Solidarity Economies: Building Community Power — a publication series co-produced with The Nonprofit Quarterly— features five case studies highlighting the work & the strategies that NEC members are using to build solidarity economy ecosystems.
For this series we invited to participate NEC members that were placed-based in different regions of the US, and that could offer concrete examples and experiences on how communities are governing themselves through participatory democracy, cooperation and public ownership while building a culture of care and respect.
This series has been possible thanks to the inspiration, creativity and labor of our dear members, & the love their communities are pouring to imagine and build different worlds.
The series is composed by the following NEC members:
- Introduction by NEC Board member Stacey Sutton. Seeding Solidarity Economies: What’s Behind the Emerging Ecosystems.
- Cooperation New Orleans: Building an Arts Solidarity Economy
- Cooperation Buffalo: Building Economic Resilience in the Rust Belt: Buffalo’s Growing Co-op Network
- LA Co-op Lab: How the City of Angels Can Become a City of Worker-Owners
- Repaired Nations: Building the Solidarity Economy by Boosting Black-Owned Co-ops
- Beloved Community Incubator: Building the Spokes in the Wheel of a Solidarity Economy: A DC Story
The solidarity economy movement is ascendant! It’s true. Activists, organizers, and academics have been foretelling its rise in the United States for over a decade. But something new is afoot. I confess that I am among this group of activists and academics who for years have been calling attention to the growth of solidarity economy practices—and have been largely ignored. Back in 2019, I published a study on what I called “cooperative cities” in which I wrote about how local governments in a dozen US cities create enabling environments for developing and sustaining worker cooperatives. Only a handful of municipal leaders at the time referred to this work as “community wealth building.” The ability to do this study is itself part of the story—had I been writing it before the Great Recession, the number of cities that would have qualified as “cooperative cities” would have been zero.”Solidarity economy principles are not new. They are drawn from our rich legacy of Black liberation and freedom movements.”
Over the last decade, the seeds of a solidarity economy rooted in cooperatives have been reemerging in New Orleans. Many efforts are still nascent, but we are inspired by how far we have come. Among the 15 local cooperative businesses and democratic collectives we count in our ecosystem, many focus on arts and cultural strategies to strengthen our solidarity economy. These include BanchaLenguas, a language justice cooperative; the worker-owned film production house Studio Lalala; and Civic Studio Design Cooperative. Cooperation New Orleans, founded in 2019, provides an umbrella of support to these cooperative projects by and for artists, culture bearers, and healers through education and outreach, technical assistance, and financing—all with a focus on relationships.
When the founding worker-owners of BreadHive Worker Cooperative Bakery moved out of the housing co-op kitchen where they tested recipes on friends and roommates and began selling loaves of bread out of a take-out window at their new wholesale bakery, they knew they were not the only ones who were benefitting from the worker co-op they were creating. We treat cooperative development work not as a static formula, but as a learning laboratory.BreadHive’s journey and the lessons they learned along the way became the seed of Cooperation Buffalo, a shared resource network. We are a community-led resource center, a team of cooperative business developers and educators, and a community-controlled non-extractive loan fund. Together, we are planting, cultivating, and harvesting the seeds of a burgeoning solidarity economy.
The summer of 2023 was Los Angeles’s “hot labor summer.” Rolling strikes by hotel and airport workers disrupted conventions and airport concessions in the city’s busy tourist season. The Hollywood writers’ strike expanded as film and television actors also left the job in July. Less noticed, at the same time, other workers in Los Angeles were organizing for worker ownership—pushing back against inequity, gentrification, and the gig economy by collectively creating their own jobs and meeting community needs. Those workers are concentrated in a wide range of service industries where wage theft has proven to be a reliable business model and enforcement of labor rights is rare. And often, immigrant workers and workers of color are most directly impacted. Their movement toward a solidarity economy is where L.A. Co-op Lab comes in.
Achieving liberation requires envisioning a life outside of the exploitation and predation found in extractive capitalism. At Repaired Nations, a group I cofounded in December 2017, we are animated by the belief that the putrid roots of today’s economic system can be healed. The democratic enterprises we are developing are inspired by Pan-African principles. We see our work as restoring Black people’s lost connection to lineage and reflecting our deep desire to bridge the gap. For too long, our community has borne the brunt of capitalist exploitation. Below, I offer Repaired Nations’ journey so far—and our vision for where Repaired Nations and the solidarity economy is headed next—as a guiding light for those who dream of a better tomorrow.
Social movements must push to (re)claim ownership and control of land and economic resources for ordinary people—not mega-corporations and the wealthy few. Without this, there is no empowering the poor and working-class Black, Latine, and Indigenous people, no equitable treatment for queer and trans people, and no worker solidarity and ecological sustainability. At Beloved Community Incubator (BCI), we believe we can move toward this vision of the world by building a regional solidarity economy in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia Region (the “DMV”).