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?