New Economy Coalition Conference

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Commonbound: New Economy Coalition Shows the Way

By Marianne Dickinson

It looks as if the new economy’s time has come if the New Economy Coalition’s conference, “Commonbound,” is any indication. Held in Boston in June, “Commonbound” was the culmination of ten summits held at colleges around the country. It drew 650 participants, almost double the expected attendance.

Most amazing was the participants’ diversity in age (perhaps half under 30), gender, race/ethnicity, and the paths they are blazing to a “just and regenerative” economy and society. There were even workshops specifically for LGBT, youth and communities of color to articulate what economic justice and sustainability means for them.

Our small New Mexico contingent was drawn to the event by New Economy thinkersGar Alperovitz, Hunter Lovins, Gus Speth, Juliet Schorbut we found them to be humbly blended in panels with activists, organizers, policy researchers, funders, worker co-op members, environmental advocates and storytellers.

Changing the story about our relationship with money and with nature is an important role for the creative community, so a significant place in the program and workshops was given to creating a new story of cooperation rather than competition, sustainability rather than endless growth, democracy rather than great inequality. Plenty of books and news media are delivering the story of the failures of our economic system, climate change and governance. At “Commonbound” we heard many stories of change taking place now as well as future possibilities. These included:

  • “We make loans to low income housing co-op members, as well as the co-ops themselves.  The co-ops are created following the City taking ownership of the buildings due to tax arrears…. [and] are income and resale restricted. The cost of an apartment for a current tenant is $2500.  The cost to an “outsider” (who still must meet the income restrictions) is around $50K.  We currently have 50 loans outstanding, for a total of $9.5 million.  We have 140 co-op apartment loans outstanding, for about $12 million,” reported Linda Levy, CEO of the Lower East Side Peoples Federal Credit Union.
  • As Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) gains membership, so has Community Supported Fishery (CSF), reports the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, which has as its slogan “Who Fishes Matters.” New England is becoming highly organized in support of local fishermen, who receive a higher value for their fish so they need to catch fewer fish, placing less strain on fish populations. As consumers learn the huge negative impacts of “factory fishing,” they are learning to ask where, when, and how their seafood was caught. (The fact that 50% of our country’s seafood is shipped to low-wage countries to prep, then sold back to us just highlights the need for more direct marketing.)
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the usual measure of “economic activity,”including activities such as oil spill cleanup and cancer treatmentis being re-worked to be a full-cost accounting method. Among the panelists discussing the adoption of a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) by four statesMaryland, Oregon, Utah, and Vermontand moves to adopt it in 16 others, was Oregon’s First Lady and GPI champion, Cylvia Hayes.

Talk of what constitutes the Commonsland, air, water, creative ideas, culture, genetics, the Internet, etc.that shouldn’t be monetized and privatized got some general agreement, but the devil’s in the details. The true meaning of the so-called sharing economy was hotly debated (For sharing economy information go to www.shareable.net. For critiques of the corporate takeover and undermining of regulations read Andrew Leonard on Salon.com.)

One workshop asked the question, “Is There a Place for Global Corporations in a Regenerative Economy?” Some argue that the New or Regenerative economy must be scaled up to be able to produce what is needed, but question whether WalMart can be made to follow such radical business practices as Patagonia’s. If we still want to have our coffee, tea and chocolate we need global trade, but how that fully transitions to fair trade and sustainable production is a huge challenge. And… what is the definition of “sustainable” anyway? In the tide of greenwashing, the term is almost as murky as “natural.”

The message of Commonbound: there is great energy and vision in the work being done to create a just and regenerative New Economy. See highlights at http://commonbound.org/ and hear organizer Ed Whitfield’s opening speech. “It isn’t enough to teach a man to fish if he doesn’t have access to a fishing pole and the fishing hole. “

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