Dear Cooperation Eugene community
These times call for deep thinking and fearless conversations. It is not a coincidence that the New Economy movement, which is the inspiration for Cooperation Eugene, is being spearheaded by Black communities around the country. Since our inception as an organization, almost 2 years ago, I have been pondering how our positionality, as a white organization in a white city in a state intentionally constructed as white from its exclusionary founding, informs our work as part of a national New Economy network. Some things I’ve observed: 1) our community is largely buffered from the harsh consequences of the dominant racialized economy, 2) that is not to say we don’t experience alienation from our labor, economic displacement, and the impacts of the global economy that motivate us to create something new, 3) while Eugene has a fine history of developing cooperatives and prizes itself as a liberal bastion, it does not have the history of radicalizing and persistent struggle that is experienced by many African American communities. We haven’t developed the muscles for sustained life and death collective action. 4) If we see ourselves as a node in a national network to shift the economy to the people, then our successful organizing, here in Eugene, is a stand in solidarity with African Americans and other marginalized peoples who are calling us to disinvest from this racist economy. (Movement Generation has a series of “course correction” webinars to learn about Just Transition that I recommend https://movementgeneration.org/our-work/training-analysis/coursecorrection/)
In March we were discussing convening a “Regenerative Futures Summit” to pull together the active solutions evinced in our community towards an effort to build infrastructures that can sustain a new economic ecosystem. One based on local resources for local needs, disinvesting our wealth from the global economy while reinvesting locally, and supporting economic democracy with cooperative ventures and participatory policy.
With Covid we were given an opportunity to pause. With Black Lives Matter we are experiencing the beginnings of systems shift that we have been longing for. The terrain is changing. What is the best use of our energies and how can we leverage our collective action toward this shift?
Our stance has always been “solutions focused” working from a framework of community ownership and empowerment that has been modeled historically by Black communities. A lot of our great ideas have had difficulty getting off the ground. Is it a matter of time? A matter of timing? A need for skill and resource development? Weaknesses in our abilities to cooperate? I don’t know, these are things we need to investigate. In the meantime, Black leadership has given us some challenges and direction.
As a relatively “woke” white community our job is to examine our relationship to the racialized economic system that we swim in and to listen to the perspectives of those who experience this system from a different vantage point. Ibram Kendi (How To Be An Anti-Racist – our study circle choice for August) is a good teacher.
“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there. (https://theundefeated.com/features/ibram-kendi-leading-scholar-of-racism-says-education-and-love-are-not-the-answer/?)
Let us have the courage to investigate deeply the economic and structural roots of our perspectives and feelings. Let us have the courage to step out of our comfort zones and into the leadership needed to transform our society. I am calling for a renewed team of leaders to focus on defining our next steps. Please email Clarestrawn@gmail.com if you have thoughts or intentions.