I’m a pragmatist, committed to economic justice and I have worked to change the economy by doing different things for 40 years. Looking at the theory of change models I realize that I have been involved in a number of different strategies. I have been creating, supporting and investing in alternative models like cooperatives, community development financial institutions, small business funds, microfinance in the US and internationally, nonprofit housing developers, nonprofits, etc. I’ve also given many talks and workshops to encourage individuals to follow my example and do this kind of investing or do shareholder advocacy. And through shareholder advocacy, boycotts and protests I’ve tried to change the institutions themselves. Yet the economy has gotten worse for working people and communities of color. And I’ve been concerned about how much it has destroyed the earth for many years.
There are new terms being used today and new movements, but I am left with a nagging question: What will finally turn the tide? I’ve believed that the “mustard seed” has great power, that you just have to get to the “hundredth monkey”, that there’s a tipping point, but how long does that take? Recently seeing the documentary on the suffragette movement and realizing it took 70 years gave me some perspective. I know that this is a new moment and that the next generation is crucial to moving this forward. So what can I do NOW? I have experiences, observations, connections and soon will have more time. How do I use them productively? I think that the experience of Catholic sisters is a story that needs to be told, and I’m working with someone to write that history, but what else? with whom? I’m hoping that this workshop will give me connections to groups that I can support in some way. There is a lot happening, just reading folks’ introductions showed me that! How do I connect these groups to build another infrastructure? Wealthy people will not give up their resources or control easily, what will it take? I’m sure it will take revolution, I just hope we can do it nonviolently. And I believe it will take lots of inner transformation for all of us. So this workshop is my attempt to begin by establishing some new relationships as well as do my own inner work.
This may sound like I am impatient but I’m actually comfortable right now with being in a learning, connect with others mode. I haven’t had time to keep up with all the new groups that have formed and this workshop has already given me lots of websites to investigate and learn from now that I’m in a position to do that because I have more time. Recently watching videos of the suffragette movement, the freedom riders, and John lewis funeral has given me a greater understanding of just how long the arc of justice truly is. I have great hope in the young folks today and their energy and ability to mobilize using internet and technology.
I also reflected on the amount of personal transformation it will take to truly have a cooperative economy. I have lingering questions about the effects of our culture and our current economy on what we value and how we act, and COVID is showing us how difficult it is to get folks to care about the common good, not just their own. Many have shown great self-sacrifice and generosity, and those are key elements when we talk about cooperating. How many don’t show those qualities? And how many of us learn listening skills, the art of compromise, how to exercise cooperative leadership?
I was struck by the posts that talk about that kind of sharing in families. When I managed a small business fund we tried a shared model like Grameen bank and found that it didn’t work well unless women already shared a culture that valued cooperation. When someone defaulted on a payment the others just left the group and used their credit cards. The regular economy offered easier alternatives. They didn’t live in the same neighborhood or go to the same church or have relationships outside of the group so the peer pressure didn’t work.
So I think we need lots of personal transformation while also creating cultures and structures that support and incentivize those values. Often in the past folks went to study the kibbutz model for this very reason. I look forward to learning more from the folks in this workshop and getting connected to other networks.