, too. Now, there’s growing interest in rights for Nature and animals.

Raul Prada notes that, even with significant pressure from social movements, transitioning to an economy based on the concept Vivir Bien will not be easy. “It is going to be difficult to transit from an extractive economy. We clearly can't close mines straight away, but we can develop a model where this economy has less and less weight. It will need policies developed in participation with movements, particularly in areas such as food sovereignty. It will need redirection of investment and policies towards different ecological models of development. It will need the cooperation of the international community to develop regional economies that complement each other.”

Ultimately, though, this is a challenge far bigger than Bolivia, says Prada: “Our ecological and social crisis is not just a problem for Bolivia or Ecuador; it is a problem for all of us. We need to pull together peoples, researchers, and communities to develop real concrete alternatives so that the dominant systems of exploitation don't just continue by default. This is not an easy task, but I believe with international solidarity, we can and must succeed.”

Nick Buxton wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. He spent four years in Bolivia learning from movements fighting for social and environmental justice. He currently works for the Transnational Institute in Netherlands and has been seconded to work with the Bolivian government on climate justice issues on a number of occasions.

Monday, May 23, 2011

PODER Jumps Head-First into the Solidarity Economy

PODER, an SF-based social and environmental justice organization, is initiating one of a handful of projects in the US bridging social justice work with building economic alternatives. They are actively working to develop a time exchange program with BACE Timebank, want to incubate worker cooperatives through workforce development, and helped host an event on participatory budgeting.

Their Mission Statement:
PODER is a grassroots, environmental justice organization based in San Francisco’s Mission District. PODER’s mission is to organize with Mission residents to work on local solutions to issues facing low income communities and communities of color. PODER believes that the solutions to community problems depend on the active http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifparticipation of all people in decision-making processes. Improvements to our neighborhood must be made through collective social action to bring about social, economic and environmental justice.

From PODER's Website:

The Economy In The Hands of the People
“It’s really going to happen!” said Sofia at a recent membership meeting, “El semillero is going to help take care of some of our basic needs and reclaim the values that have been lost by the daily grind of this economy”. Sofia is part of PODER’s Cooperative Circle Action Team, which has spent the last 6 months exploring and discussing U.S. and international-based examples of economic projects that incorporate principles of equity, solidarity, autonomy, reciprocity and a vision for social justice. Basically, initiatives where people are taking the economy and putting it in the hands of the people.

After months of thought-provoking conversations, laid back house meetings and lots of take-out Arabic food, team members have crafted together a new project called El Semillero (where seeds sprout). It’s a new way of mutual help, especially economic help. ”El Semillero" will work as a platform to support various PODER member’s projects. The first Project will be barter or (time-based currency). Barter (time-based currency) is an exchange system of services for time. In our barter the currency is not traditional money but a measure of time, for instance, the work per hour. It is an exchange system of goods and services or favors for favors.

During these hard times we think that this Project will help us retake the economy, so that we can take care of our basic necessities; foster social relationships, develop abilities, improve team work, and it will establish methods for our own sustainability. Hang with us as we launch this project in the next few months.

A Workforce Center By the People & For the People
Imagine you work where you love, you and others own where you work, and your workplace is a force to strengthen your community. These are the kinds of ideas taking hold in neighborhoods like the Excelsior in District 11. Tired of laboring in dead-end jobs through low wage work or under the table, PODER members have been coming together to share bold ideas for a new Workforce Center in the District.

This Center could provide lifelong economic opportunities for our communities using home-grown strategies that fit our neighborhoods. The Center would provide multilingual workers’ rights dialogue and education, links to jobs created with our public dollars, support for the creation of microenterprises and worker owned businesses, and advanced training in careers that strengthen and rebuild our communities.

D11 Workforce By & For the Peeps

Doing Better by Working Together: Solidarity Economy Part 1 & 2
Wednesday, April 20

Wednesday, May 4

@ The Funhouse, 4398 Mission St. (Excelsior District)

Themes To Explore:

How the economy shifted from being people-based to profit-driven
How everyday people & their organizations are building a better economy that is bottom-up, meets social needs and fosters community resiliency
How are grassroots groups incorporating solidarity economy strategies into their community organizing (worker cooperatives, time banks, housing cooperatives, urban agriculture, etc…)
Envisioning the economy solutions we want in our community & how to create them

Together with our neighborhood allies the Filipino Community Center and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, we are leading a community planning process, or Consulta Popular, to design a Center that truly meets the needs in our neighborhoods. Special thanks go out to our District Supervisor John Avalos for his office’s support and leadership in helping our community to develop a healthy and beneficial collaborative relationship with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Building from the community and workers’ experiences, we are planting seeds, watering them with ideas, love, and organizing to create a place where our community can bring its talents, life dreams, and skills to build a strong, local economy.

PCC Farmland Trust: Harnessing the power of the co-op

By Kelly Sanderbeck
June 2011
from Cooperative Grocer

PCC Natural Markets in Seattle didn't plan to start a nonprofit in 1999. But one of its local farmers, Nash Huber, was facing development pressure in "Sunny Sequim," a rare sun-filled valley in rain-washed Western Washington that caters to retirees. Developers were eating up farmland, and the Nash's Best carrots Huber was famous for were at risk because he needed more land to rotate them. The 97-acre Delta Farm across the street was for sale, zoned for five-acre "ranchettes," and Huber couldn't compete with developers to buy it. So, he came to PCC with an idea…

PCC, the largest cooperative grocer in the country with nine stores and 45,000 members, stepped up to form PCC Farmland Trust—the first and only organic farmland trust in the country—with the mission to "secure, preserve, and steward threatened farmland in the Northwest to ensure that generations of local farmers productively farm using sustainable, organic growing methods." The Trust takes its mission one step further than most land trusts by working to place farmers on preserved properties, actively producing food for the local community. The Trust is an independent 501(c)(3) ­nonprofit organization that raises the majority of its budget from individual donors but counts PCC Natural Markets as its leading corporate contributor and advocate.

PCC proceeded to purchased Delta Farm in 2000, lease it to Huber, and put an organic agricultural conservation easement on the property to remove development rights forever. According to Randy Lee, PCC's chief financial officer for the past 40 years: "The Trust really came about because of the hard work of Nash and Jody Aliesan, the Trust's first executive director. She was the board administrator for the co-op at the time and took Nash's idea for a nonprofit farmland trust and made it happen. Their initiative and perseverance are the reasons the Farmland Trust came to exist." Today, Huber—one of the first organic farmers in the state and American Farmland Trust's 2008 Steward of the Land—farms 400 conserved acres and offers a secure future to the young apprentices who will eventually take over his business.

Since that auspicious beginning, the Trust has preserved land across the state of Washington, totaling 565 acres and fostering eight farm businesses. After Delta Farm came 174-acre Bennington Place Farm, conserved in 2003. Located in the southeast corner of the state near the college town of Walla Walla, it is farmed by Thundering Hooves and the Huesby family, who have been farming in the region for four generations. Joel Huesby's charisma and innovation make him well-known in the farming world, and his pioneering construction of a USDA-certified mobile slaughtering unit is being patented and sought by farmers across the world.

Next came 179-acre Ames Creek Farm in metropolitan Seattle, farmed by Full Circle Farm and Growing Things Farm; 100-acre Orting Valley Farms (south of Seattle), farmed by Tahoma Farms, Little Eorthe Farm and Crying Rock Farms; and 15-acre Camelot Downs Farm (on Whidbey Island), the Trust's first donated easement and one of the only farms in the U.S. that exclusively breeds colonial animals.
Focus on conservation easements

In 2007, the Trust's board took on a new model of farmland preservation. Instead of buying property and leasing it to a farmer, they decided that funds were better spent by purchasing just the conservation easement portion of the property, with the farmer purchasing the title. Put simply, the Trust buys the development rights, and that brings down the cost of the land for the farmer by one-third to one-half. The conservation easement is written for organic agriculture use only, and the Trust must legally steward that land forever.

For young farmers who aren't inheriting land, the work done by the Trust to bring down the cost of the land is invaluable. Dan Hulse, Trust farmer and owner of Tahoma Farms, elaborates: "PCC Farmland Trust's commitment to farming as a viable and beneficial use of our Earth's resources extends beyond simply saving farmland from development. Farmland without farmers is just open space. It's the advocacy, outreach and development work within the grower community that makes the Trust's work really stand out." Although the Trust has a relationship with PCC Natural Markets, its farmers don't have a guaranteed pipeline to supply PCC. Those separate business decisions, if made, are negotiated between the farmer and PCC.

2007 also saw a ratcheting up of the Trust's efforts. At that time, Washington was losing 22,000 acres of farmland each year, about the size of the island of Manhattan. To capture this momentum, the Trust started its "Circles of Giving": the Farmland Sustaining Circle (donors who contribute $1,000 and up each year), the Growing Circle (monthly donors), and the Agrarian Circle (those who designate the Trust in their will). As one donor emphasized, "I have seen our community surrender our sources of local, healthy food and become more dependent on distant energy-expensive food. The Trust is a way to participate in the recapture and preservation of what once was ours: local farms growing healthy, organic food."

In our country, farmers are aging (an average of 58 years), and in the next 15 years, it is estimated, 70 percent of farmland will change hands (USDA). That land needs to stay in the hands of farmers, producing food. As the only organic farmland trust in the United States, PCC Farmland Trust provides a model to replicate in building our way back to a sustainable, diversified food system that supports the health of our land and its people. The Trust's work to save local, organic agriculture forever supports local communities with jobs and fresh, healthy food, helps to offset climate change, maintains clean waterways, and fosters habitat for wildlife. PCC Farmland Trust is certainly walking the talk when it comes to "thinking globally and acting locally." ■

Founded by PCC Natural Markets in Seattle in 1999 as a separate nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization
Over 50 percent of the budget is raised through individual donations
The Trust receives support from shopping bag rebates donated by PCC shoppers and purchases at PCC of the "Chinook Book," a book of coupons redeemable at local, sustainably-minded organizations. The Trust also enjoys sponsorship from vendor partners who sell products at PCC.
The Trust is chartered for the Northwest but currently focuses on Washington State
Has 565 acres currently preserved (early 2011), expected to double in the next year
Eight farm businesses are now growing organic row crops, fruit, grass-fed meat, eggs and hops, among others

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No, we're not all hippies

Beyond the stereotype, people are yearning for community, and longing to escape modern life's atomisation and egotis

Tobias Jones
Friday 6 May 2011

The timing is particularly poignant since so many people are yearning for community, longing to escape the atomisation and egotism of modern life. Politicians constantly bang on about community (or use the "big society" euphemism); everyone seems to complain that there's no sense of community anymore, no "glue" to our society. The C-word is so overused that Private Eye magazine even has an occasional column parodying it.
So why, when it's so desired, should community be so elusive? If politicians are desperate for it, and the public are aching for it, why won't it just materialise at the flick of a switch? Part of the problem was identified decades ago by TS Eliot who, in one of his more conservative moments, warned that the social fabric can be unpicked in a minute, but would take centuries to recreate. "You must wait for the grass to grow," he wrote, "to feed the sheep, to give wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism."
Even if we had the patience to do that, few of us enjoy the reality once we get to the promised land. Because if the rewards of community are epic, so too are the costs. Our journey in the 20th century from rigid, sometimes oppressive communities toward the freedom and loneliness of individualism was, at least on the surface, fairly pain free. But the return journey is immediately very tricky: if we really want the benefits of fellowship, we have to cash in quite a few of those freedoms. We might have to give up bad habits, or share the remote, or whatever. Many of us are far too selfish, privatised and intolerant to make a real go of it.
But it's also elusive because we're yearning for the wrong thing. Community can't be pursued: it can only ever, as Viktor Frankl once wrote of happiness, ensue. Community comes in the wake of purpose and, traditionally, that purpose was love of one's country, of one's neighbour or one's God. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: "He who loves the community destroys the community; he who loves the brethren creates community." Even those of us who struggle with patriotism, neighbours or religion understand that the attempt to create community just for community's sake, is laughable.
And there are colossal misunderstandings and prejudices about communalism. Almost all media depictions focus on the weird and wacky cults – which are, obviously, more amusing and newsworthy than quiet, serene encampments. Books show community as something bizarre, dysfunctional or oppressive. So anyone trying to create a community has to battle against the idea that we're all nudists, constantly ingesting hallucinogens, shagging one another and slavishly following a man with a messiah complex.
But despite all this, we may be witnessing a new wave of counter-cultural communalism. Many towns and villages have a small collective of people living together according to high ideals. It's happening partly because of economics: we're in the depths of an acute crisis and yet house prices are still prohibitive. Most people struggling to buy a home have large debts, and the more visionary ones now weigh up the option of sharing a woodland or a few fields with friends and yurts – instead of paying through the nose for a pokey, overpriced flat.
Almost all the communities I visit are set up by either "new monastics" or environmentalists. The woodland shelter I co-founded two years ago was a fusion of both. That sense of rediscovering the sacred gives the new communalism a purpose and depth that was, perhaps, lacking in the past. Whereas many communes from Christiania's time were trying to show that nothing was sacred, that all rules were outmoded, modern communities are doing the opposite: they're more pious, more serious than playful, more jaded and pessimistic than exuberantly optimistic. But that is why they might last longer and why, rather than being "normalised" like Christiania, they might themselves start to normalise the "real world".

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Civil Disobedience, Nonviolence, and Satyagraha in the Real World

Editor's Note: I believe there is a strong connection between resistance and creating alternatives. Economic alternatives allow you to not only build a better world peacefully but also give people the support they need to resist the dominant economic system. Without the alternatives, people not only would be less hopeful but also less able to support themselves to survive during the transition. A resistance movement still needs to support itself physically, emotionally, spiritually or it won't go far, which is partly why Gandhi advocated self/community-sufficiency as did the Black Panthers. Every step towards sufficiency (while realizing interdependence) is one step towards liberation. Social justice and war resistance organizations are starting to realize this connection and I will report more on this shift in future postings.

Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths
Civil Disobedience, Nonviolence, and Satyagraha in the Real World
By Mark Shepard Reproduced in full from the book published by Shepard Publications, Los Angeles, 2000
This is the text of the 1990 Annual Gandhi Lecture for the International Association of Gandhian Studies, delivered at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville on October 2.

Book cover: Mahatma Gandhi and His MythsThere are many myths about Gandhi. I’d like to point out a few of them and hopefully get rid of them for you.

First, a quick one: Gandhi was not a scrawny little man. Yes, his legs were scrawny—and bowed—but he had a barrel chest, and a deep, booming voice to match it. In pictures, you just don’t notice his chest, because he usually had a cloth draped around it.

That was an easy one. Let’s try another.

One of the most common and most dangerous myths about Gandhi is that he was a saint. The name—or rather, the title—Mahatma itself means “Great Soul.” That’s somewhere between a saint and a Messiah. Gandhi tried to avoid the title, but the people of India ignored his protests. Now I see that even the Library of Congress has begun to classify him under “Gandhi, Mahatma,” so I guess he’s lost that battle.

I’ve heard it argued that Gandhi indeed was a saint, since he was a master of meditation. Well, I must tell you that in all my readings of and about Gandhi, I’ve never come across anything to say that Gandhi was a master of meditation, or that he meditated at all—aside from observing a minute of silence at the beginning of his prayer meetings, a practice he said he borrowed from the Quakers.

Gandhi objected when people called him “a saint trying to be a politician.” He said he was instead “a politician trying to be a saint.” Personally, I go along with Gandhi’s judgment on this.

Not that Gandhi’s spiritual efforts and achievements shouldn’t be honored. They’ve certainly inspired me. But if we label Gandhi a perfected being, we lose our chance to view his life and career critically and to learn from his mistakes.

Besides, if people see Gandhi as a saint, they’ll think he’s “too good for the world,” and they won’t take his example seriously as a model for concrete social change. I’m constantly annoyed at finding books on Gandhi in bookstore sections marked “Religious,” or even “Occult.” If his books are stashed away like that, how will the hard-boiled political scientists ever run across him?

* * *

Another myth about Gandhi is the idea that India’s political leaders, beginning with Nehru, are the inheritors of his tradition and have carried it on.

I wish they had. But really, India’s leaders have rejected much more of Gandhi than they’ve adopted.

They abandoned nonviolent action as soon as they attained power. India now sports the world’s fourth largest armed force, and the leaders haven’t seemed at all reluctant to use it to settle conflicts, either inside or outside the country. No thought is given to possible Gandhi-style alternatives.

Maybe even worse, India’s leaders have done their best to imitate Western countries by building an economy based on large-scale industry and large-scale agriculture.

Gandhi fought this kind of development. He warned that it would economically ruin India’s villages, where 80% of India’s people lived and still live. And Gandhi has proved correct.

Yes, India is now overall a much richer country—but it has more desperately poor people than ever. As many as half of its people can’t afford enough food to sustain health. India prides itself now on growing enough grain so it doesn’t need to import any—but the surplus rots in storage while people starve who can’t afford to buy it!

Gandhi promoted a different kind of development. He stressed efforts based right in the villages, building on the villagers’ own strengths and resources. Not many people here realize it, but Gandhi may be this century’s greatest advocate of decentralism—basing economic and political power at the local level.

You may remember in the movie Gandhi seeing Gandhi spin cotton yarn on a compact spinning wheel. Gandhi and his colleagues were the ones who developed this wheel and introduced it into the villages. It’s the first case of what’s now called “appropriate technology” or “intermediate technology.” Of course, E. F. Schumacher, the author of Small is Beautiful, later introduced the terms themselves. Schumacher was strongly influenced by Gandhi, calling him “the most important economic teacher today.”

Gandhi set up a number of organizations to help carry out village development. He sent many workers to live in and among the villages.

Since his death, thousands have carried on this work. Now, though, the workers often combine development with campaigns against local injustice. Probably the closest thing in the United States to what they are doing is what we call “community organizing.”

The people carrying on this work in India are among the true successors of Gandhi. Other modern-day Gandhians are in programs like the Chipko—“Hug the Trees”—Movement, which blocks irresponsible logging in the Himalayas; or Shanti Sena, the “Peace Army,” which intervenes nonviolently in urban riots. My book Gandhi Today describes a number of the Gandhians’ programs.

By the way, here’s a quick bust of another myth concerning Gandhi and India’s leaders: Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv, the current prime minister, are no relation to the Mahatma. Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Nehru. The name “Gandhi” is common in India, and came to her by marriage. The name means “grocer.”

* * *

I suspect, though, that most of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Gandhi have to do with nonviolence. For instance, it’s surprising how many people still have the idea that nonviolent action is passive.

It’s important for us to be clear about this: There is nothing passive about Gandhian nonviolent action.

I’m afraid Gandhi himself helped create this confusion by referring to his method at first as “passive resistance,” because it was in some ways like techniques bearing that label. But he soon changed his mind and rejected the term.

Gandhi’s nonviolent action was not an evasive strategy nor a defensive one. Gandhi was always on the offensive. He believed in confronting his opponents aggressively, in such a way that they could not avoid dealing with him.

But wasn’t Gandhi’s nonviolent action designed to avoid violence? Yes and no. Gandhi steadfastly avoided violence toward his opponents. He did not avoid violence toward himself or his followers.

Gandhi said that the nonviolent activist, like any soldier, had to be ready to die for the cause. And in fact, during India’s struggle for independence, hundreds of Indians were killed by the British.

The difference was that the nonviolent activist, while willing to die, was never willing to kill.

Gandhi pointed out three possible responses to oppression and injustice. One he described as the coward’s way: to accept the wrong or run away from it. The second option was to stand and fight by force of arms. Gandhi said this was better than acceptance or running away.

But the third way, he said, was best of all and required the most courage: to stand and fight solely by nonviolent means.

* * *

Another of the biggest myths about nonviolent action is the idea that Gandhi invented it.

Gandhi is often called “the father of nonviolence.” Well, he did raise nonviolent action to a level never before achieved. Still, it wasn’t at all his invention.

Gene Sharp of Harvard University, in his book Gandhi as a Political Strategist, shows that Gandhi and his Indian colleagues in South Africa were well aware of other nonviolent struggles before they adopted such methods themselves. That was in 1906. In the couple of years before that, they’d been impressed by mass nonviolent actions in India, China, Russia, and among blacks in South Africa itself.

In another of his books, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp cites over 200 cases of mass nonviolent struggle throughout history. And he assures us that many more will be found if historians take the trouble to look.

Curiously, some of the best earlier examples come from right here in the United States, in the years leading up to the American Revolution. To oppose British rule, the colonists used many tactics amazingly like Gandhi’s—and according to Sharp, they used these techniques with more skill and sophistication than anyone else before the time of Gandhi.

For instance, to resist the British Stamp Act, the colonists widely refused to pay for the official stamp required to appear on publications and legal documents—a case of civil disobedience and tax refusal, both used later by Gandhi. Boycotts of British imports were organized to protest the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the so-called Intolerable Acts. The campaign against the latter was organized by the First Continental Congress, which was really a nonviolent action organization.

Almost two centuries later, a boycott of British imports played a pivotal role in Gandhi’s own struggle against colonial rule.

The colonists used another strategy later adopted by Gandhi—setting up parallel institutions to take over functions of government—and had far greater success with it than Gandhi ever did. In fact, according to Sharp, colonial organizations had largely taken over control from the British in most of the colonies before a shot was fired.

* * *

Why aren’t we more aware of such cases—including those in our own history? I think it’s because of something we could call “filtering.”

Probably most of you who’ve worked with cameras know about the kind of filter I mean. The filter fits over the camera lens and blocks out portions of the light—usually certain colors—and lets the remainder pass through to the lens. In effect, the filter selects the portion of light that the camera will “see.”

Each of us too sees the world through our own “filter”—a filter made up of our assumptions, our motivations, and the categories we use to sort out and organize our experience. This filter determines how we see the world.

When we come across something that doesn’t match our assumptions, motivations, and categories, our filter blocks it out. It’s not that we choose to reject it. Consciously, we don’t evenperceive it. Or else we perceive it in a partial, distorted form.

It seems that nonviolence has a particularly hard time passing through many people’s filters.

To know about current and past events, we depend a great deal on journalists and historians. Now, one thing that journalists and historians understand is military power. They know what comes from many people being shot or imprisoned. It’s obvious when such power is being used, and a journalist or historian can feel professionally safe in describing and analyzing it.

But most of them do not deal so well with subtle, nonviolent forms of power. They don’t understand how such power operates; or even how it could operate; or even that such a form of power could exist.

So, as often as not, they don’t notice it at all. Or if they do notice it, they don’t grasp what they’ve seen. Or they don’t connect it with its effects.

For example, say that a Third World country undergoes a spontaneous, country-wide, mass noncooperation campaign against its dictator, lasting weeks or even months. Tens of thousands march in the streets, newspapers and radio stations defy the censors, whole cities are shut down for days at a time as people go on strike. Noted citizens call for the dictator’s resignation, no one follows his orders, he has completely lost control.

Finally, four or five military officers, carrying out the obvious will of the people, march nearly unopposed into the presidential palace, arrest the dictator, and escort him out of office.

Chances are that our news media and history books will thereafter attribute the dictator’s downfall, purely and simply, to “a military coup.”

Watch the media closely, and you will find this is not at all an uncommon pattern. One classic example is in regard to the 1963 overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. An almost anti-climactic military coup followed a half year of intensive public actions led by Buddhist monks, in a campaign that destroyed Diem’s base of support. Yet all three of the almanacs on my shelves ascribe Diem’s downfall to the coup, and only one even mentions the popular campaign as a factor.

(By the way, for details on that popular movement, I refer you to what is probably the best overview of the worldwide nonviolence movement, The Struggle for Humanity, by Marjorie Hope and James Young.)

The fact is, even in revolutions that are primarily violent, the successful ones usually include nonviolent civilian actions not so different from the ones Gandhi used. And nearly every time, you will find these actions curiously downplayed or ignored by most journalists and historians.

As Indira Gandhi put it, “The meek may one day inherit the earth, but not the headlines.”

* * *

So, Gandhi was definitely not “the father of nonviolence” in the sense of having invented it. But we might still grant him the title in something of the sense in which we say Isaac Newton “discovered” gravity.

Isaac Newton, of course, was not the first person to see an apple fall out of a tree. But Newton was the first person to notice that fall and grasp its significance, and provide us with a general concept so that we could do the same.

Newton, in other words, altered our filters so we could perceive the working of gravity.

The same with Gandhi. He seems to have been the first person to have the general concept of nonviolent action, to declare it, and then to consciously apply it on a large scale. In this way, he gave us all a way to perceive what he was up to.

Of course, some people still didn’t get the point, because even when Gandhi laid it out for them, the concept of nonviolent action couldn’t begin to pass through their clouded filters.

It’s fun to read what’s been written about Gandhi by his political opponents in England, or by Marxists in India and elsewhere, or by recent slanderers nipping at the heels of the movieGandhi. What they’ve written doesn’t reveal much about Gandhi, but it reveals a good deal about the writers.

Gandhi’s most bitter critics have called him a charlatan—a deceiving, malicious fraud. After all, who could say the things Gandhi said and really mean them? Well, surely these critics couldn’t!

Other, “kinder” critics have felt Gandhi was simply an idealistic fool, with no conception of how power works in the real world. Translated, this means that these critics can’t understand how Gandhi’s methods worked.

Let’s look at these methods of Gandhi’s and see if we can spot where their power might come from. And maybe we can clear up some other myths along the way.

* * *

Gandhi called his overall method of nonviolent action Satyagraha. This translates roughly as “Truth-force.” A fuller rendering, though, would be “the force that is generated through adherence to Truth.”

Nowadays, it’s usually called nonviolence. But for Gandhi, nonviolence was the word for a different, broader concept—namely, “a way of life based on love and compassion.” In Gandhi’s terminology, Satyagraha—Truth-force—was an outgrowth of nonviolence.

It may also help to keep in mind that the terms Satyagraha and nonviolent action, though often used one for the other, don’t actually refer to the exact same thing. Satyagraha is really one special form of nonviolent action—Gandhi’s own version of it. Much of what’s called nonviolent action wouldn’t qualify as Satyagraha. But we’ll come back to that later.

Gandhi practiced two types of Satyagraha in his mass campaigns. The first was civil disobedience, which entailed breaking a law and courting arrest. When we today hear this term, our minds tend to stress the “disobedience” part of it. But for Gandhi, “civil” was just as important. He used “civil” here not just in its meaning of “relating to citizenship and government” but also in its meaning of “civilized” or “polite.” And that’s exactly what Gandhi strove for.

We also tend to lay stress differently than Gandhi on the phases of civil disobedience. We tend to think breaking the law is the core of it. But to Gandhi, the core of it was going to prison. Breaking the law was mostly just a way to get there.

Now, why was that? Was Gandhi trying to fill the jails? Overwhelm and embarrass his captors? Make them “give in” through force of numbers?

Not at all. He just wanted to make a statement. He wanted to say, “I care so deeply about this matter that I’m willing to take on the legal penalties, to sit in this prison cell, to sacrifice my freedom, in order to show you how deeply I care. Because when you see the depth of my concern, and how ‘civil’ I am in going about this, you’re bound to change your mind about me, to abandon your rigid, unjust position, and to let me help you see the truth of my cause.”

In other words, Gandhi’s method aimed to win not by overwhelming but by converting his opponent—or as the Gandhians say, by bringing about a “change of heart.”

Now, to many people, that sounds pretty naive. Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. It was naive. The belief that civil disobedience succeeded by converting the opponent happened to be a myth held by Gandhi himself. And it’s shared by most of his admirers, who take his word for it without bothering to check it out.

As far as I can tell, no civil disobedience campaign of Gandhi’s ever succeeded chiefly through a change of heart in his opponents.

But this doesn’t mean civil disobedience didn’t work. As a matter of fact, it did work. The only thing off-kilter was Gandhi’s explanation of how and why it worked.

Let me give a general description of what seems really to have happened when Gandhi and his followers committed civil disobedience:

Gandhi and followers break a law—politely. Public leader has them arrested, tried, put in prison. Gandhi and followers cheerfully accept it all. Members of the public are impressed by the protest, public sympathy is aroused for the protesters and their cause. Members of the public put pressure on public leader to negotiate with Gandhi. As cycles of civil disobedience recur, public pressure grows stronger. Finally, public leader gives in to pressure from his constituency, negotiates with Gandhi.

That’s the general outline. Notice that there is a “change of heart,” but it’s more in the public than in the opponent. And notice too that there’s an element of coercion, though it’s indirect, coming from the public, rather than directly from Gandhi’s camp.

Some campaigns of Gandhi’s show a variation on this model. Sometimes Gandhi’s opponents had superiors who wound up pressuring them or even ordering them to negotiate with Gandhi. These superiors might have been influenced by Gandhi’s campaign, or by pressure from theirown public—for instance, when British citizens pressured government leaders in Britain to intervene in affairs of their colonial government in India.

But the basic principle was the same: Gandhi’s most decisive influence on his opponents was more indirect than direct.

Gandhi set out a number of rules for the practice of civil disobedience. These rules often baffle his critics, and often even his admirers set them aside as nonessential. But once you understand that civil disobedience, for Gandhi, was aimed at working a change of heart—whether in the opponent or the public—then it’s easy to make sense of them.

One rule was that only specific, unjust laws were to be broken. Civil disobedience didn’t mean flouting all law.

In fact, Gandhi said that only people with a high regard for the law were qualified for civil disobedience. Only action by such people could convey the depth of their concern and win respect. No one thinks much of it when the law is broken by those who care nothing for it anyway.

Other rules: Gandhi ruled out direct coercion, such as trying to physically block someone. Hostile language was banned. Destroying property was forbidden. Not even secrecy was allowed.

All these were ruled out because any of them would undercut the empathy and trust Gandhi was trying to build, and would hinder that “change of heart.”

* * *

The second form of mass Satyagraha was noncooperation.

This is just what it sounds like. Noncooperation meant refusing to cooperate with the opponent, refusing to submit to the injustice being fought. It took such forms as strikes, economic boycotts, and tax refusals.

Of course, noncooperation and civil disobedience overlapped. Noncooperation too was to be carried out in a “civil” manner. Here too, Gandhi’s followers had to cheerfully face beating, imprisonment, confiscation of their property—and it was hoped that this willing suffering would cause a “change of heart.”

But noncooperation also had a dynamic of its own, a dynamic that didn’t at all depend on converting the opponent or even molding public opinion. It was a dynamic based not on appeals but on the power of the people themselves.

Gandhi saw that the power of any tyrant depends entirely on people being willing to obey. The tyrant may get people to obey by threatening to throw them in prison, or by holding guns to their heads. But the power still resides in the obedience, not in the prison or the guns.

Now, what happens if those people begin to say, “We’re not afraid of prison. We’re even willing to die. But we’re not willing to obey you any longer.”

It’s very simple. The tyrant has no power. He may rant and scream and hurt and destroy—but if the people hold to it, he’s finished.

Gandhi said, “I believe that no government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people suddenly withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.”

That was Gandhi’s concept of power—the one he’s accused of not having. It’s a hard one to grasp, for those used to seeing power in the barrel of a gun. Their filters do not pass it. And so they call Gandhi idealistic, impractical.

* * *

Then there are the critics who say nonviolent action worked fine in India, but they don’t think it would make sense to use it elsewhere. These critics believe that Indians are particularly suited to nonviolent action, because of the ethic of nonviolence built into their religion.

This is a very interesting myth, and those who believe in it certainly possess a very selective filter. Personally, I don’t think you can follow the news from India for long and still believe Indians are less violent than other people.

Besides, Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence seems to have been consciously inspired first by the New Testament—the Sermon on the Mount. Only later, it seems, did he find similar ideas in Hindu scriptures.

It’s surprising how easy it is to forget that we too have an ethic of nonviolence built into our society’s chief religion. We just don’t happen to follow it. Just as the Indians don’t normally follow theirs.

But really, the easiest way to see that nonviolent action is suitable outside India is simply to look at all the cases of nonviolent action outside India. Unless your filter is pretty murky, you can hardly miss them. It certainly can’t be easy to ignore the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., or to forget the Solidarity movement in Poland, or to overlook the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.

Then there’s the cousin of the “only-in-India” argument. This one says that nonviolent action can work only against “easy” enemies like the British, and not against, say, the Soviets, or Central American dictators, or those villains of last resort, the Nazis.

Here again, filters are in place, because nonviolent action has been used with some success against all these.

In 1968, Czechoslovakian civilians nonviolently held Soviet armed forces at bay for a full week and stopped the Soviet leaders from ever subjugating that country to the degree they had intended. In 1944, military dictators were ousted nonviolently in both El Salvador andGuatemala. And during World War II, Norway nonviolently and successfully resisted Nazi attempts to reorganize its society along fascist lines.

(In case you missed any of these, you can find details, again, in Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, among other sources.)

One of the interesting things about the many instances of nonviolent struggle around the world is that, even today, it is often by people who know nothing or next to nothing about Gandhi. After you look at a number of these, you have to conclude that people in many situations just naturallyturn to such methods.

On the other hand, if you look closely at so-called popular liberation movements, you’ll find that they’re seldom started by the peasants or workers they’re supposed to benefit. These armed struggles may gradually build wider support—but in almost every case, they’re launched by students or other intellectuals in the name of the people.

* * *

Still another group of Gandhi’s critics says: Maybe nonviolent action does work—but it’s just too slow. People are suffering injustice, slavery, starvation, murder. How can you ask them to be patient and work nonviolently?

Somehow people have developed the myth that nonviolent action is slow, while violence is quick. But I don’t believe you can find evidence for this in history.

Now, I’m not going to try to prove my point by comparing cases of violent and nonviolent struggles. There are so many variables that comparisons from one situation to another really don’t mean anything.

But we can still rid ourselves of the idea that violence is necessarily quick. If we look at the Chinese Revolution, for instance, we find that Mao Tse-Tung and his Communist forces were engaged in combat over a period of 22 years. Vietnam was embattled for an even longer period: 35 years. These are not swift victories.

We can also dispel the notion that nonviolent action has to be slow. The nonviolent overthrow of Marcos in the Philippines—measured from the assassination of Benigno Aquino—took only three years.

Where does the idea come from, then, that violence is quick and nonviolence is slow? Well, violence feels quicker, because time passes rapidly when you’re dodging bullets. Nonviolent action, on the other hand, requires more patience because the action is less thrilling.

Theodore Roszak once commented on the impatience of some of these critics. He said, “People try nonviolence for a week, and when it ‘doesn’t work,’ they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.”

Now, what does Roszak mean, that violence “hasn’t worked for centuries”? Is he ignoring the success of so many violent revolutions? I think Roszak means that violence, even when it succeeds, has major negative side-effects—side-effects that nonviolent action mostly avoids.

First of all, a violent struggle will tend to bring about much more destruction of life, property, and environment.

Of course, there can be destruction in nonviolent struggles, too. Just because you’re nonviolent doesn’t mean your opponent will be. As I said before, Gandhi’s campaigns in India saw hundreds of Indians killed by the British. Still, this doesn’t compare with the tens or hundreds of thousands, or even millions, killed in some violent revolutions.

The difference, by the way, doesn’t arise because nonviolent struggles are aimed at “nice” enemies. After all, the British aren’t so much nicer than the French, who killed 800,000 Algerians—that’s one out of every thirteen—during Algeria’s war of independence.

No, the difference arises because, in a violent struggle, the violence of each side goads the other to greater violence. Also, each side uses the violence of the other side to justify its own violence. A nonviolent struggle, on the other hand, doesn’t so much encourage the violence of the opponent.

Other negative side-effects of violence come into view once the struggle comes to an end. For instance, violence generally leaves the two sides as long-standing enemies.

Maybe the most amazing thing about Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution is, not that the British left, but that they left as friends, and that Britain and India became partners in the British Commonwealth.

Gandhi noted also that violent revolutions almost always end in repressive dictatorships. Once the rebel troops gain control, they naturally keep acting as they’re used to—in other words, they start running the country like a military camp. And of course, there are lots of bitter enemies within the country who still need to be put down and kept down. Gandhi hoped that a nonviolent revolution, led by civilians, would avoid all this.

Now, India today is not a paradise. It is afflicted by widespread injustice, civil violence, and authoritarian trends. Still, it is one of the few Third World countries where democracy in any form has survived continuously. There has never been a military coup in India.

When you look at the side-effects of violent struggle, you really have to ask yourself, just who is being practical here, and who is not.

* * *

Now, maybe you think from all I’ve said that I believe nonviolent action would work anywhere, if people just gave it a try. Actually, I don’t. I believe there are cases in which nonviolent action wouldn’t stand a chance, and where any attempt at it is futile. In some of these cases, violence might succeed—in its own fashion.

On the other hand, the cases in which nonviolent action wouldn’t work are often just the cases in which violence as well would prove pointless or worse.

The belief that violence will work wherever nonviolent action wouldn’t is a very puzzling myth. The opposite case is likely more common: Where violent efforts would be easily contained or instantly crushed, nonviolent action may be the only realistic choice.

Then there are other cases, I believe, in which violence would work, but so would nonviolent action—with much less harm.

If exponents of armed struggle were less concerned with proving their manliness and more concerned with the welfare of the people they claim to stand up for, they might discover that nonviolent forms of struggle, everything considered, work better.

* * *

I’d like to bust one more myth about Gandhi’s nonviolent action. This one is held both by many of Gandhi’s critics and by many of his admirers. In fact, the misunderstanding is so common and so basic that I have to say that many—maybe most—admirers of Gandhi’s methods really miss the point.

Just as I did when I began my study of Gandhi.

Prior to that study, most of my experience with political activism had been with Marxists, and I had pretty well absorbed their worldview. But later, after exploring several spiritual traditions, I felt I could no longer endorse the Marxists’ methods.

How then to oppose injustice and reform society? I hoped that Gandhi held the answer. It seemed to me he had meant to work out just what I was looking for: a way of defeating and overthrowing the oppressors of the world, but by moral means.

That was my myth about Gandhi; that was my filter. I had to read an entire book and a half about Gandhi before it struck me—and it struck me hard—that Gandhi was not talking about defeating or overthrowing anyone.

Satyagraha—Gandhi’s nonviolent action—was not a way for one group to seize what it wanted from another. It was not a weapon of class struggle, or of any other kind of division. Satyagraha was instead an instrument of unity. It was a way to remove injustice and restore social harmony, to the benefit of both sides.

Satyagraha, strange as it seems, was for the opponent’s sake as well. When Satyagraha worked, both sides won.

That concept did not pass at all easily through my filter, and I understand why so many others miss it entirely. But it is, really, the essential difference between Gandhi’s Satyagraha and so much of the nonviolent action practiced by others.

You may wonder, how did Gandhi himself come to this amazing attitude? He said it this way: “All my actions have their source in my inalienable love of humankind.”

You see, love for the victim demanded struggle, while love for the opponent ruled out doing harm. But in fact, love for the opponent likewise demanded struggle.

Why? Because by hurting others, the oppressor also hurts himself.

Of course, the oppressor isn’t likely to be aware of that. He may be thoroughly enjoying his power and wealth. But beneath all that, his injustice is cutting him off from his fellow humans and from his own deeper self. And when that happens, his spirit can only wither and deform.

Now, that’s not obvious, and if you don’t believe it, I don’t know any way I might convince you.

But if that does pass through your filter, you may be well on your way to understanding Gandhi.

Mohandas K. Gandhi, Nonviolent Resistance, Schocken, New York, 1967. A collection of writings on nonviolence.

Marjorie Hope and James Young, The Struggle for Humanity: Agents of Nonviolent Change in a Violent World, Orbis, Maryknoll, New York, 1977. Portraits of important leaders and groups in the worldwide nonviolence movement.

Mark Shepard, Gandhi Today, Simple Productions, Arcata, California, and Seven Locks Press, Washington, D.C., 1987. On successors of Gandhi in India and around the world.

Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, Porter Sargent, Boston, 1979. A collection of Sharp’s articles on Gandhi and nonviolence.

———, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Porter Sargent, Boston, 1973. An extensive look at methods and historical examples of nonviolence. The paperback edition is in three volumes.