Taking Down and Building Up: Open Bookkeeping’s Impact Philosophy

Why I want to take down capitalism and build new systems:

I believe capitalism to be an economic system that, by its very nature, creates economic divides resulting in harm, violence and injustice for both people and the planet. I also see and experience capitalism as a system of domination that disproportionately extracts and exploits resources from people and the planet. Any shift away from our current economic system must be rooted in a framework of collective empowerment, liberation, healing and health for both people and the planet. I bring these beliefs and experiences into my organizing against capitalism, against exploitative and extractive systems, against violence, harm and dehumanization. I work in solidarity with those collectively and collaboratively creating healthier economies and a healthier planet.

Yes, I want to bring capitalism down and dismantle current systems of oppression. I also want to build and create what I want to see in the world, something that we can move towards. We cannot run away from capitalism in an unorganized frenzy. For if we do, those most vulnerable will be left behind, trampled and exploited, yet again. We must be diligent and proactive in building bridges that lead to what we want to see in the world, making sure to support our most vulnerable and most oppressed selves to get there and lead the way. We must have an escape plan.

Three distinct sectors speak to me as a place of hope for alternative economies, for healthy communities, selves and ecosystems. I see worker-coops and community-supported businesses as answering the “what” question of creating alternative structures; they counter the current exploitation model of businesses by creating democratic ownership and management structures as well as a direct tie to community needs and values. However, it is also important to acknowledge that oppressive systems can be carried into these structures. Thus, including social justice organizations answers the question of “how” we will be building alternative economies

Focus on worker-coops, community-supported businesses and social justice organizations:

Cooperatives can take many shapes and forms, from agriculture coops to member coops, producer coops to worker coops. While all coops have some sort of paradigm shift inherent in their structure, I want to focus on supporting worker-coops specifically. Worker-coops are game-changers because of their democratic governance and direct ownership of the business. Worker-coops defy capitalism because of the removal of a boss and a subsequent empowerment of worker-owners. The very structure of worker-coops mandates a paradigm shift from top-down authority to horizontal collaboration. Because all workers are owners, profits are actually seen as surplus and are invested back into the business and/or divided amongst worker-owners as decided democratically by the worker-owners. There are many unique challenges facing worker-coops based on both the lack of hierarchical structure and the investment abilities of each member-owner.

Community-supported businesses are financially supported by their communities: friends, family, geographically or culturally communities. Community-supported agriculture farms (CSAs) are the most familiar and popular forms of community-supported businesses. What draws me to community-supported businesses are their lack of dependency on traditional bank loans/investments; potential ability to buck the interest system; creative use of community resources and inherent ability to create value for their community. Community supported businesses use a membership-based model in which customers actually buy “shares” (of food, of meals, of yoga classes, of time in a print studio) of the business. This method is as a pre-buy revenue generator that acts as both a short-term loan for the business and as a sign of creating needed value in the community. Community-supported businesses are important to communities who either cannot capital from traditional methods.

Social Justice Organizations are the third entity that I feel are important to support in building alternative economies. Capitalism is inherently dependent on a divide-and-conquer mentality. Issues of racism, classism, transphobia, ableism, etc. are all used to support and maintain the current economic and power systems that exist. To support only businesses and organizations with alternative structures means that those structures would carry with them the same issues of oppression and violence inherent in capitalism today. It is important to me to support grassroots community organizing that is rooted in social justice principles in order to actualize and achieve collective liberation. This looks like supporting the leadership of historically marginalized communities, understanding the ways that historically marginalized communities have been systemically treated differently – often through violence, genocide and lack of access to resources – and creating systems that actively work against current systems of oppression and towards empowerment and equity. To support worker-coops without bringing in a racial or economic justice lens would mean leaving out people of color and poor people from being able to transition to healthier economies. If worker-coops and community-supported businesses are examples of what we are transitioning to, grassroots social justice organizations important to maintain a vision of how we are going to transition. And, because the leadership and membership of these organizations has often been marginalized and/or lacked access to resources and power, it is imperative to support their viability and stability.

feeling humbled by all the love & support. (ie vermont resilience lab thinks i’m kinda smart)

so it turns out that i am not the only one that cares about what i’m writing.

just last week i ran into two folks – one i’ve known for almost 15 years and one more recent in my life – that were like “hey thanks for writing stuff on your blog. keep it up! i really like what you have to say.”

which for me is essentially a giant sparkly sequined high-five from the universe and a sign that i am not just blah-blah-blah-ing into the ether. i mean, it’s a blog, so i am just blah-ing into the ether.

(side note: there is a bumper-sticker in the world that says “nobody cares about your blog.” i want it! it’s true. nobody cares. most days i don’t even care about my own blog. i just think it’s funny, and true, is all.)

ok, so also, all i want to do is post this link to AN INTERVIEW WITH ME from Vermont Resilience Lab (yes, another bloggity blog blog). because, apparently Amy Kirschner thinks i’m smart enough to (a) interview me and then (b) post it on the internet!

so that’s all. check it out. i have some smart and not so smart things to say.

 

oh, and also, if you need to get inspired about your life, have someone interview you! it was an amazing experience to tell some stranger about everything i’m doing and remember that i’m doing a lot of really amazing stuff and that i pretty much love my life. and hopefully you do too. and, it helps that VRL is also doing a lot of exciting stuff. so maybe it was a mutual remembering of all the amazing things we are all doing.

 

how do we disrupt cycles of poverty through town planning?

Have I mentioned I am taking a law class? It feels a little bit like double jeopardy and double-hard to take a law class in business school. Except my professors are awesome and our readings are relatively amazing and interesting.

Last week we did a unit on Land Use and Planning. Which is utterly fascinating to me. Especially moving from suburbia to a major city to rural-as-possible to small town Vermont.

We watched these really awesome and interesting videos about projects in New Hampshire that focused on town planning as a source of economic development. Here’s the link to them, they total about 30 minutes if you’ve got the time.

The gist of the videos is how to use town planning, zoning, etc as a way to create and attract a thriving downtown and economic vitality in small towns (in New England).  Brattleboro, the town I have lived in for the past 3 years, has a really cute downtown. It was claimed as one of the top 20 small towns in the US and one of the top Walkable Places to Live by some schmancy magazine. And I don’t agree. It’s totally cute and has a great downtown and it’s part of why I live here. It is not very different from the town I grew up in, Madison, NJ, which is white, wealthy NYC suburb, population 16k, with a downtown that is often used to film movies and commercials with a “cute quintessential Main St.”

The main question I have coming out of this unit and also secretly a big piece of why I went to MBA school to begin with, is that town planning and redevelopment takes money. Kinda the whole you gotta spend money to make money mentality. It takes a lot of taxpayer dollars to expand a whole sidewalk network and put in bike-paths and create a town green where there wasn’t one before. It takes a lot of money to retrofit the old mill building into affordable housing units. All of these pieces are part of the recipe for developing a strong local economy and vibrant downtown.

Oh, right, my question.

How does this work in low-income communities and how do cycles of poverty exist on larger, town and geographic-wide scales? The cute adorable town I’ve had the privilege to live in have money. Some more than others, for sure. Nonetheless, there is some amount of money already there. So I wonder how low-income and poor communities’ strategies for revitalization looks different with different access to wealth. And also, how do cycles of poverty that are often talked about on individual/family levels work on town and regional levels? And most importantly, how are those cycles being disrupted?

I feel like I have some historical knowledge (keyword some) of what internal and external factors create economic downturns. Old mills being shutdown, such as in Bellow Falls, VT. A major company that provides jobs moving out of state or the country. The Cross-Bronx Expressway and other eminent domain projects that tear up urban black and brown neighborhoods.  Just to name a few.

And maybe this is stuff that is new to my white, middle-class eyes. And by maybe, I guess I mean yes it definitely is a part of my curiosity and interest. So what are examples of ways that low-income rural communities (across racial demographics) are able to disrupt these geographical based cycles of poverty?

Ok kids. I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with school, busy tax season, and doing anything with this blog. I am committed, so I’m gonna try a new tactic here.

In most of my classes we have to do these online forum posts. So, I figured, instead of writing a forum post and then explaining it and giving it tons of context and rewriting everything, I’m going to (a) do a more direct cut and paste and (b) put the question out to y’all so that (c) you can also respond and give some insights into topics that are important to folks beyond those of us enrolled in an MBA program.

So this week in my Law class, the following question was posed:

What form of property ownership would be most conducive to making a community sustainable?

Here is my response:

We just showed the film “Born In Flames” tonight. It’s a film from the 80s that takes place after a fictitious socialist revolution in the US and focuses on a collective of radical lesbian feminists who create a Women’s Army of sorts. I am thinking about some pieces from that film, the Singer article and the question about sustainability. What I keep coming back to is the importance of ideals and utopias as goals, as things to fight for and strive towards.

I say that because when I first saw the question, I was thrown back to my more anarchist days of declaring no ownership of property. Because, in my understanding and opinion, that is the root of social ills like a police state, wealth disparities and slavery. It is the root, some have argued, of conquering the earth, of owning her resources instead of appreciating and borrowing them.

Luckily the question is not followed by “And what laws would need to change to create that?” Because I don’t know what it looks like, exactly. It is a complete mental and cultural (paradigm?) shift from where we are. Which doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means, to me, that we do not know what the road towards that goal looks like until we start walking it.

So….. what do you think? What form of property ownership is conducive to creating sustainable communities?

I am not Trayvon Martin.

trayvon image

 

So it’s been a totally overwhelming week. The verdict over Trayvon Martin. Shoveling gravel during the heat wave in Vermont. Tons of things I don’t even know about.

And needless to say, I am behind on a post. So I thought I’d point you all to two resources.

(1) The Nation article about the acquittal of Geroge Zimmerman.

(2) This amazing blog happening, called We Are Not Trayvon Martin. It is stories and blog posts from tons of individuals addressing racism in this country. I have not had time to read them all. Maybe you will? Maybe you will write your own? And then maybe you will share what you’re thinking about?