When I think of my family history, I realize they are the foundation of my dedication to cooperative economics. My mother and her sisters all lived within six blocks of each other and raised their families as a little village. I have memories of my mother and her sisters sitting down at the end of every month to reconcile finances, squaring up purchases they had made for one another throughout the month. They did a giving circle in order to help one another save up for down payments on their home. I still don’t think any of them would have been able to give voice to the structures; I think they would tell you they were doing what they had always done. But they were living out but their belief and values, the one they had always embodied — that none of them could do it alone. Collective care was the key to their collective future.
When I think of the future I want to invest one, it’s one in which we pool resources and make sure that people have what they need. The problem in our country isn’t a lack of resources. There are more houses than homeless people. There is an absurd amount of food waste and so many hungry people. We have a distribution problem as opposed to a wealth or production problem.
For my paid work, I organize with Beloved Community Incubator. We began by pouring our resources into one specific cooperative, Dulce Hogar Cleaning Cooperative. COVID has given us the opportunity to create a network that makes it easier for cooperatives to share resources with one another. Again with cooperatives, there isn’t a lack of capital, resources, or knowledge. We need to create a commons where it is easier to share knowledge, barter skills, and scale up. I believe we can create a commons where cooperatives across sectors work together to care for workers, provide benefits, and encourage collective care.
I also organize with a mutual aid group in Ward 2. We distribute and redistribute food, household supplies, cleaning supplies, and some cash assistance to local families, while organizing to change systems in our city (ie cancel the rent, excluded worker financial aid). Mutual aid work can quickly fall into charity but at its best – it says we are community, we have enough, we can redistribute resources so everyone has their most basic needs met, and help create space for people to participate more fully in public life.
As a young person at a Jesuit University in Baltimore, I found that almost all of our “service and justice” opportunities and teachings were rolled up in the personal transformation — our own service trips and leadership development or volunteering with long-standing non-profits to provide direct aid – in the form of meals or street outreach primarily. As a young adult, I moved to Washington, DC and discovered community organizing. I fell in love with campaigns – creating affordable housing, creating jobs, changing laws/policy. The organizing work fell in line with changing dominant institutions and often dismissed protest/direct action/mass mobilization. But I always knew that protests helped galvanize around an issue and my pastor talked about how organizing energy as just as important as organizing money, people, and institutions. What intrigued me most about the Funding Social Movements Guide is the exertion that we underfund critical parts of the movement (namely, protest that can move the overton window) and that all are equally necessary.
My current work with BCI places me firmly within the creating institutions camp, but I’m most excited about BCI’s potential collaborations with organizations that are focused on changing dominant institutions. We are working with base building organizations, focused on immigrants and long-term black residents, and hope to collaborate with them to provide technical assistance and incubation to groups of their members to create cooperatives.
I wonder in the cooperative movement, how can we capitalize on the moment we’re in? How do we use the current political moment to shift our institutions and summarily judge our institutions by the material, practical outcomes they produce in people’s lives? Black Lives Matter is not only a rallying cry against police brutality but a moral imperative for all of our institutions. The case for coops is that they thrive during market failure, but it is not new that racialized capitalism has failed black, brown, and indigenous communities. It is not the case that black coops have never existed, rather much of the history of black coops has been purposely ocluded. What would it look like for the racial equity/reparations framework to infuse the housing cooperative movement? Or in a country where between 25% – 30% of POC are unbanked, how could the cooperative banking movement play a role? I want our goals correlated to the gravity of the moment. I have more questions than answers, but the ones that always center me are:
- Who have we paid attention to? Are we paying attention to? Should we pay attention to?
- Who have we been historically been accountable to? Currently accountable to? Should we be accountable to?
- Who has benefited from our work? Who is currently benefitting from our work? Who SHOULD be benfitting from our work?