Alternative Economics Working Group Meeting 10/11/11
Rob Elleto: grad student at Hunter College studying geography, looking at ways GIS can be used to help social enterprises and radical enterprises, one of the projects included the solidarity economy with Maliha Safiri. People talked about mapping and databasing institutions in NYC. We thought this had resonance and immediacy because of what’s happening downtown, in a massive popular resistance to big banks and capitalist ideology of finance. This project started with the idea of alternative finance—let’s map them and get the information out about them—but it became bigger because there’s a whole world of alternative economics that’s taking place in NYC…which is useful for downtown. So thought we’d come here today to talk about what’s happening, reimagine the economy, and what we can do to strengthen this and use occupywallstreet to spread information about alternative economies. Agenda put together based on email thread—it’s open, isn’t fixed, we can add or remove things as needed.
Jordan: we’re in same class and program to work on this project and how we can perpetuate alternative economic ideas.
Sarah: I work as the coordinator of the New Economy Network, founded 2 years ago in 2008 crisis, to pull together orgs and ppl who were working for system redesign and not just marginal practice. Theory is that neoliberal economy marginalized any innovative practice that sought to do things differently. But they aren’t linked together and they aren’t collaborating. Mixed bag but have 350 members and 6 working groups, members range from Green America to small orgs of people working on alternative currencies. I’m a resource and not sure who I’m serving.
Joe: I have my own offering of a plan for peaceful revolution that I’ve been working on since 1995 and what I imagined was identifying basic principles that include commercialism is so lacking in morality that if society were to take a moral and rational order we would replace commercialism with some other way of interacting. You can see how this on the website, I always claim to have made a scientific breakthrough in that I have a solar compass for the human domain, my background is in electrical engineering from CalTech but I believe we have to rescue birthday from the astrology, argues it is even the key to justice. I imagined revolution by discussion and we should work out out front the new economic order we want.
Judy: Retired entrepreneur in Philly, activist in local food movement, cofounded BALLE (livingeconomies.org) and what we do is work with local independent businesses to build sustainable and living economies. We want to take power from Wall street to Main street and build local economies that meet local community needs. I’m here because I’m interested in how we can take this opportunity to bring more people into the local economy movement.
Jose: I’ve been involved with occupywallstreet actively for the last few weeks, I figured it would match my interests and academic background. The spirit of occupywallstreet is we can do this ourselves, we don’t have to wait for answers, so we can provide guidance. That’s why I’m here.
Mike: I’m a professor at Brooklyn College, involved with Brooklyn Food Coalition, and a co-director of the Participatory Budgeting Network. Done a lot of work on food systems, trying to get connection between alternatives and scale up to create systemic reverberation. I was involved with the US Solidarity Economy Network and Cheyenna is why I am here tonight.
Thaddus: I have a background in business and philosophy, one is ethical and one is not. I’ve always been interested in alternative economic models. Student at Brooklyn college, wants to see what other economic models can look like.
Sam: Liz’s best friend wanted to see what happening.
Simon?: part of PB, working for district 45, did a food assessment as well, also trying to learn more about this project.
Ifa: I’m with First Fruits Development, out of Brooklyn community board three in the Bed Stuy area. I’m here for all of the above but the key word seems to be alternative. I’m going to try to hopefully in addition to listening myself urge you all to listen to a radical new approach that the occupywallstreet movement that was done months earlier will open up avenues for policy and demonstration programs in alternative economics, including redefining what economics is.
Cheyenna: I’m with SolidarityNYC and I’ve been working with a collective in Brooklyn to map the solidarity economy in NYC over the last 2.5 years. We’re excited that now that it’s ready, along with films of people talking about why they participate in alternative economics, we have this wonderful moment to move forward with these resources and begin organizing.
Annie: I also work with Cheyenna at SolidarityNYC and I work at Responsible Endowments Coalition, where I work with universities that want to move their money into community investment. I’m excited about individual and institutional action and I’m excited to be involved in the mapping projects.
Sergio: I’m occupying at Wall Street and I saw Cheyenna’s poster and thought it was the most interesting thing and solid solutions so wanted to learn more.
Earle: I work for the Working World, we’ve been around since 2005 and we’ve been active in Argentina and just came to NYC, we support worker cooperatives and just invested some 2 million, all with an alternative finance model that I won’t go into now, and I’m here just to find out what’s going on and meet all of you and learn more about the burgeoning alternative finance community in NYC.
Brendan: I cofounded Working World, decided to form an alternative finance model in Argentina and so we didn’t have many people and no money, so we’re interested in worker control and how to support that—we try to promote a model and are trying to make proof of concepts of models that are debt free and solvent. We kinda kick the shit out of most banks at everything except taking people’s money. We make an investment and use microcredit and we don’t make any debts, so if it works that’s great and if it doesn’t that’s ok, so it’s zero extraction, over 90% have paid off. All to worker coops.
Dan: I’m with the Capital Institute and what we’re focused on is that our economic system is driving social inequality and outside our environmental limits, so we’re looking to reform current system because we cant build alternatives quickly enough, but at the same time we have to build alternatives. We work with people who come out of the traditional financial system to use the language of finance to reform the system.
Liz: I work here at the NFCDCU where we do training and investments (secondary capital and nonmember deposits) and I’ll be speaking about credit unions at the GA on Tuesday. I know the president of this organization is interested in a move your money campaign, but I just read a great book called Changing the Game, and I was sharing that earlier with people but what I want is consumer protection, regulation, and reform. I want to make the alternatives grow fast enough to meet the needs of people, how do we work within the system and change it and move forward. Not sure how we do that but glad to talk about it.
Dale: I’m occupying Wall Street and I’ve been interested in worker coops and alternatives. I didn’t really know what I was walking into but I feel really glad to be here.
–Booth at occupywallstreet where we can give out information about economic alternatives
–What does it mean to you in relationship to your campaigns?
Sarah: What’s the right relationship with the occupation? I’m worried about people trying to co-opt the movement and people saying this is going to build power for our agenda. I don’t want to be part of that raiding of the energy, so it’s about support and letting the agenda emerge and then supporting education and development. Not so much about how do we use the occupation than about how do we support the development and articulation.
Ifa: I want to be an agenda item for the occupation. It’s one thing to say we need/want an alternative economy, but it’s another to actually build it. So I am going to open an alternative bank. I want to offer a line item and we need a philosophical definition of change and here is a tangible and working model of how that philosophy works. Let’s issue our own currency, back it with real economic activity with skills sets and barter and land, so this is the model and what I’d like to set up at OWS.
Robert: So you would create literature?
Ifa: The whole vibe and consensus is that this is beyond talk and about what can actually be achieved. It’s time to not only write and educate but to move.
Annie: I see all this energy and potential to translate something into warranted feelings of Wall Street into something we can get behind. A lot of people have been talking about creating alternatives but wanting to plug people into what communities have already been doing. Plugging in and creating to focus on positive alternatives.
Sergio: The gift economy is beautiful but it isnt sustaininable and it isnt bridging to alternatives that already exist. For example the kitchen or comfort we get so many donations that we store it, but then we lock up resources that could also be gifted into another community.
Dale: I want to respond to the co-optation thing Sarah said. I’ve been there since the 17th and we’ve been talking about using what is happening there to build an alternative economy and many think it is the most powerful thing that could come out of it. So we’ve been talking about forming a working group to move resources in that direction.
Sarah: A lot of new networks can be built but there are also transformations of existing institutions, so I want to make sure our agenda includes the big systemic political action that needs to happen.
Ifa: So you mean like BerkShares should be included in the mix?
Sarah: In addition to creating a currency we should organize people around what they can do around corporate personhood, financial transaction tax, etc. There are changes that need political support and part of systemic change is putting appropriate energy into the new stuff while also addressing reforms of the dominant economy.
Dan: The FTTD is getting traction.
Sarah: I think we need to have both and all cylinders.
Cheyenna: Can we keep stack? Also, we need to look at this as a movement building opportunity. The existing alternatives are often grounded in communities that we haven’t reached yet. There has been a lot of criticism of occupywallstreet that is really focused on privilege, so if we can move people into this space and engage we can build a movement locally that will be a model for other occupations.
Brendan: so does that mean you want to focus on local?
Cheyenna: My personal politics are to focus on building alternatives because I think we’re going to get the reforms if we get enough people onto the streets, the Dems are going to co-opt. I can be living in a bubble but I think it’s going to happen. I’m hopeful at least.
Ifa: All politics is local. And these things are happening on the hill…
Liz: I think there are these large structures that need to be accountable and transparent and we know the banking and finance dept have now merged in NYC and now the superintendent says he meets with bankers every day, we meet with him once a quarter. So we need to be as vigilant and as serious as they are.
Malhia: I know these guys from working with Mariana so we’re part of a larger effort to map the solidarity economy in NYC, Atlanta, Jersey, and other places.
Robert: We want to do a lot of things. 1. Strengthen and support the alternative economy, and do education and awareness building with the occupiers and the visitors. 2. There’s discussion of creating new alt economies. 3. There’s also discussion of legislation.
Mike: Can we go through agenda?
Dan: I think we should consider addressing it first because it will reflect on how we go through it.
Brendan: I like the idea Sarah said it should all be on the agenda but I do also agree with Cheyenna that I hate the possibility of something more radical being co-opted.
Dan: To all these points it might make sense that this meeting is going to focus on all these things. The third thing might be a separate group entirely. Most people want to focus on alternatives so maybe we should look at the legislation being another option.
Sarah: Maybe we can provide a menu of options within the occupation. Let them tell us.
Dale: Maybe it is my bias but just from talking to people at the occupation we’ve talked about ways to build an autonomous economy is that most of what I’m hearing is try to raise money to start worker coops that would be run like nonprofits and put extra money towards starting other kinds of businesses but that’s what I’ve been hearing.
Jose: The benefit of being horizontal and autonomous is that we can work on everything.
Dale: So this is a working group? What’s it called?
Robert: This is a thematic working group that the info desk said. We could be pulled into a working group though that is handling the function of occupation. It’s called Alternative Economies.
Sergio: The people there would be into this but if we start pulling people into worker coops then that’s definitely a working group.
Robert: let’s table the legislation conversation because that wasn’t the intention and maybe a separate group will form. But for now let’s move into the actual campaigns.
Ifa: yeah and the experts will know what legislation needs to happen and will know the lobbying and all that, so it will end up there. Seems the three alternatives already working and can be grown are: alternative currency, bartering, worker coops. An emphasis on those three and a marketing on those three, including reaching out to those already doing that, will be very successful. It will be very different than the usual capital structures of stocks/bonds/debt to create a real economy that serves people.
Robert: I am hoping that the pace we move through the agenda. Participatory budgeting is already moving through our City and is all about bringing democracy to governance and economics. Will Mike or someone else describe it.
Mike: 25 years ago in Porto Alegre the economy had crashed and no one trusted the new leaders and their economy sucked. So one leader said rather than impose my top-down vision I’m going to take away the budgeting from local officials and give it to the people. Country moving from dictatorship to democracy in economic collapse, where the similarities between our cases are I’ll leave to you. People from different backgrounds like it because people become involved, educated, and it eases corruption. It made it here which is shocking but a gentleman in Chicago did it 3 years ago with a million in discretionary funds so he got excited and came here and met with 4 people. So now there is a million in each for capital funds on a discretionary basis and the residents get to determine what to fund and the official submits it the same way they would have. Thadus and Kenneth are involved in the offices, it is 3 Dems and 1 Republican. We are assembly phase, there are district committees in each hood, and then we have a steering committee that’s citywide. Delegates have to be trained, take ideas generated in assemblies, then they work with relevant city agencies for vetting for feasibility and etc., then they develop proposals and in Jan the ballot is constructed, presented to assembles again, then little ballots are made and people vote on each. Cost for each proposal has to be between 35,000 and a million. Rules for voting you have to be 18 years and old a resident of the district, you don’t have to be a citizen. Lots of ways to plug in, you can attend any neighborhood assembly and you can be a delegate if you have any connection to what’s happening.
Robert: What’s the connection with OWS?
Mike: There are all of these public budgets and we’ve been trying to do this for a long time, so this is a way to do social-civil instead of private-public (corporate) that can create its own rules around community development.
Sarah: we could submit proposals for alternative economies we’re trying to build and then mobilize for getting it.
Jose: the occupation is also trying to allocate funds. They’ll need these skills.
Judy: I don’t see how it is forming an alt economy. I don’t see how it is about creating an alt.
Mike: The public budgets play a big role in the alt econ including what they own and manage, so this is a wedge and they could fund an aquaponics project—again this is capital budget. Capitalism cant function without capital, so just taking money out of developers pockets and instead putting it into social and decommodified spaces can be used to build the alt economy.
Annie: I see it as intricately linked as well because it’s democratizing the process of budgeting, so occupywallstreet is a leaderless and horizontal movement, and this seems to me to be an extension of that. So this is true and direct democracy and moving it into what people want. How do we get more districts to sign on? How can my district sign on?
Mike: we had hearings at City Hall and there were 10 and then a lot got cold feet and want to see how it goes. This concludes in March so feel free to attend to push for others to move.
Ifa: How does this gel with the Community Board?
Mike: Boards aren’t participatory and so the assemblies get to make proposals. The boards are only advisory right now anyway and have no power over the money.
Ifa: Big difference then is the participatory process has much more power than community planning?
Mike: the Board can make own recommendations and ignore everyone but then the Borough President has to make decision.
Dan: Where was money going before? Would some of this money coming out of infrastructure?
Mike: Before it was up to each councilmember so they had rules but could give it to a school, a developer, a park, a school, etc. As long as it’s a capital investment its fine and up to them. So this is a part of the budget that is very corrupt and there’s a nasty history, even Christine Quinn has created groups and then given them money. The money comes from bonds, so the taxpayer pays it eventually.
Dan: So its possible if these groups become unpopular then they could just give money to whoever needed it?
Mike: So that’s good that it’s bipartisan.
IMMEDIATE WAYS IT CAN CONNECT:
Sarah: distribute information, do education, and then take creative action to organize people to put proposals forward in the processes and see if we can get money to start certain projects.
Mike: it’s a process and it’s also a way to get people to promote a solidarity economy in their districts.
Dale: before you think of bringing proposals before the GA you should open the working group to the GA by making an announcement so people can participate
Ethan: Not sure if it’s a strategic question or if we should get occupiers out and into the world, part of the idea is to begin to create linkages. I don’t even know how it is working internally but maybe just getting interested figures out there in these 4 districts.
Brendan: We can support current processes and then move others to take action to lobby their officials to allow for PB?
Dan: WE SHOULD BE DOING OUTREACH FOR PBNYC. I’M THINKING WE NEED A TABLE FOR THE GROUP.
Mike: We’re doing a teach-in on the Oct 22nd.
Dan: Next item is the solidarity economy. If someone wants to speak to what it is and how it relates to occupywallstreet. We only have 39 minutes. So what can we do moving forward.
Sergio: Break it down into sectors and give each group a list on how that applies on that scale, so give all food to the kitchen.
Annie: These orgs can also support occupywallstreet and these guys aren’t necessarily supporting this yet but they could. Organizing and movement building.
Sarah: There’s so much media down at the occupation so how can we get the media to make the solidarity economy visible to more New Yorkers. Can we shine a light on this network?
Cheyenna: We can do a tour, if we want, or we can put the credit union film of occupywallstreet talking about why they chose a credit union for their banking online, and maybe even get some cash to help pay filmmakers. As a working class person I realize not everyone can volunteer time, so we want to make participation in this movement accessible to everyone, including filmmakers. That could fit in with the bank transfer day.
Dan: Can we move onto this discussion of credit unions? We don’t have much time. Can Liz talk about Bank Transfer Day?
Liz: Credit unions have been around for a long time and are an older concept, the difference between CDCUs and other CUs is that they support marginalized communities, mostly people of color. So we work with the larger network around the country, but LESPFCU is one of our members. This is something that will help the larger movement and I do see credit unions as the alternative. Credit unions are the only alternative to a mainstream bank. I was interested in occupywallstreet because it is important step to move your money, because I thought in 2008 there would be a huge movement of money out of banks but the problem is that credit unions aren’t known. Creating that avenue through this campaign might be possible. Credit unions have a reach but they have fields of membership and theyre regulated by a natl credit union association, and theyre regulated very heavily as opposed to the FDIC, so we’re seeing a bunch consolidating and merging and getting bought out. It’s exciting that credit unions are being put out there but it’s worrisome..all the businesses are doing an expo and the banks aren’t lending so the only alternative is for people to go to other places.
Dale: We can definitely promote that heavily, make an announcement, as a working group that will be successful.
Sergio: OccupyAustin on their second day all went to the banks and took their money out and then they may not have had an alternative.
?: What is CDFI?
Liz: They can be community development organizations that started to do various things.
Brendan: there are other forms of alternative finance and it’s awesome that credit unions are happening but I’ve been part of a board trying to create a natl one for worker coops, but there are other alternatives that we can do. You can have a local CDFI that the govt doesn’t regulate. It can be really simple and functional and doesn’t have to be all barter, It’s risky and harder but you can actually start using capital for what it is needed for. We could do a local venture worker coop fund.
Ifa: A good film/youtube video the one where it’s obvious the big banks are resistant, but there is a very hot video about what is happening in St. Louis of a swat team making sure people didn’t do a run on the bank.
Liz: It’s hard to actually close your account.
Robert: One of the resps from North Carolina visited the occupy rally Raleigh actually introduced legislation that would require all banks to allow customers to close their accounts and get their money back immediately.
Sarah: I think a technicial assistance table is necessary and we need to trust them. I think it was hard to do and not just the publicity.
Cheyenna: I did a credit union event a few years ago for people to move their money and the credit unions were excited to come out. Maybe we could do an alternative banking fair in a park we want to occupy and they can sign people up on the spot. All the credit unions could be there. We could also talk to direct action about maybe making more of the swat videos of people not being able to take their money out, then we could support legislation without actually having to write a letter.
Annie: what does it mean to be a thematic working group?
Dale: It’s about the groups with themes instead of being about the functioning of the occupation. We should know the difference.
Jose: working groups do things that are related to the movement. We can be a working group because we’re doing stuff for the movement.
Robert: I’m going to say Alternative Economics group for now, we’ll have further discussions with the structure at occupywallstreet to figure it out. Meeting time and space: open space indoors at the Atrium, closes at 10. Meet at the occupation and then walk over. Will find out about Fed as permanent home.
Sarah: We should recruit someone from the finance committee to get excited by the work of the alt economics.
Dale: Proposals have to get run by legal and finance.
Dan: We’d be an umbrella group and have people who work on subcommittees.
FINAL TIME: Thursday at 530PM, at original point of meeting at the west end of the marble wall
Concrete Actions Under Consideration:
-Table with information (including map and orgs)
-Register this officially with the GA
-Reach out to open source people
-Linking specific sectors of solidarity economy with those mini-sectors within the occupation
-Linking PB process into the SE and the occupation
-Reach out to direct action to make videos of people trying to take money out of banks
-Credit union video with finance committee
-Having people from credit unions come and have a fair on alt banking
-Having a tour of SE or groups of ppl to credit unions which means taking ppl from occupywallstreet into community
-Money for the worker coop fund
-Alternative bank within the occupation
-Divestment by universities