The New Economy Coalition (NEC) held its “CommonBound” conference in Buffalo NY last weekend, with nearly 1,000 activists and organizers in attendance. The NEC is a coalition of about 160 organizations that work on various aspects of what they call the “New Economy”. This includes projects in renewable energy, organizing cooperatives and credit unions, forming community land trusts, time-banking and alternative currencies, municipal participatory budgeting, and various community organizing initiatives to build local power, all within a grassroots, intersectional and anti-oppression political framework. The NEC describes the movement this way:
“All around us, innovators are building cooperative, ethical, and community-rooted enterprises, reclaiming the commons, and democratizing and reorienting finance. We are finding new ways to share skills and goods, measure success, and meet growing human needs on a finite planet. At the same time, our growing mobilizations in the streets are building power to resist and replace unjust systems. Through all of these efforts, a movement is emerging that could change our society and the world.”
A great example is the local, highly-regarded group People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo. The conference featured a tour of PUSH Buffalo’s West Side “Green Development Zone” which has projects in affordable housing construction, weatherization, community gardens, neighborhood park renovations, and greenhouses to grow plants for stormwater retention, all as part of sustainable and democratic local economic development for the creation of living wage jobs for the community.
The energy of the gathering and the quality of presentations at CommonBound was impressive and shows the depth and extent of a growing Left movement for systemic change. The conference also appeared to be fairly free of traditional Left jargon and embraced a pluralistic outlook, not requiring commitments to any specific political ideology. One common theme seemed to be the desire among participants to find more ways for various groups and projects to link together and assist eachother, and to develop sustainable funding for the work.
We can think of the economy as operating in 5 spheres – Production, Consumption, Distribution, Finance and Governance. Examples of “New Economy” projects in each area include:
- Production – Worker Cooperatives, Worker Centers and Labor Unions
- Consumption – Housing and Food cooperatives, Community Land Trusts
- Distribution – Time Banking
- Finance – Credit Unions, Public Banking, Alternative Currencies
- Governance – Participatory Budgeting, Commons
Solidarity Research Center supports projects like these that strengthen our collective capacity to engage in these areas in a democratic, participatory way for a post-capitalist future. If we want to eventually have social ownership and democratic planning of the economy, we need to practice that and create more institutions that enable it.
Solidarity Research Center has also been working with NEC on an analysis of their membership survey data to see how the members think about and organize around the concept of the “New Economy”. While many member groups prefer a transition to a post-capitalist system, they think about this work in various ways, even calling it different things such as a Fair Economy, Solidarity Economy, or Sustainable Economy. The NEC has ongoing work to strengthen and grow this network, and to find creative ways to support and publicize the great organizing campaigns of its members. For more information about the New Economy Coalition and the CommonBound conference, see www.neweconomy.net.