When creating something new – can we actually imagine new rules?

I shared last week about my family’s ways of being around money – giving circles and communal economics. What I didn’t share about is their relationship to power. I would describe my parents as having a “keep your head down” attitude; the image that has always stayed in my head is a high school football player running through a tunnel formed by their teammates. Getting hit from all sides. Your only job is to keep your head down, run, and make it through to the other side. Their goals were assimilation, survival, and not bringing attention to themselves.

In high school, I went to a program called Anytown. We talked about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and privilege. At the end of the week, we had to create an action plan to create a more inclusive community in our high school. It BLEW MY MIND. It was a paradigm shift in an instant. Nobody had ever told me I could change my community, let alone that I had a responsibility to.

When I moved to Washington, DC – at 21 years old, I was exposed to broad-based organizing for the first time. It was the first time I was ever challenged about my relationship to power. I had the idea that power was bad, power corrupts. Over time, I was able to transform my intellectual understanding of power and have a positive relationship to the idea. Where I need to wrestle with my relationship to power is discipline – the discipline of relationship building to build relational power and money and the responsibility of power.

My frustration with broad based organizing was generally that we didn’t have ENOUGH power to compete with multi-national corporations and workers paid the price. It was difficult to have people MOST impacted by the systems at the center of campaigns and even MORE difficult when we didn’t win. How do we mobilize enough people and money and the create the necessary paradigm shifts to create the change we need at the scale we need it? It can sometimes overwhelm me.

When I was reading Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, I was thinking about policing and mass incarceration. It isn’t a system I have spent a lot of time analyzing, but I have numerous family members who are law enforcement officers. The collective reckoning that is happening is both inspiring and painful in our interpersonal relationships. What I realize is you can’t fight a paradigm with a fact and their paradigm is one of punishment and consequences. I think the goal of our policing system is to warehouse people we find undesirable, while stating that it is rehabilitation. We think incarceration and more incarceration can solve the ills of homelessness and drug addiction, and crime in general.  And even when in our guts, we know it doesn’t solve it – it’s a temporary resolution to the disruption/annoyance/crime loop.

A police officer in my family was sharing recently the complaint of a fellow officer. This fellow officer had happened upon a scene – young boys had broken into an abandoned house in the neighborhood. The story was relayed as such: the officer talked to them and spoke to them about breaking the law, the boys ran off, the homeowner was called and the home was re-boarded up. The complaint from the officer was that the boys got off without consequence. And I was so startled – because I felt like the situation ended as positively as it possibly could have. I was glad the young boys didn’t get arrested and glad the homeowner was called. I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about reading and learning about abolition. All the abolitionists I read talk repeatedly about how nobody is served by the system as it is, pointing out its anomalies and failures. I am grateful for that reminder and want to follow in that tradition which inspires us to create a system where no one is disposable.

My thoughts are all over the place, but I am also interested in having the conversation about the goals of the cooperative economy. Is the goal to replicate the current economy (constant growth, ecological devastation)? In the economy as it is – how can we provide living wages without constant growth/consumption? As BCI embarks on the creation of a network to support cooperatives in the DMV, I want us to ask these questions. What rules should exist in the economy? What’s the goal of our network, but also what’s the goal of our local economy?

6 thoughts on “When creating something new – can we actually imagine new rules?

  1. I think the questions that you pose at the end of your piece are shared by many. What would be your answers to them?

    You spoke twice in your piece about the power of interventions on young people. Is there a role for young people in your work and the greater “movement” of Shared Ownership?

    You rightly point out that the question “How do we mobilize enough people and money and then create the necessary paradigm shifts to create the change we need at the scale we need it?” is overwhelming. Have you considered turning the problem upside down and asking “How do I change this block?” or some other smaller microcosm. Is thinking small the wrong frame?

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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  2. When have you felt the most powerful?

    I loved your line: “It was a paradigm shift in an instant.”

    What might create more of those Anytown program-like paradigm shifts in different parts of your world you describe here?

    What power are you most looking to build in the near term?

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  3. Thank you so much for this post. I’m struck by what you share about the abolitionists and I wonder what kind of power you think they harnessed to build a new future. How did they seize power and is there something we can learn from it and apply today?

    Also, I’m so curious to hear more about where you’re landing with these last questions about the rules of the system. Do you think your work in the cooperative economy is about rewriting the rules or innovating within the boundaries of an existing set of rules? Maybe some of both?

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  4. Thanks so much for sharing this, Bianca!

    Your description of your family trying to assimilate and to survive resonates deeply – I feel like my family continues to be in that space 3-4 generations post immigrating to the US from Russia/ Poland. I also want to acknowledge that I feel like our families have engaged different power dynamics around assimilation, as my family has been able to pass as white for a couple of generations. Anyway, I want to share that this part of your writing resonates with me.

    I also love the questions that you ask at the end and I’m excited to think about engaging them with BCI and in DC. I’m especially wondering if/ how we can hep facilitate experiences for the people we’re building relationship with with respect to these questions that might have similar impact to the kind of paradigm-shifting experience that you describe having with the Anytown program.

    Sending appreciation your way!

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  5. Bianca, thank you for this post! It hits home. My parents share the “keep your head down” approach and I sense their confusion at seeing their children adopt “stick your neck out” activism! Do you feel a certain power, responsibility, or opportunity standing with a foot in both worlds, where you feel compelled to act but deeply understand the survival strategies of assimilation?
    I read a sense of reckoning with your family (I share this feeling) in light of our moment. I’m blown over by your comment “You can’t fight a paradigm with a fact”–it hits on something I think so many of us have felt. I often express it as “you can’t reason with them” or “they’re operating with a totally different set of facts” but your juxtaposition of paradigm v fact actually gives me hope. Because it gives me a road out. It makes me realize we actually need to talk paradigms (a word I’m still trying to wholly understand!) not sets of facts or series of arguments. How do we untangle paradigms?
    You point out how “difficult to have people MOST impacted by the systems at the center of campaigns” and it feels like you’ve hit on a powerful leverage point to shift that. I hope you explore it!

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  6. I’m struck by so many things with your post! The vulnerability to name the feeling of being all over the place resonates with me, as well as I’m sure many of us… The visual of a football player during a drill as a way to explain this desire of safety your parents wished for you in navigating this culture steeped in so much injustice and rules to just survive. Keeping your head down is safe and effective- but not exactly selfless.

    The internal conflict in reprogramming the machine that’s not broken to some or works well enough for others was evident in this entry. When you ask what should be the rules in this economy- I just see a future where cooperative movements can at least create pockets of funds and people that serve as models for others and keep monies and ideas contained in areas where others can model the behavior. In our lifetimes, the global economy may not ever see a reinvention overall, but we can chip chip chip away for a solution and mindset we leave for others to keep teaching and impacting…

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