Ownership Matters|Issue 26
What’s Next at OM; Solidarity Cities; the State’s Role — Transformed
- Our Anniversary Issue — and What Comes Next
- Interview: John Restakis (part 2), Civil Society & Partner State
- Commentary: Solidarity Cities
- Books: Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses
Not yet a subscriber? Sign up — it’s free.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkOur Anniversary Issue — and What Comes Next
Elias Crim and Júlia Martins Rodrigues
We launched Ownership Matters in May 2021, after several conversations with Felipe Witchger, Kevin Jones, Chris Kopka, Jessica Mason, Greg Brodsky, Kathy Gregg, and several more interested folk.
We looked at different business models but as a project of a non-profit organization, we opted for a free model, to which we have now added a monthly patronage program.
Our tagline describes us as “focused on the emerging landscape around impact investing, racial equity, and the solidarity economy.” As we approach the 1,000-subscriber mark, we see the figures in that landscape connecting and collaborating in powerful ways, partly through our efforts.
Two sneak previews:
- a webinar called “Weaving Reciprocity: the Good Work Showcase” (June 9, noon ET) and
- the launch of our Solidarity Workshop project, with numerous partners.
More on both items soon!
As Ownership Matters completes its first trip around the sun, the editorial team has taken the time to reflect upon our mission, partnerships, and prospects. Opening our second year with novelty, I start this new cycle as the Managing Editor to co-create OM’s internal processes, guided by the solidaristic and democratic lens, envisioning how the newsletter can broaden its scope, reach new readers, and further collaborate to strengthen our vital solidarity ecosystem.
We feel driven to consolidate ourselves as a community of practice, connecting like-minded individuals and institutions, willing to build an alternative economic pathway toward the commonwealth. The newsletter has reached founders, funders, and enthusiasts all over the U.S. and beyond. Through numerous stories, reflections, interviews, book reviews, and events, we honor the cooperative principle of information and education in building a new system of values.
Typically, solidarity stories have centered around entrepreneurship, cooperative ventures, and employee ownership. Moving forward, we want to widen our focus on the solidarity framework to better include the commons, urban spaces, environmental safeguards, spirituality, and the many other dimensions in which solidarity already flourishes. Thanks for all your support!
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkBuilding a Free and Sovereign Civil Society
A Conversation with John Restakis about Civilizing the State (Part Two)
Júlia Martins Rodrigues
John Restakis is a lecturer in Alternative Economies for Social Transformation at the University of Victoria and co-founder of the Synergia Institute in California. The first part of this interview with him, published in issue 25, can be read in full here.
One of the principles that summarize the Partner State is “that the state’s legitimacy derives from a free and sovereign civil society.” At first glance, this seems to be the chicken-and-egg dilemma. Wouldn’t a sovereign civil society derive from a Partner State? Outside the Partner State framework, the state is what often causes polarization and lack of sovereignty. What needs to come first?
The question has to do with where the push for political, economic, or social reforms arises. The push for reform primarily originates within civil society — from the ideas and principles that society advocates. It is civil society that ultimately propels regime change. Even though other alliances exist within government and other institutions that support or provide leadership for this kind of civil movement, the legitimacy of a movement for authentic reform takes root in civil society. Once radical reform begins to take shape, a new form of dialogue emerges between organized civil society and the state. This dialectical process happens back and forth as a joint process to realign powers, responsibilities, and collective goals. I do not believe this is possible solely within the confines of the informal power networks of civil society nor within the formal institutions of government alone. Social alchemy happens between a willing partner (institutional state) and a highly organized, mobilized, and motivated civil society. The confluence of those two creates a new form of governance and a more empowered form of civil society.
Can we expand on the word choice “Partner State”? My first impression when I read “partnership” is a two-way road. I wonder if what we need is an institutional servitude from the state instead. Historically, the state has been represented by a monarch or a large representative body that has the power to define policies that dictate our lives following a top-down framework. Shouldn’t the state serve us from a complete upside-down perspective? Why bring the state to a horizontal level as a partner?
Many people feel that the state is obsolete or inherently destructive and even needs to be abolished. Some extreme forms of stateless democracy feature a sovereign civil society organized through collective governance at the local level. I chose the term Partner State because I believe the state still has a role to play — but it has to be a transformed role. We need governing institutions whose primary function is to mobilize, enable, and empower civil society to maximize its role in politics and economics. The governing institutions need to be distinct from civil society itself. If we were to conceptualize a form of political economy where the state is entirely absent, everything would happen within civil society.
The problem is that, eventually, this will result in the emergence of informal hierarchies, abuse of power, and invisible forms of control and manipulation. I worry that those impulses towards hierarchy from some portions of society to exploit other portions of society — as always happens — become embedded within the structure of civil society itself and corrupt the system as a whole. Therefore, it is essential to distinguish formal institutions of governance from informal civil institutions, recognizing both as absolutely necessary.
We need formal and visible institutions of political power that can be held accountable. Within the concept of a Partner State, we interplay and balance formal institutional power and informal institutional power through civil society. I borrowed the idea of Partner State because the state can advocate for and enable the mobilization of civil society, maximizing its values towards a social economy, creating the basis for a new form of political ideology and political economy. And so it is a partnership.
How can we respond to the current crisis of legitimacy of the state?
A possible way to respond to the declining legitimacy of the state is by advocating a form of state organization that attempts to resolve and address this issue — not only regarding the decline of legitimacy itself, but behind that, the question of inequality, the absence of state accountability, and the fact that people no longer see themselves represented in the interests of the state.
The emergence of a new formation of Partner State is rooted in the extension of the democratic principle, including citizenship and collective social power, beyond the fossilized form of parliaments and representative government we have been stuck with for centuries in their liberal forms. The state has not engaged citizens substantively in their day-to-day lives. The Partner State can break the line dividing politics and economy in order to extend the democratic principle into the economy and towards a system of economic democracy. The idea is to reclaim politics and reintroduce politics as a daily concern to citizens instead of reducing them to mere spectators.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkSolidarity Cities
How Community Land Trusts and Housing Co-ops Can Revolutionize Urban Space
Júlia Martins Rodrigues and Laura Granja
Our next Reader Gathering, Wednesday, May 18 at 1 PM ET, will be an opportunity to talk with Laura Granja about community-centered urban planning. Subscribers to the newsletter should watch their inboxes for an invitation in the week of this issue’s publication.
Laura Granja is an urban planner and Ph.D. student in Geography, Planning, and Design at University of Colorado Denver. She has a background in architectural practice and in teaching urban design and planning. Laura is passionate about combining academic research in urban housing with community planning practices, with the hope to contribute towards a just city. You can reach out to her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ownership also matters in urban spaces. Communal life in urban areas represents the confluence of entrepreneurial activities, diverse modes of living, collective movements, and personhood aspirations. Densely populated cities are key incubators for thoughts and theories about societal development.
This dynamic calls for mindful urban planning — to ask which lens has been used to organize the commons, property, and urban life? What is happening to our cities? How can we improve them towards the community’s needs?
For example, people try to shorten the distance between their work, commercial, and residential spaces to conserve their most valuable asset: time. When a neighborhood becomes desirable for its attractive qualities, location being a key characteristic, the disconnection between potential value and the current land value sparks high square-foot prices in popular business districts and surrounding neighborhoods.
A part of this microeconomic equation is the hideous gentrification process, connecting local businesses and residents to a macroscale they are mostly not aware of. As the city grows, affluent newcomers gradually replace less wealthy residents in the inner city, pushing them farther away. It is no coincidence that the most densely entrepreneurial cities also have the most intense housing problem.
Money shapes the urban geography of dispossession — i.e., demographic displacement is a direct consequence of market-led wealth concentration and rising real estate values. Real estate capital within a neoliberal urban policy has changed cities’ landscapes, making them unaffordable for most working families. Owning or renting where they live became nearly impossible in the largest urban counties due to housing costs. As the dream of owning a house becomes farther away, displacement also becomes increasingly high among renters.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly included the right to adequate housing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25). According to the UN, most people worldwide live in cities, and the urban population will reach 60 percent by 2030. Sustainable cities and communities are goal number 11 of the UN Sustainable Development agenda, “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” If we fail to plan with goals of equity and justice, urban sprawl tends to underscore existing inequities, dragging vulnerable families to homelessness, informal settlements, tent cities, and slums.
The solidarity economy aims to look after the commons, democratic management, and shared ownership — things we need to build sustainable cities with better social-economic impact. Ownership is how wealth has been traditionally accumulated in the U.S., and facilitating ownership amongst low-income families and minorities is a way to repair historical exclusionary land-use laws.
share this segment by right‑clicking icon to copy linkFighting Big Brother by Growing Gardens
Orwell’s Roses (2021) by Rebecca Solnit
Every reader of Rebecca Solnit’s twenty-plus books will probably have favorites. While I’ve not read everything of hers, I can say her Paradise Built in Hell changed the way I see the world — which is saying quite a bit about any book. Her challenge to the world in that book’s depictions of catastrophes and the new solidarity which arises from them still stands: how to find a way of creating community which does not first depend upon crisis to bring us together.
Her new book, Orwell’s Roses, is like all her books: it shows us the connections between things (politics, roses, pleasure) we never thought of as connected before. Taking the life of the famous English essayist George Orwell from a particular angle — his love of the natural world, gardening, and especially roses — Solnit reveals why and how those things are connected to his famous resistance to the ideologies of fascism and Stalinism and his “crystal spirit” generally.
A tour guide who is always taking you down quick sidepaths, Solnit investigates Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors in Jamaica, the brutal rose industry in Colombia, the horrors of coal mining even in Orwell’s day, and similarities between the degraded science of Lysenkoism under Stalin and the climate change denialism of fossil fuel companies (the “two sides” pretense) in recent decades.
The latter chapter brilliantly explores the political implications and misuse of theories from Darwin (to buttress capitalism) and Lamarck (Lysenko’s disproven guide to genetics) with Peter Kropotkin’s vision of a cooperative human nature (in his 1902 book Mutual Aid).
A sample: “Lysenko would convince Stalin that wheat, like men, was malleable, and that he could breed wheat that would inherit acquired characteristics. He was crafting a pseudoscience that aligned well with Marxist ideology and Soviet aspirations.”
It was also part of the enormous empire of lies and the airbrushing of history which held captive so many on the left in those years, with a few notable exceptions — one of which was George Orwell.
Solnit offers here a new reading of his final novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, as a text imagining how language can be too tight, too restrictive in its vocabulary, “when some words have been murdered and others severed from too many of their associations.” In the age of Silicon Valley, “a global superpower,” a concentration of unprecedentedly wealthy corporations amassing more information on each of us than Big Brother, the KGB, Stasi, and the FBI ever dreamed of, she argues that the adjective “Orwellian” is not likely to disappear anytime soon.
And yet she finds a hope in this old book we thought we knew (as merely a dystopia), with its grasp of “an ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason.”
Solnit concludes: “Orwell’s signal achievement was to name and describe as no one else had the way totalitarianism was a threat not just to liberty and human rights but to language and consciousness, and he did it in so compelling a way that his last book casts a shadow — or a beacon’s light — into the present.” What fueled his commitments and idealism, as her many connections show, is Orwell’s pleasure and joy (symbolized by his fascination with the beauty of roses) in the soul’s forces of opposition.
“The work he did is everyone’s job now. It always was.”
In Case You Missed It . . .
From our fourth issue’s conversation with attorney Kathy Gregg on scalability vs. growth:
I think a lot of people mistake scalability for growth and that’s part of why we aren’t getting where we want to go.
I want to see more worker owners and more worker co-ops. Scaling will not grow co-ops and scalability will not generate demand for more co-ops.
For the time being, there are enough professionals and consultants; there is even enough access to capital. Right now, I would rather have the problem of too many entrepreneurs and retiring business owners waiting in line for help to start a worker cooperative than too many co-op developers and professionals waiting for more worker cooperatives to assist, which is the case now.
Coming in Issue 27, May 17
- Kate Poole and Tiffany Brown of Chordata Capital
- Books: The Asset 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, Managing 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.
- Felipe Witchger, Publisher
Disclaimer: The content of Ownership Matters is for informational purposes only. Such information should not be construed as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice. Nothing contained in these materials constitutes a solicitation, recommendation, or offer to buy, or a solicitation of an offer to sell, any securities. Subscribers / readers agree not to hold the authors, their affiliates or any third party service provider liable for any possible claim for damages arising from any decision made based on information published here.