Ownership Matters|Issue 24
The Partner State; Cooperative Cities?; R. Lurie on Workplace & Solidarity
- Editorial: Our Punitive Cities, and the Alternative
- Interview: Rebecca Lurie — ”Solidarity Looks Like You”
- Books: John Restakis’ Civilizing the State
- Zebras Unite’s Kate Sassoon in 18 Minutes
- How to Fundraise for a Cooperative Startup
- Synergia Institute 2022: Toward a Cooperative Commonwealth
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share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkIs Your City Punitive or Cooperative?
And How Can You Tell?
The rise of “smart cities” — places which operate through an unholy alliance of Big Tech and neoliberal policies — should make us ask lots of tough questions.
As did UIC professor Stacey Sutton, based in Chicago, and an associate professor in UIC’s Department of Urban Planning and Policy. A few years ago, she became curious as to why her adopted city has more residents that have filed for bankruptcy than any other city in the country. Moreover, many of those bankruptcies were tied to overdue fines from traffic tickets.
Following on some groundbreaking research on the debt burdens on Black residents from traffic tickets by ProPublica Illinois and Chicago’s WBEZ public radio station, Sutton became quietly famous for her recent study taking the research a step further — into the unequal weighting of automated traffic fines’ impact.
Using her training as an urbanist, Sutton noted that the automated cameras, while evenly distributed, tended to be placed proximately to freeway intersections in Black neighborhoods. These spots were pressure points which divide Black from white neighborhoods and where, due to minimal public transportation in some areas, residents are more likely to have to use a car. Her study, like the ProPublica and WBEZ studies before it, got some policies changed.
This work also alerted Sutton to a new concept. She had published a paper on “Cooperative Cities” — i.e., places which engaged with and enabled the solidarity economy to varying degrees. She identified “developer” cities (Cleveland, Richmond CA, Rochester) where the advocacy was top-down. Other places were “endorser” cities (Austin, Berkeley, Boston, Philadelphia) where change worked from the bottom up via grassroots groups. A third group she described as “cultivator” cities (Madison, Minneapolis, NYC) where the dynamic worked in both directions.
But then what was a punitive city? As her striking presentation recently to Cities@Tufts shows, a punitive city is one which persistently punishes certain residents — indeed, generally the same set of residents — over time. In Chicago, as she demonstrates, the racial map tends to explain everything. One definition of structural racism, she notes, is when the same patterns tend to emerge across multiple areas of social concern (healthcare, urban planning, policing, etc.)
But things in Chicago are changing. Will the new Community Wealth Building project ($15 million allocated under the Chicago Recovery Plan) for more worker co-ops and cooperative housing represent a shift for the city from punitive to cooperative? Sutton, who was involved in the development of the proposal, is certainly hoping that is the case.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy link“Solidarity Looks Like You”
A Conversation with CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies’ Rebecca Lurie
Rebecca Lurie is the Program Director of the Community and Worker Ownership Project at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies. She is a worker-owner at the City Roots Contractors Guild, a board member of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, and a long-time member of the New York Council of Carpenters.
You have a very interesting background, you’re not exactly the typical academic.
Far from it. Now, how do you know that?
It’s right there on your LinkedIn profile! You’ve been in organizing and been a union member for a number of years . . .
Yeah, well, I am a real New Yorker but I call myself an accidental academic. I don’t feel at home there. Just like I wasn’t at home as a female union carpenter in the ‘80s, either.
Yeah, I bet.
So I’m kind of from another planet.
That’s great. When you say you’re a real New Yorker, you were born in the city?
I grew up in Washington Heights, northern Manhattan. Growing up, the George Washington Bridge was outside my window. I’m one of five. And my mother was an activist.
We were a Jewish family in a Jewish neighborhood, adjoining a strong Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood. And the next neighborhood over was Harlem. So growing up in the 1960s, we were heavily influenced by the Civil Rights Movement.
I think the important thing to share is that my mother knew to be a good listener. She started as a social worker in East Harlem. She was quoted in Jane Jacobs’ famous book [The Death and Life and Great American Cities] as Mrs. Ellen Lurie, “the social worker in East Harlem.” She told Jane Jacobs, You got to go into the neighborhood and if you’re somebody’s guest, just be a gracious guest and listen. Your responsibility as a social worker is to take what you hear and bring that forward. And that process is what birthed her as an activist.
Great. I see Jacobs quotes her twice in the book!
Right. When she helped found Bronx Parents, herself a mother of five, she got involved in the schools. And the issue of the day, if you were a good, progressive liberal, was racial integration. And that got us all attacked, with all kinds of pejoratives, a brick through the window, how dare you, you “n-lovers” or whatever.
But my mother continued to be a good listener and realized that the real battle line was not over integrating but instead the issue of community control.
So here I am, ten years old, knowing that integration is good. But we were also supporting community control in the Black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods, for people to control their own schools.
And I think something very deeply visceral happened to me when I realized it’s not about us all blending. It’s about recognizing the strength and the asset in our individual communities and supporting that.
So before there was politically correct language for me, I understood what solidarity looked like. And solidarity looks like you. No one’s free till everyone’s free, but you’re not going to tell somebody else how to be free.
You’ve got to listen and then use whatever assets you have to support people. So that was my upbringing in many ways.
To bring it closer to the ownership world, I graduated college, my mother had passed away, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. I was involved a bit in the hippie community in the progressive community in upstate New York. And there was an association called the Northeast Federation of Food Co-ops . . .
And this was a big project, right? Is this where you learned to be a carpenter?
It was a big project. They delivered food to the food co-ops in the Northeast. Their board of directors was made up of representatives from those food co-ops. The eight or nine people who worked there were a collective.
They were expanding their warehouse, and they put a contract for some construction work which said whoever gets the job has to train a minority person or a woman. And that’s how I became a carpenter. I became a carpenter because a progressive business, a collective that was associated with co-ops, required that their contractor hire and train a woman or a minority. And I got the gig. So yes, that was my first hammer.
It was a very small company but I learned some skills and then I applied to the Carpenters Union’s apprenticeship program. That was probably 1981 or two in Saugerties, New York. No woman had ever walked in asking to be an apprentice. Their jaws dropped but they had to sign me up.
Eventually I returned to New York to be a carpenter, but those early years in New Paltz and in Ulster County exposed me to the food co-op movement. But in terms of my career choice, I was an activist first. What I loved about being a carpenter was, I could work by the day and my job was with me and my toolbox, not necessarily one particular employer.
It worked very well, because also in the early ’80s, I got involved with the Solidarity movement in Central America. We built out something called the New York-Nicaragua Construction Brigade and we went down to Nicaragua a number of times, building houses and schools.
Fast forward, I ended up teaching for the carpenters union, went back to school to get certified as an adult occupational educator, and started writing grants for the Union. And I ended up basically in workforce development. Not from the social services side, which is often the point of entry for people who do that work.
I came in from the industry and from the union. How do you train apprentices? How do you train up? How do you upgrade people for the industry changes?
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkCould the State Enable Liberation?
John Restakis’ Civilizing the State: Reclaiming Politics for the Common Good (2021)
Júlia Martins Rodrigues
Perhaps that Maya prophecy for the end of the world back in 2012 was correct. Since then, maybe we have all perished and have been experiencing the carcass of what the world once was. While experts on Mesoamerican culture still debate the ancient calendar, we can at least agree that the passing decade represented, at least, the death of an old cycle and the beginning of another. The post-apocalypse era became a mix of technological advances, groundbreaking discoveries in science, social movements, global pandemic, climate crisis, human rights crisis, surveillance, violent conflicts worldwide, the threat of far-right politics, oligopoly trends, and billionaire fortunes. This miscellaneous fate exacerbated our civilization’s most pressing dichotomies: hope and despair, democracy and authoritarianism, collective movements and rugged individualism, environmental safeguard and corporate greed (even flat-earthers and the globe), challenging the institutions to respond to the contradictions of our time.
What is the role of the state in this age? Can politics restore democracy and the commons? John Restakis, the author of Humanizing the Economy (2010), recently released his newest book, Civilizing the State (2021), inviting us to do something very different: i.e., to reimagine the state through the lens of cooperation, democracy, and solidarity.
His premise is bold and straightforward: while the liberal state has failed us, the state still has an institutional role to partner with citizen-powered movements towards the common good. Reading Civilizing the State is a reminder that as much as it feels the world is ending, civilization might not be on its deathbed yet — we have a choice.
Throughout ages, we have learned that the state is an instrument of domination, manipulated to advance the privileges of a powerful elite in control of central institutions. Each civilization has built particular creeds to justify non-egalitarian systems and social dominance hierarchies, including those of a divine will, lineage or economic power. Today, capital still plays a decisive role in measuring power and establishing the individual position within contemporary society. Critical decisions lay in the hands of a narrow group of billionaires in charge of enterprises with forces dwarfing that of entire countries.
Nevertheless, Restakis’ analysis challenges the state to be an instrument of liberation from poverty, oppression, tyranny, and institutionalized inequality. The state can nourish a sovereign society when guided by democratic values instead of sheer greed. After all, no government stands alone. Rephrasing Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish . . .” because it was subjugated in the hands of a few. That government of the people shall partner, not perish, with them.
Restakis’ alternative framework brings within it an act of radical hope, but it is far from a utopian vision. The author starts by recognizing society’s deep systemic issues and recovering old remedies for not-so-new pains. Rather than theorizing something completely new, he gathers the contributions built by generations of cooperative enthusiasts and democracy advocates, showing we already have all we need to collectively build a more equitable life and economy. His contribution lies in changing the narrative of the state as an obsolete institution in a globalized world, arguing that the state can be a cooperative actor, remaking politics as an emancipatory tool, and even capable of redesigning a better pathway for civilization.
Civilizing the State displays three segments: how we got this systematic crisis from political and economic powers; what alternatives we can learn from divergent communities; and, finally, the inception of the Partner State. The book forces you to stop and notice that the partner state is not the state we have, but urgently the one we need. In the author’s words, “the anguished calls for reform are not merely for changes of policy or political direction. They are the birth spasms of a new system of values and a vision of human community that are struggling to be born.”
Readers who enjoyed Humanizing the Economy will undoubtedly appreciate Civilizing the State, a refinement of key ideas Restakis eloquently articulated over a decade ago. Civilizing the State is a brilliant contribution toward marking out the alternative paths civil society can take to fortify democracy in the political and economic realms.
Júlia Martins Rodrigues recently spoke at length with John Restakis about his work. That interview will appear in our next issue, #25.
Meanwhile, we’d like to know: How does the language of the partner state resonate for you? Your thoughts are invited in our Editor / Reader Circle.
In Case You Missed It . . .
From our second issue’s item on picturing the interlinked character of a rising alternative investment culture:
Using pretty much his entire whiteboard, Ownership Matters publisher Felipe Witchger recently took a shot at sketching out a mindmap of the many actors in the emerging U.S. shared ownership ecosystem.
He then made two videos about the map. The first is a 3-minute overview with a bit of ecosystem history, and the second is an eloquent 13-minute personal commentary on the participants — i.e., the movement builders, the funders, the founders.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkUp for Viewing: 18 Minutes with Kate Sassoon
Our March Reader Gathering (last Tuesday, at date of this issue’s publication) with Zebras Unite’s Kate “Sassy” Sassoon did not come off as planned, as those reading who tried to join the session will know.
We made opportunity instead for a short one-on-one introductory chat.
Kate talks about growing up “co-op native” — involved in co-ops around housing, daycare, the arts, etc. — and getting her activism from her parents’ advice, “If you love something [like your community], you have to help fix it!” Conversation turns also to the vision for Zebras Unite, where she is the Director of Cooperative Membership (and as yet the sole “native”), and to the high value her experience in holding space for hard conversations assumes in the independent work she does as consultant and facilitator.
Still to come at a future Reader Gathering: a shared live conversation with Kate and you. She has promised a return engagement.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkHow to Fundraise for a Cooperative Startup
Alissa Orlando was part of the core team at The Driver’s Cooperative, where she handled fundraising for that project’s meteoric rise over the last year — from 2,000 drivers to over 6,000 and climbing, along with a crowdfunding campaign that topped $1 million in September 2021.
In a recent Medium post, Orlando shared her “financing playbook,” a longish tip list chock full of great insights, links, and real-world advice on how to get your co-op business airborne in those critical first one or two years.
Her “two core things to keep in mind,” regardless of how you raise capital: 1) revenue is the best source of financing, and 2) you need to make it easy for an investor to defend his or her decision to fund you!
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkToward Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century
The Synergia Institute’s 2022 MOOC Is Underway
Launched back on February 7 (but with enrollment ongoing) and running until June 24, the Synergia Institute’s fourth global MOOC, “Toward Co-operative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century,” offers a unique learning experience of shared models and strategies for societal transformation, organized in 8 modules:
- Framing the Journey: Capitalism, Planetary Limits and the Making of New Commons
- Stewarding Land and Resources for the Common Good
- Towards Ecologically Resilient and Just Food Systems
- Precarious Livelihoods: Pathways from Precarity to Solidarity
- Democratizing Social Care: From Welfare State to Partner State
- Forging Pathways to Energy Democracy and Just Transition
- Democratizing Money and Finance for the Great Transition
- Constructing your Synthesis: Purpose, Priorities, and Pathways
The course spends 2 weeks per module and assumes 3 hours of time per week. The MOOC format allows for learning tailored to everyone’s schedules. It also offers peer-to-peer and small group collaboration opportunities within a large international group.
Pricing is on a sliding scale model according to affordability. (Full fee is US$110, with options on a needs basis.)
Coming in Issue 25, April 19
- Interview: Synergia Cooperative Institute co-founder (inter alia) John Restakis
- Books: Jorge Santiago’s Political Solidarity Economy
Article ideas? Submissions? Helpful suggestions?
Contact the editor: email@example.com.
- Elias Crim, Editor
founder, Solidarity Hall; former business journalist and publishing consultant
- Júlia Martins Rodrigues, Contributing Editor
attorney (Brazil); visiting scholar, law, University of Colorado Boulder; PhD candidate, civil and constitutional law, University of Camerino
- Daniel Fireside, Contributing Editor
founder, Uncommon Capital Solutions; board member, Namaste Solar; capital coordinator, Downtown Crenshaw Rising
- Zoe Crim, Editorial Assistant
B.A., linguistics, Indiana University Bloomington; co-founder Fair Trade group
- Paul Bowman, Design / Content Mgr.
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