Hey, its Sachie, Membership Engagement Manager at NEC, I’m honored to be writing about my colleague, Eli, Interim Co-Director, as part of NEC’s #MakingWaves fundraising campaign. You can chip in today to change the current!
“I’m an immigrant. My family came to this country from Lebanon in the late 1980s to escape civil war. We saw first-hand what systemic collapse looks like. It looks like death, it looks like war, it looks like families being separated. It also looks like people taking care of each other, being really brave, and risking their lives to try to survive and build a better future for themselves and their families. My story is not uncommon. It’s the story of so many migrants all over the world. I do this work because I want to live in a world where people don’t have to do that anymore; where people don’t have to risk their lives and leave their homelands and their families due to violence — whether it’s economic violence or physical violence — and I believe solidarity economies are critical to reaching that world." -Eli Feghali, NEC Co-Director
Eli Feghali was first drawn to community organizing because of values passed down to him from his family: “I was taught that no one– not even one person– should have to live in poverty. Any system that forces people into living in poverty, is not right” He says, “I hate when people say the system is broken. It’s not. It’s designed to produce poverty and inequality. It’s set up to funnel money from the masses of people to a small number of wealthy and powerful elites. That’s why we need systemic change”
As a student at Vanderbilt University, Eli learned how to turn his anger at the system into something productive. Inspired by a seminar on “nonviolent struggle” taught by Rev. James Lawson, a renowned U.S civil rights leader, Eli started organizing for economic and migrant justice on campus and in the community. He adds, “Working for the rights of immigrants and refugees across Tennessee was a massive honor and learning experience for me. I didn’t realize it then, but we were on the frontlines of the right-wing extremist uprising that we’re seeing manifest all over our country today.”
Eli moved back home to Boston in 2010 to be closer to his family, where he was soon pulled into the whirlwind that was Occupy Wall Street. “I was part of the movement in Boston. It was my first experience with a mass popular uprising and it was absolutely transformative for my personal growth as someone eager to learn how to make change happen in my community,” he says. “I discovered for myself the power and the history of direct action. I learned for the first time about cooperatives, participatory democracy, and many of the ideas that are now the focus of my work at NEC. I also met people who would become some of most closest friends and community in Boston.”
At the same time, Eli learned a lot from Occupy’s limitations and setbacks: “Many of us, myself included, really struggled with how to organize internally for a strategy that would move us beyond the symbolism of the encampments to actually contesting for power and changing the institutions and structures we were rallying against.”
“One of the most popular chants when we were in the streets was, ‘We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.’ Toward the end of the movement, I remember asking myself ‘what do we mean by that?’ It seemed to me that we needed a clearer vision of what that other world looked like.”
Inspired by the history of cooperatives and the solidarity economy, Eli became convinced that if our social movements were serious about winning, we needed to not only need to fight the forces that harm our communities, but also build visionary alternatives and learn how to govern ourselves. “Progressives have been too focused on what is politically possible given the existing conditions, and not focused enough on presenting people with a bold and compelling vision that changes the terrain of what’s possible,” he said.
Over the course of Eli’s six years at the New Economy Coalition, the organization has transitioned from a think tank to a network of 213 organizations that are building the power of the solidarity economy movement in the US. He states, “NEC members are modeling the ‘other world’ by building it now. Across the country, our members are organizing co-ops, land trusts, public banks, and other community-controlled projects that shift ownership and wealth from the 1% to the everyday people. Those models and policies point the way toward a new system, a new economy.”
Eli believes “Models aren’t enough. We also have to understand and build power. With our allies in other social movements, we have to establish a new common sense about how the economy and society can work for us all.”
If you think this world needs visionary solutions now more than ever, please give what you can and help spread the word about NEC #MakingWaves campiagn. NEC is calling on each of you to support our network and members by helping us raise $100K by 2019!