Grassroots Economic Survival
From humble beginnings six years ago, Baltimore’s worker-owned roaster and retailer Thread Coffee Roasters has been building a solid local patronage based on mutual benefits through its Community Supported Coffee program, inspired by the community cupported agriculture, or CSA, subscription model.
For an upfront cost of $100, local customers receive a 12-ounce tin that can be refilled 10 times with any of the single-origins or blends that Thread has available — representing a savings of about $5 to $7 compared to single-bag purchases. The program never expires, so members can refill at their own pace. It also encourages zero waste in the roaster to consumer supply chain.
“By eliminating waste, we are also reducing costs, which is a very important thing for us because specialty coffee can often be very unapproachable for people of a lower income,” said Thread worker/owner Nani Ferreira-Mathews, who is involved in both roasting and sales for the company. “The subscription also continues to give us capital that we can rely on, helping us grow the cafe program and generate a secure income for the roastery so that we can continue to pay for all the green coffee that’s coming in.”
Thread currently has three workers/owners and two employees, each with a general area of specialization, although everyone shares in the load. When it comes to making key decisions about the future of the company or financial decisions, all of the workers/owners participate equally.
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There are many differences between electric cooperatives and commercial utilities.
- Cooperatives have member-owners, not just customers. The members of the cooperative are also its customers.
- Cooperatives follow a democratic process, not board governance. Every member can vote and has a right to participate in the policy-making process. They also elect local board members. With commercial utilities, only shareholders have any say in running the company. All members of cooperatives can take part in shaping policies and influencing the business.
- Cooperatives focus on service, not profits. Electric cooperatives bring electricity to rural areas because for-profit electric companies are reluctant to serve areas where customers may be miles apart. In cities and towns where homes and businesses are close together, power companies make more money per line mile. Though cooperatives don’t ignore the need to make a reasonable profit, they focus on customers because the organizations exist to provide service.
- Members participate financially. Investors in commercial companies put their money to work and expect company growth to produce a return. When cooperatives produce a margin -- revenue that exceeds the cost of providing service -- it’s reserved as capital credits. The reserves are used to build and maintain the cooperative’s infrastructure and facilities and to provide for other service needs. Each member is allotted an amount of the capital credits based on how much electricity the member consumes. This consumption is called "patronage." When deemed appropriate by the board, a portion of capital credits may be paid to members according to the cooperative's bylaws. Investors buy shares in companies based on their financial ability and personal discretion. But members of a cooperative are usually required to “invest” initially by paying a registration fee, then provide continuous capital by consuming and paying for electricity.
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Four outstanding cooperative leaders will receive the cooperative community’s most prestigious honor on May 8, 2019, when they are inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame.
The inductees are: Terry Appleby, retired General Manager of Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society; Richard L. Ensweiler, retired president and CEO of Cornerstone Credit Union League; Anne Reynolds, former Executive Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Cooperatives; and Richard Stammer, retired president and CEO of Agri-Mark Inc. and Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
These cooperative leaders will be recognized at the annual Cooperative Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on the evening of May 8, 2019. In conjunction with the ceremony, a public forum on cooperative development and leadership will be held in the afternoon.
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Since opening a plant in Canton, Mississippi 15 years ago, auto manufacturer Nissan has been awarded at least $1.3 billion in tax subsidies.
Meanwhile, since 2010, small and cooperative farmers across Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have received just $2.3 million from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program, their primary source of economic support.
A report from the Institute for Policy Studies, titled “Agricultural Cooperatives: Opportunities and Challenges for African-American Women in the South,” makes the case that redirecting governmental support from corporate welfare to agricultural co-ops could provide an alternative vision for economic development in the South.
Read the rest at In These Times
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The underlying problem here is the classic problem of business unionism—it confuses growing a movement with selling a product.
Outgoing SEIU Local 775 President David Rolf is the most prominent exponent of this dead-end approach. His new book proposes that unions stay relevant by pursuing nine “value propositions.”
What’s that? Rolf defines a value proposition as “a specific strategy that delivers quantifiable benefits to a recipient through a uniquely differentiated product, service, or intervention that solves a problem or improves a situation.”
His propositions range from unions taking over the administration of government services such as unemployment insurance to amending federal laws to allow more worker “input” on company boards, as is common in Europe.
He also calls on “labor innovators” to recognize that “there is no more readily available block of venture capital than today’s union treasuries.” Rolf hopes that more unions will marshal funds for “innovation hubs” like the Workers Lab, which applies lessons from business startups to labor questions.
Peppered throughout the book is praise for partnering up with management. But Rolf has little to say about what I would consider a union’s main job—fighting the boss.
In a book ostensibly about worker power, the word “strike” appears eight times, while “partnership” appears 62.
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We want to change the balance of power that exists in services and between care providers, families and people getting support. We want to re-centre the power, choice, and control for the most important people involved: the person receiving and the person giving support (whether paid or unpaid, family member or professional). When you get right down to it, nothing else is more important.
There's no single solution to a problem this complex, so we are going to do this in several ways:
1. We are incorporated as a multi-stakeholder co-operative, giving our primary members (the givers and receivers of care and support) ownership of the company, technology, dividend and decision-making.
2. We are using platform technology to enable workers and people getting support to choose one another and be in control of their lives and livelihoods. This gives us the ability to share the co-operative with other neighbourhoods, give care receivers much greater control over who supports them and how, ensure low running costs, and allow workers to be paid better and be in control of their day.
(By the way, combining those first two makes us a "platform co-op", a term gathering a lot of momentum in America and which has started to emerge in Europe. Just imagine if Uber were owned by its drivers - if they got to make decisions about how the company is run and shared in the end of year bonuses?! We are the first platform co-operative working in social care in the UK).
3. We are using alternative ways to govern ourselves and make decisions, avoiding the pyramid structure of most social care organisations. We have been inspired by a system from the Netherlands called Buurtzorg, dynamic governance and, more recently, the work of Buurtzorg-inspired wellbeing teams in the UK. Care workers make decisions locally, supported by coaches and training.
4. Care work is a profession. It has qualifications associated with it and it takes time to learn. And yet, caring for one another is human. Lots of people can care, including the people who receive support themselves. Through a combination of the platform and extra training, we will enable people who get support to share their experiences and help others. This is called peer support - it's one of the most powerful ways anyone can get help. Everyone should know about it and it should be normal and integral to all types of social care.
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Small town residents everywhere know the feeling of declining populations, services, and businesses. But what if rural communities could use their investment dollars to bolster their own economies? With a co-operative, they can.
More rural communities are learning how to use the co-operative model to capture local money — including RRSP contributions — to invest in local businesses. Across Canada, Community Investment Co-operatives (CIC) allow people to pool their money and lend it to local business owners.
In Sangudo, Alberta, an investment co-op was used to retain a local meat packing facility that may have otherwise closed with the owner’s retirement. The FarmWorks Investment Co-operative in Wolfville Nova Scotia provides loans for farms, food processors, and value-added food producers.
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Epicinium is a strategy game where nature is a finite resource. Thanks to fast, simultaneous turns, you don't waste time waiting for your move. Your economy and troops are influenced by the environment and increasingly severe weather effects. Players balance firepower and preservation of resources, as the victor is scored for how much nature remains when the dust settles.
Sander and Daan just launched A Bunch of Hacks, the Netherlands' first worker cooperative for indie game development. Help us stay independent, and support workplace democracy and worker ownership.
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Perhaps nothing is more intimidating than a blank page. Being asked to create ‘membership share capital and member rights’ from scratch can damage confidence and interfere with the development process.
Sample bylaws or templates can be helpful starting points (and we have some available.)Without proper context, though, they may simply create more questions like: “Do we need to issue investment shares?” or “What if we don’t want to appoint an auditor?”. Asking for a bit of guidance is often a good idea.
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Fargo just trailblazed its way as the first US city to use approval voting for government elections.
What’s approval voting, you ask?
Approval voting lets you choose as many candidates as you want, and the candidate with the most votes wins (there is no ranking). And though the bar to beat—our choose-one voting method—is quite low, approval voting is more than just a better voting method. This simple change has a long list of advantages.
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Worker Cooperatives Towards Revolution
This writing is broken into three chunks, read whatever is useful!
Theory and strategy
Our praxis as Cooperation Northfield
The majority of this writing is done as bullet point lists under headings, someday we will write these things more eloquently. We hope this is useful for now regardless.
This is a writing primarily by Cliff Martin, a member of the cadre of Cooperation Northfield in which we mainly do worker, youth, solidarity economy, and climate justice organizing.
Note: When using the word socialism or socialist in this writing, we mean in the broadest sense, encompassing anti-capitalism and a system for social well being. We see many socialists perspectives such as anarchism, communism, communalism, democratic confederalism, etc. as fitting under this umbrella term for the purposes of this writing.
In our current historical moment, we believe that our core task is to build the foundation and infrastructure of what will someday be a massive working class movement that is capable of overthrowing capitalism through mass collective direct action alongside a network of dual power institutions that can fill the power vacuum with decentralized direct democracy in workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, people's assemblies, etc.
One of many core components of this long term left project is the construction of socialist or social justice worker cooperatives as well as the solidarity economy as a whole.
Simply put, a worker cooperative is a workplace or business that is run through direct democracy of the workers (or by a board of workers from the broader body of workers) instead of a boss. All are equal owners and controllers, worker ownership and control of the means of production.
For this writing, we will focus on worker cooperatives exclusively. Fundamentally, we think these types of institutions have the potential to be critical component of revolution in the US.
Here is a brief list of the main potentials that worker cooperatives represent:
Material improvement for workers and basic dignity through democratic power.
Shift the cultural narrative of large amounts of regular people from death culture to one of cooperation and solidarity.
Be material/structural conditions of democracy that are more prone to cultures of social justice values.
The basis of economic dual power institutions in a revolutionary moment.
A new institutional power base of money and people for the left.
A concrete alternative institution to direct masses of people towards in times of crisis, when people are looking for solutions they real things, not ideas. We can point at workers who don't lose their jobs and give back to the community etc.
The following writing is to elaborate in as simple and direct of form as possible some the core ideas behind each aspect of worker cooperatives as a revolutionary force.
And lets get clear right away, there are some fundamental limitations.
Worker co-ops are not the end all be all solution or main thing we need to do. The work of building worker cooperatives and the solidarity economy in general (and really, all of our work) will be and is filled with contradictions to which there are no solutions except to navigate through democracy. We cannot actually realize a fully socialist or solidarity economy while capitalism exists with strength. The state and capital will work hard to destroy anything we build as it comes to power, as it will (and always has) with unions or other social movements as well. Our task then is to build these institutions for their benefits nonetheless and prepare our bases of people to fight for what we have built when the attacks come. So, acknowledging that we cannot “build cooperatives” our way out of capitalism and oppression, here are some other limitations we see:
While worker cooperatives are worker control of the means of production, they are not socialism on their own. Some may be/usually are at the whims of the free market and thus not be able to fully fulfill their socialist potential until we can build large scale democratic and decentralized planning instead of markets.
In light of behaving in regards to markets, that means cooperatives can be undercut in their attempts to pay higher wages, do less harm to the environment, etc. by capitalists firms. That means worker co-ops will be fundamentally limited in their ability to “take the high road” as employers when still competing for market share with capitalists.
Just like unions, they are not inherently socialist or even left politically, radicals have to organize within them and make them that way.
Workers seizing the means of production slowly and not in a revolutionary moment is of course not as radicalizing for workers as it has been in moments of revolution and revolt.
They can take a long time to build, especially to get to scale that is impactful.
They can take some serious money to build.
Are unfamiliar to the public at large, as is direct democracy and the skills required to run it. We have to teach many old dogs new tricks.
And yet, we think there is massive potential and need. We will here outline some core aspects of what worker cooperatives can do to achieve revolution as well as some notes of general benefit.
We will address these as simply, shortly, and plainly as possible. In the following categories:
Immediate material impact
Systemic change and revolution
Narrative, paradigm, culture
Organizing and the struggle
Worker cooperatives are a material power structure that allows a culture of democracy, collaboration, and self worth to grow and flourish. This kind of structure can lead to a workplace culture (and thus deeply influencing other parts of life/culture) that is better for us as individual human beings as well as the collective.
Here are the core components that we believe create personal benefit in worker co-ops:
In a worker cooperative, the sense of worth, power, belonging, and dignity that is more likely to occur (especially in comparison to hierarchies) because of a decision making structure that inherently includes and relies on each individual being a decision maker. The regular experience of having your value and power validated can help to produce these deeper self beliefs.
Real democracy (direct, one worker=one vote) such as in a worker cooperative requires highly effective teamwork. As people learn more effectively how to work in teams, it requires us to more deeply understand our own emotional patterns in reaction to situations and decisions. This can result in better emotional intelligence and emotional health in all aspects of life. We are held accountable to this standard of reflection by the nature of our serious interactions with co-worker-owners asking us to consider ideas and ourselves differently.
There is psychological benefit in not being immediately separated from the things you produce and actually getting to control and own your production. When we create using our labor, we put a piece of ourselves into everything we do. Capitalism takes that bit of ourselves and uses it for private profit. In a worker cooperative you collectively decide what to do with your creation, thus reducing the negative impacts of this separation of self and creation.
All of these benefits are very possible in direct democracy but not inherently, it takes institutionalized structures of training and facilitation for people to learn these self love and teamwork skills that make cooperatives function well.
Upon learning the practices of emotional intelligence and teamwork, we can begin to internalize belief patterns around teamwork and our own worth and power as well as believing in the worth and power of others as equals. Worker cooperatives can create the material conditions necessary to achieve such a personal belief and culture sustained through material practice.
These benefits are achievable but not inherent. It takes work to manifest such a culture and does not automatically come from basic direct democracy. However, the form of direct democracy is an incredible/needed foundation for such a culture to exist eventually as the dominant culture. We believe that worker co-ops can be one institution that manifests that form and create the foundation of that culture.
Immediate material impact
Economically successful worker cooperatives concretely improve people's lives emotionally and economically.
Here are the simple core components that make worker co-ops materially beneficial to worker owners:
Generally true for worker cooperatives is increased wealth and equity for workers. Workers make more money and begin to be able to not live in the cycle of poverty. (Who knew, when workers control their workplace they raise their wages and benefits?)
You have workplace dignity through shared power instead of constant disrespect and humiliation from your boss as most workers face today.
Worker cooperatives are mostly localized wealth production that is rooted in community. Workers don't ship their own jobs overseas, and are less likely to pollute their own backyard or expose themselves to harmful chemicals or practices.
In a worker cooperative you have literal decision making power over your own life economically.
While these are good benefits of worker co-ops we seek to address the role they could play in building towards and carrying a revolution, beyond the way they can help slowly change culture.
Worker cooperatives represent a structural (referring here to the structure of decision making or power) change from hierarchies to democracy. This is one of the larger implications. When a workplace is shifted from a hierarchy to a democracy, a massive amount of change culturally and practically is possible. Think of every decision only a boss would make, now think of what workers would decide instead democratically.
This is also a key way to attack white male positions of power, first we remove them from having structural power over others, then when we are all equal structurally, we can help them unlearn their racism and sexism in social environments while intentionally making policies and practicing the development of team leadership in the hands of people of oppressed identities.
Similarly, if we can accurately identify institutionalized oppression, we can use democratic structures to undo and replace it with more liberatory practices (think women or femme majority's for decision making like in Rojava or the Zapatistas, get concrete)
Capitalism is the maintenance of supremacy hierarchies, anything we do to foster structures and cultures of democracy contradicts some fundamental logic of those systems in our material conditions and in our paradigms
Don't just fight the existing power structure, change it permanently to democracy.
A key trend here is the process of radicalization in workplace and revolutionary struggles
Turn relationships into groups
Move those groups into action against the bosses and owners
Get better at winning reforms and cohere as a collective force
Realize that instead of fighting for them to decide better, that you could all run it better yourselves without them
Think of a union contract that says: after x event, occurrence, date, etc. the company will transition into full worker control.
Or a revolution/direct action take over is solid too of course :)
Workers who control their work are less likely to make decisions that outwardly destruct the community in which they live or themselves.
Systemic change and revolution
Here we come to the crux of this writing. We have laid this out still not as a grand framing and argument but as a set of simple points meant to convey the simplicity of the power of worker cooperatives as a potential force for revolutionary change, specifically by being democratic dual power institutions that have a track record of improving people's lives.
Worker control of the means of production. Plain and simple. Again, not politically left if divorced from struggle and left culture/politics, but we can build those in.
Ownership and control, who benefits and who decides? Capitalists or workers? This is fundamental and in a worker cooperative, its the workers.
Democratic workplaces is one key part of socialism. Some others are democratic control of markets, schools, general assemblies, etc. but workplaces means we control our economic surplus and thus the funding for the other institutions.
Economic and political institutional power base for the left. Will elaborate further down.
Worker cooperatives can be a foundation of dual power, especially economically. This means, is a crisis of the state and capitalism, the system, etc. and/or during a revolution, we have the chance to say “let's do something different and better everyone! Look at our peoples assemblies and worker cooperatives (and a myriad of other institutions, democratic schools, neighborhood assemblies, participatory budgeting, etc.) let's all join those democratic things instead! All power to the cooperatives and assemblies!” And if we are legitimate, people will actually join us.
The term dual refers to the instance that we juxtapose this system against the still existing but in crisis one, and masses of people must choose between ours and the old one.
They can be a basis of dual power because as institutions they will have trained layers of workers in direct democracy as a skill and a culture and developed left consciousness in a layer of workers. Thus, these layers of workers will more easily be able to lead mass democratic processes (peoples assemblies, workers assemblies, etc) as institutions/moments of dual power for broader layers of people looking for alternatives in times of crisis.
Worker cooperatives will be a concrete living breathing example for regular people to use as a reference point and a model for a concrete alternative to capitalist workplaces and governance. People will be able to look at them and see functioning democracy that is making their lives better and say, hey, lets have more of that!
We are saying that people will not chose ours unless we have a long proven track record of a better system as some amount of real scale for people to see and then say “alright, that alternative really does look better, how do I join?”
We have to have economic dual power as well as political because we have to show alternative ways of doing things in at least geographic politics, schools, and economics as the main arenas of peoples lives in institutions.
In societal crisis, they will provide a base of people who can democratically organize mutual aid, defense, production and distribution, etc. because they will have control of their own production and surplus and the democratic skills to make it happen at some scale, plus left politics to go along with it.
Worker cooperatives can be democratic and community benefit oriented infrastructure to usher in new economic logics away from debt and markets eventually. Such as:
All of these are more likely to become scaled policy through a democratic economy than a capitalist one.
For more info on these ideas and what they mean, read Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein ( I don’t endorse all his ideas or anything, but a lot of it is interesting)
Some other Economic factors
In the current state infrastructure, companies that are worker owned means the government would be reliant on workers for both income tax and business tax. Sure that’s not revolutionary, but it is interesting!
We can start concentrating wealth in the hands of democratic workplaces, that can then be distributed through networks of co-ops using participatory budgeting among members and supporters.
In economic crisis, their production and material distribution, if done democratically and for the community, can win over masses of people and help them literally survive on a model of democracy and mutual aid.
We can point to our concrete existing alternatives and list why they are better as the direction for a mass political program dedicated to radicalization and democratization as opposed to just reforms.
We can absorb people into our institutions in times of crisis, and steal them from the movements of the right trying to do the same thing if our solidarity economy is actually materially useful and deeply meaningful in paradigm.
Worker co-ops can fund our organizing and form our own independent economic base for economic power. That could mean a funding source that is a. Not from foundations or nonprofits and b. Not only reliant on small member dues.
Members can/must be engaged in politics and incentivized to participate in activism and organizing. Similar to how unions have historically been the power base of the left. We think our base can be union workers and union worker owners from cooperatives.
Narrative, paradigm, culture
We have a culture of separation and competition, we need one of connection and cooperation. Worker cooperatives create the concrete conditions of direct democracy in which we need to get along to move forward and function and everyone's power is fully centered as well as the reliance on the collective.
Direct democracy over important decisions means you have to acknowledge everyone's role in a decision, we are all connected, and find a way to make a solution together, cooperation. It is an inherent acknowledgement of self worth and power in the decision making structure.
Can teach skills of communication, facilitation, team work, group process, efficient decision making over time with lots of practice and training. These are essential skills for mass layers of people to possess both to create and maintain a revolution. If we can achieve revolution, the task of mass democratic governance will be a lot easier if there are layers of workers already adept in those skills through their co-ops (and hopefully mass democratic unions and movements)
Require deep self reflection and clarity for bringing yourself fully to a space and participating usefully
Worker co-ops can build a sense of community where we need each other, not just where we consume together.
Capitalism, its institutions, and its narratives are failing people. People are looking for concrete, useful, alternatives and narratives, the solidarity economy can offer this in real life with real deliverables for people in crisis. Such as:
Look here, none of our workers lost their jobs in the last crash
None of our housing co-op members were foreclosed on
None of our democratic schools were shut down and privatized
Now which system is better for working people?
Create the material and structural conditions needed for a genuine culture of needing each other, connection to each other, and cooperation as cultural values and norms are possible from democratic institutions, that, at scale, can change our culture fundamentally.
Create material and structural conditions for equally shared power between genders and races, with the opportunity for cultural political education around anti racism and anti sexism built as an institutionalized practice
Organizing and the struggle
Can be an independent funding base of workers for left organizing. Dues to unions, surplus into political accounts, organizing campaign funds, direct aid, housing, action camps, strike solidarity funds, the potential is limitless for money that left workers control with no corporations or foundation strings attached.
Can be run by cadre of revolutionaries to fund their work at a small scale. We will elaborate on this as a model later.
Can be unionized, or otherwise have workers engaged in the bigger project of scaled social change, be a political and movement base.
During strikes, cooperatives can stop trade with relevant capitalists
During strikes, cooperatives can directly supply aid, and employ striking workers if need be.
Depending on what they produce, they can directly give materials to struggles and workers movements.
Remember, worker co-ops are just a part of a healthy revolutionary breakfast. As in they are not the only thing we should do. But they are a crucial thing we have to do alongside other work.
From here on out, you have read the arguments for why we think worker cooperatives are critical to revolution. The rest of this writing is dedicated to what this has looked like in early practice and how we intend to use it going forward.
Here we hope to show how we are using worker cooperatives in practice as revolutionaries alongside other critical work in rural Minnesota. Another, and arguably the most developed and explicitly revolutionary, organization doing this work is Cooperation Jackson who you can read about extensively in their own writing at their website and through many other articles. They are a bit older (in some respects, like their peoples assemblies, a lot older) and a lot more advanced than we are.
We will present some political, economic, and cultural context, then go through a timeline of development of how we got to where we are and where we see our projects going. We are including all of our main projects, not just the cooperatives, to illustrate that they are part of a larger strategy and not merely a stand alone cool project.
Northfields political economy, Rice county
Rural college town of 20,000, 45 minutes south of the twin cities, not quite suburbs. Surrounded by agriculture with two liberal arts colleges, one large factory
middle class workers, a small amount of poor workers, and a lot of middle class white liberals connected to the colleges (liberals in every sense of the world insofar as paradigms and social position) These folks are the main market for compost collection for us. Very unique for a rural city.
Retail and grocery, some other light manufacturing, some trucking companies/their warehouses, many small business and restaurants, etc.
Mostly white folks and a chunk of latinx people, pretty expensive housing for a rural area so many workers live in cheaper places
Faribault is the city of 30,000, 20 minutes south of Northfield, it’s the county seat so lots of immigrants and people of color and working class whites. Much more manufacturing and food processing and distribution. Cheaper housing, many workers who work in Northfield live in Faribault. Lots of different religions and racial tension.
We are less connected here and have less knowledge, but we know this is where we need to end up more seriously.
Very little presence of organized labor, cooperatives, or social justice and community organizing.
Cooperation Northfield (Coop Nfld)
Our central organization that is an umbrella org for all of these projects and the central org for hosting the (eventual) peoples assembly. Will also host a collective of activists dedicated to this overall strategy of:
Build the solidarity economy
Independent political power, candidates and peoples assembly
General solidarity mobilizing and community issues organizing
High school student organizing around intersectionality and solidarity. 3 core teams of about 10 youth each in different cities in MN. Each doing their own campaigns as well as general solidarity with many other organizations and movements. Use of popular and political education. The goal is to radicalize youth as a long term method to rebuild the left.
A four person worker co-op, super part time, we drive around a pick up truck and dump food scraps into it from peoples five gallon buckets that they place on the curb once a week.
Same four people run a farm as a worker cooperative with flocks of 1000 chickens at a time in a free range permaculture system.
Cannon River Organized Workers (CROW)
Worker organizer collective that will focus on building bases of workers in key workplaces, moving them into direct action struggle, and eventually helping them unionize with United Electrical workers (UE) or a good UNITE HERE local since they are super rank and file democratic and militant.
Our effort to delay construction and eventually stop the tar sands oil pipeline called Line 3 through northern MN. This entails building a base of activists and training them deeply in direct action tactics and strategy to be deployed against the pipeline.
Here we have outlined the basic timeline of our development. We included this as a frame of reference for how these things have actually gone and looked over time so as to be maximally useful as a reference. The bolded bits are specific to the cooperatives.
2013 Year one:
Started learning how to do popular education and mobilizing with a group of local high school activists
Started business planning, or really learning what the hell a business plan was for the farm.
What the actual model consists of, basic business economics like cash flow, marketing, etc.
2014 Year two:
Moved the core team of student activists into more action and started facilitating after school political popular education workshops on social justice topics
Honing the skills of group facilitation and pop ed as well as mobilization to actions.
Started working on the farms that we model our farm off of and are connected to. Continued light business planning.
Started business planning for CCC when opportunity spontaneously presented itself.
Mental modeling for the actual operations, what would it literally look like to do this? Research existing models.
2015 Year three:
Develop first attempt at cadre of out of school organizers
Keep working on farms that are like ours
Work on and off on compost business plan. Getting a little more concrete with numbers once in awhile when we have time
Through college student door knocking, ID around 150 interested potential subscribers
2016 Year four:
Develop first core team in minneapolis of youth from many schools and mostly POC
Finalize most of chicken business plan with real numbers and a few years of experience. Looks profitable and can pay us for our work.
Start clearing land to get ready for chicken coop construction.
Put wind in the sails of compost, start to get very concrete about the business plan, looks like we can do $15 an hour and be profitable
Start process of permits, incorporation, waste hauling license, etc.
Through more door knocking, well placed cashiers at the local food co-op, and other advertising, increase potential subscribers to 300
Legally incorporate the central nonprofit, Cooperation Northfield, do nothing with it.
2017 Year five:
Two core teams, starting to organize around concrete winnable things
In spring, start farm building construction!
In summer, finish enough of it to start first flock of chickens!
In spring, acquire enough permit things, including stuff like insurance and tax ID numbers, to be able to launch compost, acquire truck, buckets, paint them, fix truck
In summer, launch curbside compost collection!
Only 200 of 300 potential people actually subscribe right away.
Grow subscribers slowly, In December we're 275. Solid. Pay ourselves $10 and hour for one day of work per week. Simple and small but paying for our labor and will be profitable.
Two local union campaigns launch, one with our help directly and the other less directly, start slow foundation of research and some practice for worker center launch.
2018 year 6:
Two growing core teams, a third in progress, developing new organizers, and running a successful direct action campaign to get cops out of schools
Launch the co-op nfld collective, a group of activists who are part of at least one of the many organizations/projects who come together for political education and training and cross campaign strategizing and support. About 10 members to date.
Increase our wages to $15 an hour.
Hire 3 politicized high school and college students for summer jobs of collection and education
Raise the price to $7.00 per month for a subscription
Soon able to donate surplus directly to YPAC organizing
Ran three successful flocks this season
Almost totally done with construction, finally
Making plans for future production units
One union campaign has slowed significantly (the one we are less involved in)
Lose our other union election by 1 vote
Continuing to organize with those workers for another election
Regular meetings for strategizing and internal training
Co-op Nfld collective members have been elected along with a slate of other pro-union folks to take a majority of seats on the food co-ops board (where we lost the union election)
Currently have 5 salts at another workplace and 3 at the food co-op.
This is where we are at at the time of this writing.
We run two small worker cooperatives, each run by the same four people, all of us are of a radical cadre dedicated to organizing for revolution. We all get paid for our very part time work in our two cooperatives and thus hold down other very part time jobs outside of the coops as well. We all spend roughly half our time working (20 hours a week, in the coops and some in other jobs, like coffee shops) and half our time organizing through YPAC or increasingly CROW. This coming year, we will likely be able to all work exclusively in the coops and thus on our own schedules and together democratically. This enables us to spend even more time organizing as our basic economic needs are met by our work. This means we spend almost no time and effort fundraising and instead all of it on actually organizing people.
Here is where we hope to go. These are all ideas, not meant to reflect reality deeply, just enough to be rough goals.
Our core strategy is two things:
Building dual power institutions with left politics
Building a base of workers, students, and allies that learn to take collective direct action and grow in class/social consciousness.
We believe that through Co-op Northfield, YPAC, CROW, and our worker cooperatives, we are building these things slowly but surely.
Here is how we see some of that developing:
Increase CCC membership to 500, engage it in more solidarity economy oriented education.
Start construction of a training/education space at the farm
Grow ypac into three distinct core teams all orienting on their own issues fights while slowly building a program for liberatory and democratic schools.
Grow bases of worker leaders in key workplaces across northfield, start to engage them in direct action and maybe some early union campaigns
Grow cadre and/amount of workers in cooperatives
Near future goals:
Move our compost members into a general membership to any solidarity economy business we can create, the idea of a CSA farm or in this case a Community Supported Solidarity Economy. The start of a dedicated base of consumers so we can engage in micro democratic economic planning instead of the free market.
Grow our subscriber base for compost upwards of 500
Get another truck, maybe more trucks
Add worker owners to co-ops as cadre members but also local working class people of color
Identify another worker co-op to start
Unionize three or four workplaces in town
This is the basis for the start of a workers council/assembly.
Between 15 to 20 worker owners from co-ops plus 30-40 of the most active union members, start a workers council for organizing, political decisions, and participatory budgeting with the cooperatives surplus.
Initially, engage the workers council/assembly in participatory budgeting using the surplus from the co-ops as a way to start teaching mass democracy with practical and concrete implications, then slowly introduce political decisions over time and as experience grows.
This council/assembly is the core of an explicitly political dual power institution derived from economic dual power/counter power (unions and co-ops)
Convene the workers council plus YPAC youth into peoples assemblies around key political moments and issues
Normalize the people's assembly with collective members, workers, and youth, slowly let in anyone/liberals around key moments
Move bases into collective struggle/direct action campaigns on a shared program on specific and concrete demands politically and economically.
Medium term goals:
Build bases and win union campaigns in Faribault MN.
Broaden the workers assembly with more members, working groups
Launch independent political candidates from the ranks of the workers on a platform of democratization, unions, cooperatives, etc. in rural MN
Mostly on the basis of candidates as a means of spreading the message and testing it with people.
Secondarily as a means of advancing a municipal platform for democratization (participatory budgeting, governance maybe?) and environmental policy.
Continued growth of cadre membership, collective membership, worker cooperatives in general, worker owner numbers, more and new cooperatives, etc.
Regular peoples assemblies, large base of regular participants
Multiple local level office holders and city and county levels, maybe state legislature. Up for debate on the state level. Directly accountable to workers and peoples assemblies
Creation of housing cooperatives and community land trusts
This is a brief glimpse of where we see ourselves going and how we are building power in the short and medium term. Power is organized people and organized money, we see these methods as the route to do that for our context.
Some basic worker cooperative startup principles, ideas, and resources
Three main routes to developing worker cooperatives
Founder driven: the people who will become the worker-owners are the ones driving the process and business planning. This method has the most long term success in that a culture of ownership grows from the worker-owners themselves.
Incubator: A group of developers creates a solid business plan and hands it off to a group of potential worker owners. This process can work and has success but is often marred by the incubator organization expending a lot of time and money towards training and developing an ownership culture for the workers and has mixed success in long term stability or sustainability.
Conversion: a singular business owner sells their business to their employees. Often similar to an incubator in that there is a ready business handed over to workers who likely have no experience in democratic control and are used to living under the decisions of someone else. It takes a lot of time and money to contradict these behavior patterns and learn new ones but can work for sure and has the added benefit of an already successful and operating business.
Depending on the business, financing a worker cooperative can be a challenge. Here are some organizations that do just that.
Institutions that specifically finance worker cooperatives
The Working World - financed many worker takeovers of factories in 2001 as they transitioned to cooperatives, also financed the transition of the worker factory takeover of New Era Windows in Chicago in 2008
Shared Capital Cooperative - a cooperative of cooperatives that have received financing for their cooperatives then reinvest in cooperatives. A cooperative loan fund.
The cooperative fund of New England - Same as SCC excet just in the NorthEast US.
One worker one vote.
A business can be hard to run profitably. Don't start a cooperative without a lot of forethought and research. Especially if you are bringing working class and oppressed people into it, you can’t set people up for failure especially economically if they put their own money in.
Work with a politically left or radical co-op developer for help. Ask us to help you find one!
There has to be a market, someone willing to buy what you produce or serve at a price that meets your needs. If that does not exist, organize it, or don't start the cooperative.
Spend a long time making a really good business plan before you start.
Check out any online resources, even from capitalists, they have developed a lot of useful tools for business planning that we can use.
Spend a lot of time researching and learning about how worker cooperatives work and how yours should look before you start.
Check out this guide for starters, and generally research online for access to tons of resources http://institute.coop/resources/good-company-guide-employee-ownership
If you have seen one worker cooperative, you have seen one worker cooperative
Governance structures vary, but mostly worker cooperatives in the US are run by a board of workers made up of either all the workers or a democratically elected smaller amount (for large cooperatives)
Get trained on democratic decision making, culture, and teamwork if you are lacking in these skills (Most of us are)
Here is the best training collective of radicals who can do that http://aorta.coop/
Some other relevant organizations that help start worker cooperatives
Hit us up at email@example.com if you want to learn more about socialist worker cooperative development!Institutions & Structures: Worker CooperativesVisions & Models: socialismPractices, Tools & Strategies: Strategies for ChangeRegions: United StatesMovements & Struggles: Workplace Democracy
Mastodon is based around communities. These communities can be specialist networks based on the topic(s) you’re most interested in. You don’t need all of your friends to be within these communities, to find interesting people, useful content and worthwhile interactions.
As Vee Satayamas noted, if you’re a Twitter user, you may find it useful even if not many of your family members or real-life friends are there. You don’t have to have everyone available on every network. I recently quit Facebook and I’ve still been able to get in touch with my friends via email or text. It would be nice if more of my friends were on Mastodon, but it’s not a show-stopper.
In fact, there’s something nice about the smaller size of my network on Mastodon. I can keep up with my timeline without feeling overwhelmed. It feels less stressful posting there, compared to Twitter, where each post you make could potentially be pounced on by a giant horde!
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This document describes a governance/economic model for self-sustaining, mission-oriented, distributed organizations.
It values pro-bono, care, and paid work with complementary metrics and dispenses payment accordingly. The purpose is to extract people from the capitalist marketplace so they can use their unique talents to do fulfilling, socially and environmentally meaningful work. The document prototypes a governance model fit for digital labor and applies it concretely to an existing organization: the P2P translation collective Guerrilla Translation which is, in turn, embedded into a larger proto-organization called the Guerrilla Media Collective.
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Cooperatives are a $500 billion industry, so clearly they have capacity to build wealth. But little of that reaches Black and other marginalized communities. Of the approximately 30,000 co-ops holding 350 million memberships in the United States, only a fraction are Black-owned.
Other efforts aimed at amassing Black dollars have fallen short. The number of Black-owned banks and credit unions continues to dwindle. A decade ago there were more than 50; that number is now down to 23. And Black-owned businesses in general struggle financially.
As much pride and empowerment as there is in community ownership of food-producing gardens and financial services such as credit unions to support local businesses, research shows those sorts of grassroots efforts cannot close the ever-growing wealth gap that has been historically and systematically created along racial lines. Controlling wealth by buying and banking Black is one piece of self-determination, but undoing economic segregation may be a problem too complicated for cooperative ownership alone to solve.
That problem needs a “set of solutions,” Yakini says.
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In Sunset Park, a waterfront neighborhood in central Brooklyn, nearly 30% of residents live below the poverty line. The neighborhood has dealt with a history of environmental burdens, particularly due to an expressway that runs above one of its main streets. For residents, high energy costs compound the air quality concerns produced by passing traffic and the presence of three nearby fossil fuel plants. A new initiative, though, is working to bring renewable energy to the neighborhood–and following a cooperative ownership model that’s helped stabilize energy prices in rural America.
[O]n the roof of the Brooklyn Army Terminal–a decommissioned army building now owned and being redeveloped by the NYC Economic Development Corporation as a local business hub–a partnership between NYCEDC, the nonprofit Solar One, the cooperative financing agency Co-op Power, and the local environmental advocacy group Uprose is creating a, 80,000-square-foot solar garden. Once completed, it will be one of the first examples of a cooperatively owned urban power supply, and potentially a model for other city coalitions to follow when looking for mutually beneficial ways to repurpose public rooftops as communal solar energy sources.
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by Alexander Kolokotronis and Sam Nakayama
(Image of vTaiwan process from pol.is)
Since its first major upticks in membership, the question of Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) electoral activity has loomed large. How should socialists relate to the Democratic Party? Should establishing or operating as a third party even be an aspiration? And how can we even get there? How do we at least keep our options open? Once seemingly sectarian debate topics, are now live political questions. Some have called for establishing a third party. Others see mass volunteer canvassing as a vehicle to contest for power within the Democratic Party whilst pushing it to the Left. There is another option, hitherto unexplored in the United States: a democratized caucus within the Democratic Party.
While many in DSA have looked to the U.K. Labour Party and Scandinavian social democracy, more relevant answers may come from elsewhere. DSA’s electoral activity has gained clout with Congressional primary victories from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rasheda Talib. The flames of contention over DSA’s electoral activity have been fanned by NYC DSA’s endorsement of Cynthia Nixon for the New York gubernatorial race, and by Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Andrew Cuomo. Traditional social democratic party mechanisms and structures are appearing less relevant.
DSA National Director Maria Svart asserts that at the heart of democratic socialism is the cardinal principle to “democratize everything.” If electoral activity is itself supposed to perform a democratizing function, then more relevant insights and applications can be derived from elsewhere: the Pirate Parties of Iceland and Germany; the Net Party in Argentina; the municipal “confluences” proliferating throughout Spain; and the Taiwanese legislative agenda-setting system of deliberation. These electoral organizations and models of participatory governance can inform the structure of DSA’s inside-outside strategy in relation to the Democratic Party.
A democratized caucus would operate according to principles and recent innovations in online and face-to-face participatory democracy. More specifically, it would be a caucus consisting of democratic socialist electeds who operate as something closer to mandated-delegates: voting the positions determined by constituents themselves through deliberative democratic processes. This could fulfill multiple tasks: create a distinct identity for elected democratic socialists from those beholden to the capitalist class within the Democratic Party; and facilitate the necessary consciousness-raising and political education to continuously push the Party to the Left or even fully breakaway from it.
DSA’s Existing Inside-Outside Strategy and Practice
Posing the question of socialist electoral activity is not to imply that DSA has taken no position on these matters. With a few exceptions, DSA has largely operated according to an “Inside-Outside Strategy” in relating to the Democratic Party. This inside-outside strategy has been an attempt at sustaining bottom-up pressure and therefore an informal accountability culture within the Democratic Party. It is also rooted in prior failures of all-in inside attempts at transforming the Democratic Party, as well as all-out attempts at constructing a third party. Since DSA is not the first leftist organization to attempt to enter the Democratic Party, it's important to remind ourselves of concerted left-wing efforts to realign the Democratic Party over the last fifty years.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was a first attempt by the New Left at realigning the Democratic Party on a state-by-state basis. The goal was to replace white supremacist Dixiecrat southern parties with black-led multi-racial working class party formations. The MFDP sought official recognition over Mississippi Dixiecrats by being seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. National party leaders prevented this from taking place. Further efforts were made again with Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 unsuccessful presidential primary run, largely based on his opposition to the Vietnam War. George McGovern’s 1972 successful bid for the party nomination resulted in a massive loss to Richard Nixon. Ultimately the New Left’s last gasp at party realignment occurred with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition of the 1980s. This was an outgrowth of the New Communist Movement (NCM). Attempts were then made outside of the Democratic Party. Ralph Nader’s 2000 Green Party presidential election run continues to be a source of tension among left-liberals, with George Bush’s slim but decisive margin of victory in Florida. Over thirty years after the Rainbow Coalition, NCM participants remind us of the shortcomings of their strategic entry into the Democratic Party. Nearly twenty years after Nader, the Left is continuously reminded of dead-ending third party politics on the national stage that lacks locally built-out party apparatuses.
There is also a more practical dimension to the inside-outside strategy. At the time of the 2017 DSA National Convention many believed it was far too early to provide more substance to the inside-outside approach. It wasn’t altogether clear how fast, if at all, self-identified socialists could achieve electoral victories, let alone make an electoral dent. It was not clear who the socialist candidates would be. Nor was it clear what many of the platform positions of National DSA and its local chapters would be. Many also did not want to get bogged down on the question of platform, for fear of sectarianism and distracting from on-the-ground outreach and activity. Socialism had momentum, and it was better to act now and focus on the larger questions later. Better to not put the cart before the horse by attempting to answer questions that themselves needed further clarification.
Positions on DSA’s electoral activity have ranged from vague involvement to hardline opposition. The latter is simple: running within the Democratic Party risks co-optation and eventual total absorption. The former is more varied. One position is that DSA should support candidates that move the Democratic Party to the Left. This characteristically means supporting DSA members who challenge centrists in Democratic Party primaries. NYC DSA’s endorsement of Cynthia Nixon has complicated this position. Significant precedent has now been set to endorse candidates that are not themselves DSA members. This has left a number of DSA members uncomfortable and even more unsure about the form and content of the electoral question. For a number of DSA members opposing the endorsement this has been a confusing and sometimes irritating ordeal. Some have argued that a city chapter should not be able to endorse a statewide candidate on its own accord. That even as NYC DSA engaged in an internal democratic process on the question of endorsing Nixon, there is an issue of boundary and scale. In other words, NYC DSA endorsing Nixon effectively constitutes a city chapter speaking for an organization that holds a statewide membership. Therefore, even as the internal process of the chapter was democratic, in a larger framing it was anti-democratic because it affects members of DSA who were not involved in the NYC chapter’s vote.
What is telling in all of this is an observation from Dan La Botz that those for endorsing Nixon possessed “greater political unity”, while those in opposition “did not form a coherent political view.” An incoherent opposition to the Nixon endorsement is reflective of the lack of clarity around what it takes and means to construct an independent socialist workers’ party. Nonetheless, there are important expressions of “No to Nixon”. These are broader issues of: capacity depletion; false consciousness and ideological miseducation; as well as unaccountability.
Therefore, electoral activity should minimally not result in these above things, or even result in their opposite. That is to say, electoral activity should be a means of capacity-building; consciousness raising and ideological education; and leadership accountability. This includes building the capacity and raising the consciousness necessary for opening up the possibility of an independent socialist party. And yet this can only occur by acknowledging real-time constraints. DSA is not a political party, so it cannot run candidates on its own ballot line. Nor does it have the capacity to yet threaten taking on its own independent party status. Through a number of these high-profile races, it is clear that DSA is increasingly positioning itself as the left-wing of the Democratic Party. The contrast between the the Julia Salazar and Nixon campaigns is particularly instructive in this regard. Despite facing massive institutional opposition and a last minute media firestorm, exhaustive and thorough DSA organizing gave Salazar the edge in her New York City electoral district. On the other hand, at the statewide level, DSA was unable to field the resources to carry Nixon to victory over the entrenched Cuomo machine.
Like movements of the past, DSA runs the real possibility of a dire conflict over the character of the organization’s electoral politics. At present, DSA chapters often allow space for many types of organizing, from electoral, to tenant organizing, to prison abolition. Yet, more electoral success will create significant powerful factions that see electoral politics as a way to connect to financial resources and power. Such factions may simply decide that playing within the limited scope of the two-party system is the best way to survive and reproduce, and convert DSA into just another Democratic Party front like the Rainbow Coalition. A front that is to be discarded when political winds shift, or even worse, to take the form of an impotent social democratic party of technocrats, like Greece’s Syriza. Nonetheless, whatever one’s position on electoral politics, it is clear that DSA’s electoral success is bringing in new members by the thousands. As a result, the largest looming question over DSA’s electoral activity is what the organization’s relationship is to the Democratic Party. Since Bernie Sanders’s run, proposals have been put forward that pave the way to a democratized socialist caucus, and in their gaps also demonstrate the need for such a caucus.
Proposals for a Dual-Party
The inside-outside approach has been conceptualized in different ways. DSA Libertarian Socialist Caucus member Mason Herson-Hord writes that the dual-party is an organization in which “its platform, its policies, its leadership…rest in the democratic decision-making of a dues-paying mass membership.” It is an organization that “drafts its own candidates, funds them, and runs them in Democratic primaries to build its power without counterproductive focus on maintaining an independent ballot line.” In conceptualizing this as a “dual-party”, Herson-Hord provides naming, titling, and greater bandwidth to an independent electoral approach advanced by Seth Ackerman.
In Jacobin Magazine Ackerman asserts that “A true working class party must be democratic and member controlled.” Following Ackerman’s assertion of democratic member party control, he writes that such an organization must be “independent—determining its own platform and educating around it. It should actually contest elections. And its candidates for public office should be members of the party, accountable to the membership, and pledged to respect the platform.” The party platform is key, as within a democratic member controlled organization the policy platform is a production of the membership itself. In other words, it is a production of the popular classes themselves. According to Ackerman, none of this has to do with having a separate ballot line.
Seeking a separate ballot line was where the 1990s U.S. Labor Party made a mistake. By positing itself as formally independent from the Democratic Party, “the Labor Party had to start with the assurance that it wouldn’t play spoiler politics and that it would [first] focus on building the critical mass necessary for serious electoral intervention.” Upon noting the Labor Party’s failure to mount any significant electoral challenge, as well as repressive electoral laws in the United States, Ackerman wisely asserts that “We have to stop approaching our task as if the problems we face were akin to those faced by the organizers of, say, the British Labour Party in 1900 or Canada’s New Democratic Party in 1961. Instead, we need to realize that our situation is more like that facing opposition parties in soft-authoritarian systems, like those of Russia or Singapore. Rather than yet another suicidal frontal assault, we need to mount the electoral equivalent of guerrilla insurgency. In short, we need to think about electoral strategy more creatively.” This is evident in the context of New York State, where one might make a more direct comparison to the “United Front” parties of the People’s Republic of China. These parties are wholly controlled by the reigning Communist Party. In New York State, the Working Families Party (WFP) is often held up by trade-unionists and their academic supporters as a potential challenger to the mainstream Democratic Party. Yet, WFP often veers to the right in key moments, currying favor with the establishment come general election. During the run-up to the 2018 Democratic Primary, the WFP endorsed Joseph Crowley over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He was still on their ballot line for the general election.
This brings us back to Ackerman. For all the talk of democratic member control of electoral activity, Ackerman’s “Blueprint for a New Party” is largely focused on machinations and devices for selecting those who will ultimately be the real decision-makers. Yet, as Ackerman himself notes, the problem with “prevailing” progressive and Left challenges within the Democratic Party is that they “cede all real agency to professional politicians.” Ackerman does not provide a full alternative to this last but critical dimension. Ackerman offers significant insights on electoral restrictions and how to bypass them. He also effectively argues for democratic member organizational control, the possibilities for mounting electoral guerrilla insurgency, and the importance of policy platform. Yet, gaps remain in Ackerman’s proposal for building and endowing base-level membership with real effective agency. That is to say, how to maximally ensure that members are an electoral organization’s “sovereign power”, as he states members should be.
With municipal, state, and national electoral success of DSA members the question of accountability and member control is taking on a different content and form. One less based on PAC money, and more on a growing base of socialists. Therefore, the question is how to accord the principles and positions put forward by Ackerman with an orientation towards capacity-building; consciousness raising and ideological education; and leadership accountability. A smart strategy will expose the latent contradictions between the democratic rhetoric of the Democratic Party and its actually-existing practices that put power in the hands of party bosses and functionally demobilizes ordinary people. Regarding this, one option that has not yet been stated or explored: a democratized caucus within the Democratic Party.
Another Electoral Politics is Possible: Designing a Democratized Socialist Caucus
Whatever strategic approach is taken moving forward, one thing it must endow socialists with is options. The worst position for any agent or actor is that of being backed into a corner. Providing oneself with a sense of choice, and making choices available, is what has made even many anarchists critically supportive about recent social democratic electoral victories. The key component to this, however, is that such available choices accord with growing autonomy and remaining within a socialist framework.
Ocasio-Cortez strongly gestured at this when asked if she would support a Joseph Crowley nomination to represent her district. Ocasio-Cortez shocked and impressed many, stating “I represent not just my campaign, but a movement. We govern ourselves democratically. So I would be happy to take that question to a vote (our emphasis) and respond in the affirmative or however they respond.” Socialists should take this up, and adopt this notion as a guiding organizational principle for electoral activity. It is the constituency and movement that should possess agency. For all the talk of socializing healthcare, Ocasio-Cortez’s comment paints a picture of how representation itself can be democratized and socialized.
In what sense can this be an organizational principle for socialist electoral activity? With the election of a small but budding array of democratic socialists at different levels, there is talk of forming a “sub-caucus” within the Democratic Party. A socialist caucus, if you will. Some have half-jokingly remarked about a possible formation of a “Congressional Socialist Caucus”. Whatever the case, caucus building does not on its own accord amount to party-building, and certainly not to building mass organization. This is whether in terms of “realigning” the Democratic Party, or in building capacity for breakaway from the Democratic Party by putting its internal contradictions on full display.
A democratized socialist caucus means bringing the two together: member or constituent governance of an intra-party caucus. Such a formation can operate as a nascent vehicle for building an alternative to the Democratic Party. Or at least, it can make this logistically available through building capacity for breakaway and formal autonomy. The conceptual and practical tools for this are not to be found in the UK Labor Party or in Scandinavian social democracy. Here DSA leadership and members would be wise to look at new forms of party or electoral organizations around the world.
The Pirate Party in Berlin, Germany has structured itself according to “liquid democracy.” Specifically, “anyone (Pirate or not) can approach the Pirate Party board with a proposal concerning the city-state of Berlin. The proposal is then entered into the Liquid Feedback software and voted directly upon by the members of the party. The board is less a decision-making entity and more an administrative arm of the party.” Furthermore, through a platform called Liquid Feedback, “each Pirate can decide yes or no. If the Pirate is not interested or unfamiliar with the topic, he can delegate his vote to another Pirate, whose vote on the matter then counts as two, and so on.” Applied to the representative of a district or ward, they would simply vote in city council, in congress, or in parliament according to the judgment made by the participatory decisional process.
Whatever the bizarre public fallout and decline of the German Pirate Party, in Iceland the Pirate Party has been a mainstay political force also operating according to liquid democracy. In Argentina the Net Party formed after founders were unable to find an existing political party to utilize their online decision-making platform DemocracyOS. While it has yet to attain elected office, Net Party leaders have helped disseminate ideas about liquid democracy in the Anglophone world.
Contrary to the rocky electoral upswings and implementation of liquid democratic processes of the above, Spain and Taiwan have been host to more successful mass deliberative and participatory processes. Both in terms of levels of participation, internal horizontality, and policy-influence and outcome. In Spain, activists have made inroads within Barcelona and Madrid city governments, rolling out various neighborhood and online platforms for participatory budgeting, participatory urban design, citizens’ initiative, and creating spaces for stimulating civic life. These institutional-forms lend insight to what DSA elected officials could experiment with on the local level.
In Taiwan, the growth of participatory democracy came out of the Sunflower Movement of 2014, which saw a twenty-three day occupation of the Taiwanese Legislature in opposition to a trade deal with China. Organizer-technologists worked together to develop a system called vTaiwan that allowed for patient online consensus building with a minimum of trolling. Discussions appear first online, with comments—but no replies. Instead, participants can vote to agree or disagree with comments, and a machine-learning system clusters comments to show where divides or consensus exists. As noted in Technology Review, “Although there may be hundreds or thousands of separate comments, like-minded groups rapidly emerge in this voting map, showing where there are divides and where there is consensus. People then naturally try to draft comments that will win votes from both sides of a divide, gradually eliminating the gaps.” Discussions have gone from the online space into face-to-face discussions, notably over the status of Uber in Taiwan, involving “academics, industry experts, and representatives from...stakeholders.” Consensus reached online in the Uber discussion eventually led the Taiwanese government to adopt “new regulations along the lines vTaiwan had produced” with its volunteer citizen administrators. The Taiwanese government has adopted a similar system called Join, overseen by Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister a “leading hacker and Sunflower activist.” Both systems run on the Polis web platform.
Taiwan is an especially salient example of direct democratic deliberation given that the island did not have direct presidential elections until 1996. Taiwan was under single party rule via martial law from 1949 until 1987. If a young bourgeois liberal democracy like Taiwan can take significant steps towards direct democracy, surely an avowedly democratic socialist organization with fifty-thousand members can do the same.
DSA could hire multiple staffers to administer processes that operationally draws on both vTaiwan and Liquid Feedback. These are processes that do not require a giant bureaucracy, but rather few staffers. Taiwan possesses over twenty-three million people. There is no reason a high energy fifty-thousand member organization cannot invest resources in experimenting with inclusive participatory processes at a variety of scales. These can be an entire ecology of participatory democratic processes and mechanisms for constituent-control. This goes beyond keeping electeds accountable. It creates innovative forms for scaled up radical democracy. If democratic socialist electeds are truly committed to a self-governing movement and “democratizing everything” then implementing different forms of constituent-control is necessary. Furthermore, the elected democratic socialist representative and attendant organizers would be opened up to devote their time to facilitating political education and socialist consciousness.
Inside-outside strategy presumes that socialists can minimally sustain a capacity to choose whether to operate inside or outside the Democratic Party on a given issue or campaign. With the continuous consciousness-raising and ideological education of constituents, socialists should strive build capacity such that they are not constrained by opposing forces and pressures within the Democratic Party. A democratized socialist caucus could be the groundwork to an independent socialist party, or an organizational form altogether different from traditional party politics.
Institutions & Structures: Democratic NonprofitsVisions & Models: socialismPractices, Tools & Strategies: Democratic Dialog & DeliberationMovements & Struggles: Economic JusticeEconomic Sectors: Organizational Support & DevelopmentPublic Policy & Governance
Student housing co-operatives offer something far beyond the usual college experience. Members learn about community and how to show up in today’s world as responsible citizens. This is the University of Life! The second episode of Season 1 of Planet Community takes us to Luther House, a student housing co-op that is part of the Inter-Cooperative Council of Ann Arbor, MI and a member of the North American Students of Cooperation, a national network and organization.
Student housing co-ops have a rich history dating back to at least the 1930’s, with ICC Ann Arbor being formed in 1937. Today the ICC includes 16 co-ops, and NASCO includes over 50 members across the county, which includes individual houses and networks like the ICC. We all know that education is not only important for personal success, it’s crucial to a healthy democracy, and access to education is not something everyone has. Student co-ops help lower some of the barriers, while also giving students an experience of how cooperative organization can work in the day-to-day social institutions where we live our lives.
What's is Planet Community all about? Let’s get real. We are facing multiple, interconnected global dangers, rooted in the exploitation of people and planet. These dangers include climate change, wealth disparity, and social injustice. These are co-created and mutually reinforcing problems. They are systemic, and systemic problems require holistic solutions. What do community solutions look like? Whether it’s a small group in a collective household or hundreds of people on a piece of land, intentional communities are micro-societies offering insights into living a cooperative set of values. They are living laboratories working to create and model whole systems, integrated locally to globally. Join the Movement! Join us to witness, connect to, and learn from inspiring communities that are leading the way in cooperation, sharing, and resiliency!
Platform Cooperativism Consortium 2018 Sept 29 | Day 2 Showcases III: Platform Cooperativism as a Global Movement
Lieza Dessein -- SMart, Belgium
平台合作大會 2018 9月29日 | 第二日 案例分享: 全球的平台合作運動
Lieza Dessein -- SMart, 比利時
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