Hello and welcome to Our Common Wealth, a bilingual newsletter by and for the solidarity economy in Massachusetts and beyond.
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In this third edition of Our Common Wealth, you’ll find:
- Mutual Aid Organizing: Keys to Evolution, Heart of Revolution
Discover the power of mutual aid from birth to 2021, including profiles on local efforts Mutual Aid Worcester, Berkshire Mutual Aid and Mutual Aid Eastie
- Highlights from “Emergence Meets Emergency: A Gathering for the Massachusetts Solidarity Economy”
Case studies on Transformative Justice/Abolition, Housing Justice, Childcare/Education and Mutual Aid (Part 1)
- Statewide Campaigns: Coalition for Worker Ownership and Power (COWOP)
An update on an upcoming statewide policy platform to advance worker power!
- Reflections on Radical Transformation: Moving from a Singular System Story to Pluriverse
Follow Boston activist and academic Penn Loh’s personal journey to solidarity economy building
- Conjunctural Politics, Cultural Struggle, and Solidarity Economy: An Interview with Kali Akuno
Part II of conversation between Westen Mass based activist and organizer, Boone Shear and the brilliant Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson
- Corners: Celebration, Learning, Building
What’s going on around Massachusetts?
Mutual Aid Organizing:
Keys to Evolution, Heart of Revolution
By Addison Turner and Hendrix Berry
Cooperative economics is embedded in our evolutionary and ancestral knowledge of survival. The term “mutual aid” itself is often attributed to Peter Kropotkin, a Russian geographer and anarchist who observed mutual aid as a key factor in evolution throughout the animal kingdom in his 1902 collection of essays, “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.” His research and analysis suggests that the survival of living species is a test of cooperation, more than an individualistic test of fitness… Learn more about the history of mutual aid
“Mutual aid is at the core of my people’s survival and resilience. Every culture and community that has maintained aspects of the village even if they’re recovering from recent cultural and diasporic trauma. Mutual aid provides support while maintaining human dignity and integrity of spirit, self direction by those in need. When mutual aid works at it’s best, it is a system of supporting those who are disenfranchised in a way that maintains dignity as a first priority. Charity is about pity, seeing someone as childlike which is not just a problem in the disability community. What affects the disability community intersects and interlaps every other community and matter of wellbeing.” – Julie Berger, South County Disability Rights Working Group
“In mutual aid, there is no giver and taker. Everyone is helping in one way or another. Regular folks are taking the leadership roles to whatever extent they can – from organizing and coordinating work to, for example, taking several food/produce boxes for your building/block, tracking down the people in need (or saving the boxes for them) and making deliveries, translating a flyer, volunteering, or singing or playing an instrument to lift spirits up… Give what you can and take what you need.” – Kannan Thiruvengadam, Eastie Farm
“Charity requires an oppressive structure that maintains a class of ‘generous’ people and a class of ‘needy’ people. The word ‘generosity’ even shares the same Indo-Europian root as ‘gentry,’ meaning upper caste. Generosity, or charitability, is therefore a marker of upper-class distinction. Mutual aid, on the other hand, is a marker of solidarity and is reflective of the outlook of eliminating class hierarchy. Mutual aid and charity are therefore diametrically opposed. The former represents a world free of oppression and the latter represents a world of perpetual inequality. We choose to devote our efforts to the former and in doing so expose the charity model for what it is.” – Addison Turner, Worcester Youth Cooperatives
Learn more about these and other mutual aid projects across Massachusetts
Highlights from “Emergence Meets Emergency: A Gathering for the Massachusetts Solidarity Economy”
Solidarity economy is a movement, culture and set of economic (management of home) practices. How do we use our collective resources for wholeness and wellbeing of all our people? We focused on four key areas during our November gathering of, “Emergence Meets Emergency.”Stay tuned for highlights from the second “Emergence Meets Emergency” series on Reparations, Food & Farming, and Climate Justice across Massachusetts.
1. TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE & ABOLITION:
The criminal injustice system is based on punishment over healing, profit over people, violence over unity. Prisons are essential for capitalism just as transformative justice is essential for solidarity economy.
Stacey Borden, of New Beginnings Re-Entry Service and Families for Justice as Healing described New Beginnings, which offers resources and support for women nearing the end of their sentences, including “Expressive Therapy and Dramatic Arts” which allows people to process the incredibly challenging emotions and circumstances embedded in their lives. New Beginnings is 80% through a fundraising campaign to make their first residential housing purchase in Dorchester, named “Kimyas House” in honor of a women Stacey served time with who took a 20 year prison sentence for killing a man in self defense (who had just hit her in the head with a 2×4). The house will provide a stable safe space for women to heal themselves and “reach their greatness” by being themselves.
Michael Cox, of Black and Pink Massachusetts, shared with us, “[Black and Pink] is not a social service agency. We never envision ourselves like that. Rather, we see our programming as mutual aid. It’s really just getting the resources to the people who need them the most.” Black and Pink provides bail support, court support (transportation, or just to be there with someone so they’re not alone), re-entry aid and mobilizes an incredibly powerful pen pal network to support incarcerated people. Their mission is “to abolish the criminal punishment system and to liberate LGBTQIA2S+ people/people living with HIV who are affected by that system, through advocacy, support, and organizing.”
Watch Stacey and Michael’s full presentations here.
2. HOUSING JUSTICE:
Our housing system is grounded in the capitalist value of needing to have money to make money. Intergenerational wealth should have nothing to do with whether your family has stable housing and opportunity.
Mike Leyba, of City Life/Vida Urbana described City Life’s incredible work, as a statewide leader in housing justice strategy to decommodify housing and provide direct services focused on the greater Boston community. From the block to the courthouse to the statehouse, City Life is keeping people in their homes and building a transformative housing economy. By sharing a recent example of tenant organizing at Morton Village Apartments in Mattapan, Mike explained how organizing is part of the capital stack.“When a sale is forced where all the units of that building are organized, it actually lowers the value of the building for sale so it means [the landlord] can sell the building but [they’re] going to sell it for less than [they] would if it was empty. The reason is because [they] know the person who’s buying it knows that they’re gonna have to spend the money to get [the organized tenants] out.”From City Life’s website, you can attend a weekly meeting to get free legal advice and community support for your own housing concerns, take action by signing petitions or calling your legislators, donate and find other ways to engage with the housing justice movement in Massachusetts
Watch Mike’s full presentation here
3. CHILDCARE & EDUCATION:
There is a severe shortage of high quality and affordable childcare. At the same time, childcare workers are very poorly paid and lack healthcare and other benefits. Many of the childcare operations in Massachusetts have, or will be forced to close due to the challenges of the pandemic.Three collaborative and interlaced models offer a glimpse into a way forward: universal childcare, neighborhood learning pods, and worker owned daycare centers.
Sarah Jimenez, of Community Labor United (CLU) described their work convening a network of unions and grassroots community groups called Care That Works, fighting for an “equitable, public child care system centered on the needs of the multi-racial working class and the multi-modal, predominantly female child care workforce.” There are number of factors that are converging to make the passage of universal childcare in this state very likely in the next couple of years. It is critical to build the range of cooperative models of childcare so that we’re prepared to take advantage of the funding stream that will become available with universal childcare.
Zulma Rivera, of Neighbor to Neighbor and Emily Kawano, of the Wellspring Cooperative are piloting mutual aid based Neighborhood Learning Pods in Springfield for home based education and childcare. Wellspring is also developing a national worker and parent owned childcare coop called CareShare with three national partners: Cooperation Jackson, Co-op Cincy and Cooperacion Santa Ana.
Liliana Avendaño, Catalina Rojas, Luz Zambrano, of el Centro Cooperativo de Desarollo y Solidaridad (CCDS) described their East Boston-based coop developer and community of coops, largely led by immigrant women. One example is Resplandor, a mobile bi-lingual startup worker coop currently providing childcare to community groups and nonprofits for events, with the aim of first providing home based childcare and then opening a childcare center. Resplandor started with four members in 2016 and now has 17!
Learn more about these exciting emergent childcare solutions, by watching the full presentations here.
4. MUTUAL AID:
Mutual aid is the building block of solidarity economy because it comes from the clear understanding that our collective liberation is bound together. Berkshire Mutual Aid is blowing the roof of the concept of “caring for our people” by rubbing pennies together and making a type of gold that’s literally saving lives, hearts, homes etc – an impenetrable community fabric.
Nicole Fecteau, of Roots & Dreams & Mustard Seeds, Anaelisa Jacobsen and Nancy Gomez of Manos Unidas Multicultural Educational Cooperative and Julie Berger of South County Disability Rights Group discussed the amazing work they are doing together, supporting Berkshire Mutual Aid (BMA). BMA has created a structure for mutual aid by simply connecting people in need with people who have something to share. The majority of the time, the person with a need is someone who has and is willing to share something with others as well – whether that’s time distributing food or passing out tents, sewing masks,helping coordinate online, providing interpretation, or donating financially. BMA has a Facebook Group with 3.9k members and google form for posting needs and offers, and organizes large scale distribution of organic food and other necessities weekly (every Saturday 12-2 at 361 North St, Pittsfield).
Watch Berkshire Mutual Aid’s full presentation here.
Coalition for Worker Ownership and Power (COWOP)
|The Coalition for Worker Ownership and Power (COWOP) met in October to discuss the unprecedented opportunities to create policy infrastructure for a robust worker ownership ecosystem, in our communities all across Massachusetts. This is an incredibly exciting moment for solidarity economy and coop activists across the state to throw down on policy advocacy for worker ownership. From COWOP Coordinator, Amethyst Carey:“Our campaign committee has spent the last two months incorporating feedback we got from convening attendees, reaching out to other organizations, and talking with legislators. After factoring in our capacity, what we think is possible (or worth pushing for) in the state, and what will be impactful now and in the long term, our committee has settled on these 4 items from our platform:|
1. Worker-Owner Training and Development
2. Increased funding for Technical Assistance
4. Grants and Guarantees. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the many ways to get involved!
Reflections on Radical Transformation:
Moving from a Singular System Story to Pluriverse
By Penn Loh
This essay is a confession of sorts, from someone who believes that other worlds are possible and has worked in grassroots movements to fight against injustices and unsustainabilities for the last three decades.
Coming of Age at the “End of History”
I came into adulthood and was politicized during the so-called “end of history” in the latter stage of the Reagan administration. US imperialism had succeeded against a dying Soviet (state-centered) communist bloc. American-style neoliberal capitalism was inevitably going global, since “there is no alternative”. Though I was of a generation mentored by veterans of the New Left movements of the 1960s and versed in a Marxist political-economic understanding of the “system”, we eschewed the fragmented ideological sectarian remains of the radical movements of the 60-70s, which we saw as overly dogmatic, often lacking in anti-racist commitment, and at times cultish.
In the early 1990s, I was swept into the burgeoning environmental justice (EJ) movement that centered anti-racism and integrated environment into a justice perspective. The core EJ strategy was building the power base in affected communities. While we fought against environmental racism, EJ was ultimately about community control and building healthy, livable, and just communities.
Thus, we put our efforts into base-building organizations, developing leadership one person at a time, and waging grassroots campaigns.
Conjunctural Politics, Cultural Struggle, and Solidarity Economy
An Interview with Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson
|Boone Shear: How might the Left engage in a struggle that doesn’t just create progressive reforms that shore up liberalism and white supremacy but that begins to work towards and assemble other ways of being in the world? I am thinking here a bit in terms of what you described as non-reformist reforms in the first essay in Jackson Rising, practices and policies that subvert the logic of the capitalist system, “upend its relations, and subvert its strength … [and] seek to create new logics, new relations, and new imperatives” (Akuno and Nangwaya 2017, 17). How to struggle in and against the violence of patriarchal racist capitalist modernity and pull open and expand more fundamental ruptures or breaks so we can reorient and organize around life and relationality and autonomy?|
Kali Akuno: I think that there is a path already in the present, I really do. I’ve been trying to look at what already exists, particularly since COVID-19, in the level of mutual-aid response. We haven’t seen that since the Great Depression. It’s gotten hardly any attention. I think even in the movement, it hasn’t received adequate attention. And it’s a remarkable development. To me it’s demonstrated that there is still something left of a deeper humanity in this empire, a humanity that neoliberalism as a cultural project has tried to do away with—this is actually the most successful dimension of the neoliberal project, but it hasn’t broken that down completely. That’s a deeply encouraging sign. And I think in some respects, mutual aid and care really are the bedrock on which we need to be thinking about how we construct the alternatives. I think that’s it. We’ve seen mutual aid play out almost everywhere in kind of a spontaneous motion—there’s been medics, there’s been food pantries, and other care. And it’s set up everywhere quickly.Now why am I saying this? Because I think it speaks to some of the work in the movement, and I think in particularly the solidarity economy. And it speaks to the success of some of our advocacy, even if we didn’t necessarily see it borne out as we wanted to, before COVID-19, in practice. But beyond that advocacy, now the practice of cooperation and care is here on a level I think far faster, wider, and deeper than we imagined even six months ago. It’s here now. The question I think is to what degree can it be politicized, and to what end?
Read interview in full
Solidarity Economy Celebration Corner
1.) CommuniTechz is a brand new worker coop offering computer repair, setup, virus removal and support services in Pittsfield! We’ve seen this year just how important having a working computer is and that’s not changing anytime soon.
2.) There is a rich history and emerging movement of cooperative business and solidarity economy initiatives in Pioneer Valley, and in Franklin County in particular. Congratulations to solidarity economy winners of the Greenfield Recorder’s 2020 Favorites awards:
|1.) Movement moment required reading! Beautifully highlighting 27 grassroots and largely BIPOC-led mutual aid and solidarity based organizations and communities across Massachusetts. These groups were part of the Mass Redistribution Fund (MRF), a project hosted by the Center for Economic Democracy.|
The Mass Redistribution Fund (MRF) was created in early April 2020 by a group of Greater Boston-based social justice organizers. Their aim was two-fold: to support the immediate mutual aid crisis-response projects that were emerging in the vacuum of government neglect, and to strengthen social movements that are building community resilience and fighting for solutions that will prevent future crises.
As MRF garnered support from grassroots partners, donors and foundations, its leaders continued to expand the network across the state of Massachusetts to redistribute resources to community-led groups waging similar long-term fights and responding directly to their communities’ needs.
Explore the 2020 Mass Redistribution Fund Storybook
|2.) The power of community currency! Great introduction to BerkShares Local Currency, established and stewarded by Massachusetts’ own Schumacher Center for a New Economics in Great Barrington, MA. |
From The Boston Globe’s “When money is running short, print your own” written by Julia Hotz, December 24, 2020:”BerkShares, the region’s currency, are redeemable at over 400 Berkshires businesses — good for buying a pastry at the bakery or an hour of a lawyer’s time. Printed as real paper bills and adorned with hometown heroes like “The Souls of Black Folk’ author W.E.B. DuBois, BerkShares can be purchased at three local banks. And for shoppers, those fancy notes are more than just a reminder to ‘buy local’; they’re also a way to get 5 percent off, because $95 gets you 100 BerkShares.”
Events and Opportunities
|Greater Boston Chamber of Cooperatives is hosting a Collective Courage Reading Group! Connect with co-op and solidarity economy organizers through shared learning for liberation. The book features some sweet Massachusetts history including:|
In 1842 members of the Northampton Association established a ‘utopian’ community organized around a communally owned and operated silk mill. Like the co-ops of the Rochdale Pioneers, the co-operators of the Northampton association of Education and Industry had many facets and goals including the abolition of slavery, communal living, and racial and gender equality. They governed themselves democratically according to one member-one vote and many of the members lived above the silk factory that they operated as a worker co-operative…African American abolitionist speaker Sojourner Truth lived and worked at the Northampton Association for a number of years traveling to her speaking engagements along with Frederick Douglass and others from that home base.
Jessica Gorden Nemhard, Collective Courage, “Worker Co-operatives in Context,” p5
Contact Ivy Lee, GBCC Board Member and member of the Olio Culinary Collective at email@example.com if you’d like to join.
|Want to support people in your community to create worker-owned cooperatives?|
Check out the Center for Family Life (CFL) Cooperative Development Program’s first ever national and bilingual 6-session training series on organizing & supporting worker co-ops (biweekly, April-June). CFL has been building upon this series for 8 years in-person. This year, their virtual training series will be bilingual (English/Spanish), and they are welcoming groups and individuals from all across the United States interested in learning how to help communities organize worker cooperatives.
Join the Feb 17 info session to learn more! RSVP for the Feb 17 Info Session.