We cannot coast on a “small is beautiful” community garden project or worker-owned café—not while federal policies push down wages, shift billions to the military, and subsidize corporations that destroy Main Street commerce.
By Chuck Collins, originally published by YES! magazine
July 7, 2017
Alone, locally focused action will not overcome the systemic forces that are fueling the concentration of wealth and power and supercharging racial and economic disparities, climate change, and mass incarceration. Our best chance is a mass movement that works to stop threats to people and planet while building local alternatives at the same time. A place-based new economy will grow grassroots people power to fuel broad change while offering a new story of how we must live together.
What would it take to leverage the millions of people who have become engaged in new economy enterprises to be a political force that reshapes the rules governing our national economy? What would a “bottom-up” policy program look like at the state and federal levels?
Flaccavento urges us to move beyond what he calls a “false choice” between local and national issues to recognize “that almost every positive change we make in our own communities is ultimately either undermined or supported by broader economic and political choices.”
Step One: Obstuct.
Stop Threats to People and the Earth
Obstruct harmful systems, policies, and organizations.
Macy writes that to achieve social change, we must first engage in “holding actions” to stop the destruction of the Earth and its beings. In the current context, this includes defending immigrants, protecting civil liberties, and blocking policies that will worsen economic injustices. Activities range from political advocacy and community education to public witness protests and blockadia direct action campaigns against new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Step Two: Construct.
Build Local, Alternative Systems and State and Federal Policies That Support Them
Build structural alternatives to the dominant systems that harm—alternatives largely rooted in local communities: building the new society in the shell of the existing.
These local alternatives should serve as a foundation for broader policy change. Be skeptical of centralized solutions but understand that if we walk away from national politics, the vacuum will be filled by absentee corporate power.
Build community-based politics of engagement to overcome the power of corporate lobbyists.
Step Three: Nurture a Shift in Social Consciousness
Promote a visible counter-narrative
The third step in Macy’s framework for change is to nurture a shift in social consciousness—one that centers on community economics and interconnectedness.
Creating space for meaningful public debate is critical to shifting social consciousness. He quotes Mimi Pickering, one of the founders of Appalshop, a cultural change resource center in Kentucky: “In order for people to turn away from the politics of denial that have overtaken the electorate … there needs to be a visible counter narrative about what else is possible here.”
Flaccavento lifts up the importance of place-based public forums as a way to build community knowledge, capacity, and shared storytelling. In my urban neighborhood of Boston, the Jamaica Plain Forum has been a key ingredient in getting people together to engage in important community conversations around speakers, films, and workshops. There is power in building institutions such as local radio stations, community media, storytelling venues, and theater groups that enable a community to lift up its own stories. These face-to-face “open spaces” are building blocks for authentic democracy—and their decline has impoverished our public life.