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Background: Forum on the Solidarity Economy
March 19-22, 2009
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Co-convened with Universidad de los Andes (Venezuela) & RIPESS-NA (Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy - N. America)
The first U.S. Forum on the Solidarity Economy aims to bring together a diverse array of people and organizations to share ideas and practices, to forge new connections, and to build a more powerful and cohesive movement for a just, democratic and sustainable economy. This four day conference will include an inspiring range of solidarity economy tours, workshops, plenaries and cultural events. We invite solidarity economy practitioners and resource organizations, social movement activists, workers, academics, students, researchers, cultural workers, journalists and other fellow travelers, to come and be part of the growing global movement to build ‘another economy' and ‘another world'.
What is the Solidarity Economy?
The Solidarity Economy (SE) is an alternative framework for economic development that is grounded in principles of solidarity, equity in all dimensions, participatory democracy, sustainability and pluralism. The solidarity economy framework seeks transformation rather than band-aid solutions, yet rejects one-size-fits-all blueprints. It isn't abstract theory nor pie in the sky utopianism. Rather, it pulls together and builds upon the many elements of the solidarity economy that already exist. Some are new innovations, some are old. Other elements have yet to be realized or even imagined, and the journey of creation is ongoing.
A vibrant movement for another economy is growing in the U.S. and around the world. People are working together to build an economy that is grounded in principles of social solidarity, cooperation, egalitarianism, sustainability and economic democracy.
Indeed, we need not build a new economy from scratch; the seeds of a robust solidarity economy are already planted. Many features of existing economies are likely ‘keepers', for example, environmental protections, minimum wage and labor regulations and public education. Other elements of the solidarity economy could be characterized as ‘economic alternatives' such as worker, consumer and housing cooperatives, land trusts, social currencies, community supported agriculture, social investment funds, participatory budgeting, green technologies, and the commons movement. Solidarity economy practices are also powerfully rooted in social and economic justice movements that are organizing against the oppression of women, people of color, poor people, people with disabilities, workers, immigrants, indigenous peoples and against the destruction of the planet.
Taken together, all of these elements offer stepping stones toward a new way of organizing our economy that social movements around the world are calling the "solidarity economy." There is a growing global movement to advance this framework as an alternative to the failed model of neoliberal, corporate-dominated globalization.
While some elements of the solidarity economy have existed for hundreds of years, the framework itself is young and still evolving. Defining the solidarity economy is an ongoing process of practice, research, reflection, discussion, and debate, and we look forward to engaging with all of you with open minds and spirits.
Why a Forum on the Solidarity Economy
We face today an historic opening to create and push for a new framework for social and economic development - one that puts people and planet before private profits and power. There are serious cracks in the ruling model of economic globalization that we call neoliberalism. Its policies that privilege big corporations and Wall Street have contributed very generously to the crisis that we currently face: a world sliding into a serious economic downturn, greased by a teetering financial system, an obscene divide between rich and poor, deepening poverty, growing unemployment, rising food and energy prices, and climate change.
Its global promoters - the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization are dogged by protesters and beleaguered by criticism from outside and inside their ranks. In Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Bolivia, left-leaning governments have been swept to power under the banner of anti-neoliberalism.
Ironically, the global penetration of neoliberalism has created conditions of misery and poverty that are fueling the growth of the solidarity economy. In the midst of growing inequality and corporate power, government cutbacks, privatization and de-regulation, many people and communities are building pieces of the solidarity economy. These may be acts of resistance, idealism, practicality, survival or desperation. In Brazil and Venezuela1 the government and grassroots are working together to foster the social solidarity economy with remarkable success.
In the context of the current economic crisis and the possible death throes of neoliberalism, we have an opportunity to push for a fundamental transformation in oureconomic and social system, one in which the very assumptions about ‘what the economy is for' are challenged and transformed. Is the economy about maximizing profits and growth, producing and consuming ever more and more, and a rising stock market? Or should it be about people, our communities, connecting with family, friends, neighbors, kindred spirits and fellow humans; decent healthcare, jobs, education, and a healthy environment; opportunities to realize the best of our human potential; and the ability to have a say in how we achieve all of this? The solidarity economy is a global movement to push for the latter kind of economy.
While the U.S. has many solidarity economy practices and institutions, the term itself is almost unknown in this country. This Forum on the Solidarity Economy seeks to remedy that. In the midst of what has been called the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it is time to build the solidarity economy in the U.S and link up with the global movement for economic and social transformation. The Forum will be a space to meet, network, learn, discuss, debate, share, strategize, tour the local solidarity economy, celebrate and join the movement.
Aims of the Forum
1) Raise awareness and understanding of the solidarity economy among the general public, practitioners, support organizations, labor, academics, and social movements.
2) Strengthen cross-national linkages between all social solidarity economy sectors, practitioners, academics, and social movements. This includes strengthening linkages through RIPESS (see co-convenors below) and its continental networks.
3) Build up the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network and strengthen linkages between all solidarity economy sectors in this country.
4) Identify concrete strategies to advance the solidarity economy and where possible lay the groundwork for implementation.
5) Celebrate the solidarity economy.
6) Publish a book of the conference proceedings.
7) Publish a special issue of the Cayapa (Venezuelan journal on the social solidarity economy) focusing on the social solidarity economy in the U.S.
8) Seed a cross-national research working group on the social solidarity economy.
The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN) has convened this Forum as the first such conference on the solidarity economy in the U.S. SEN emerged out of a series of solidarity economy meetings at the U.S. Social Forum in June 2007. This Forum will be our inaugural meeting and we have interspersed several SEN organizational meetings in the schedule where we will make key decisions about structure, strategy and priorities. These meetings are open to anyone and we welcome input from all, although only members will be allowed to vote. Individuals and organizations will be able to join SEN at the Forum.
We are delighted that the Universidad de los Andes in Venezuela is working with us to convene this Forum. It just so happened that they were planning a conference in the U.S., focusing on the social solidarity economy in both the U.S. and Venezuela around the same time that we were planning to have ours. It made sense to combine the conferences and work together. Venezuela is engaged in some of the most innovative and wide-reaching initiatives to build the solidarity economy, in large part due to the serious support of the Venezuelan government. At the same time, we want to be clear that this is one model among many, and while tremendously important and inspiring, it is not the only path.
We are also happy to have RIPESS-N. America on board. This is the continental node of RIPESS (Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy) a global network of networks that connects solidarity economy networks that in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. RIPESS was instrumental in SEN's founding meetings at the U.S. Social Forum, and brings to this conference great knowledge, experience, and international connections regarding the solidarity economy. RIPESS will be having its Fourth International Forum on the Solidarity Economy in April 2009 in Luxemburg. We plan to organize a delegation from the U.S. to attend the Luxemburg conference and will dovetail this effort with the organizing and outreach for our Forum.
The program will kick off on Thursday March 19 with a tour of the solidarity economy in the Pioneer Valley. The rest of the program will include plenaries, concurrent workshops, and cultural events. We are working hard to integrate a process in which participants get to meet each other, brainstorm and strategize. Our hope is that people will take away some concrete next steps.
We currently have 9 broad tracks for workshops. Workshops can be cross listed under multiple tracks.
* Solidarity based finance, complementary currency
* Commons movement, social welfare programs, housing
* Solidarity based production, jobs, labor, unions
* Solidarity based distribution, marketing, consumption
* Solidarity Economy (SE) & the environment, sustainability, climate change
* SE & food sovereignty, food security, agricultural sustainability
* SE & democratic participation/ local economies
* SE research, measurement, collaborations
* SE networking, organizing & social movements
If you are interested in organizing a workshop, we will be sending out a finalized list of tracks, workshop guidelines and proposal forms shortly. We will try to accommodate as many proposals as possible while maintaining a balance in terms of what (issue), who (race, class, gender, age, academic, SE practitioner, SE support organization, activist), and where (geographical base).
Forum Working Groups
We have formed five working groups to plan and coordinate the Forum.
1) Outreach Working Group - responsible for outreach through listserves, blogs, calendars and other electronic media, as well as pieces in print, radio, TV.
2) Survey - we're working on a survey that will help us plan the Forum and prioritize recommendations for action.
3) Program - responsible for coordinating the SE tour, plenaries, workshops, and cultural events, conference materials, process/pedagogy.
4) Logistics - responsible for coordinating venue, accommodations, food, scholarships, registration, transportation, translation, childcare.
5) Fundraising - responsible for raising money to support the conference through grants, individual donors, program booklet ads, and grassroots fundraising.
Please let us know if you would like to contribute your talents to any of these groups.
Mark your calendars! Save the date! Spread the word! Join a working group! Another world is possible and the foundation exists all around us. Come and build the solidarity economy together.
For more information or to get involved in a working group, please contact:
Emily Kawano, Coordinator, U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, www.ussen.org, 413-545-0743, or email us
U.S. Solidarity Economy Network Coordinating Committee
* Carl Davidson, Global Studies Association, N. America
* Tanya Dawkins, Global-Local Links
* Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy
* Melissa Hoover & John Parker, U.S. Federation of Worker Coops
* Emily Kawano, Director, U.S. SEN & Center for Popular Economics
* Julie Matthaei & Jenna Allard Guramylay: Building the Green Economy
* Michael Menser, Amer. Fed. of Teachers, City University of NY
* Ethan Miller, Grassroots Economic Organizing
* Cliff Rosenthal & Dan Apfel, National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions
* Neelam Sharma, Community Services Unlimited
* Dan Swinney & Erica Swinney, Center for Labor and Community Research
* Elandria Williams, Highlander Research & Education Center