Sharing Power: Building a Solidarity Economy

We all recognize that sharing is good. Sharing, lending, and borrowing help connect neighbors, encouraging isolated individuals to create community by consuming less. But most of the latest sharing projects focus on wealthy neighbors. What if I’ve never had too much? How do we address social inequity? How do we redistribute power to the majority who live without it? To transform an economic system which fails to meet community needs, we have to move from a sharing economy to a solidarity economy.

What's the difference? The solidarity economy is based on democratic control and social justice, not just cooperation and ecological sustainability. It's about sharing power. Solidarity means recognizing our global interdependence and addressing injustices in our communities by replacing dynamics of unequal power with grassroots, cooperative leadership. Take, for example, two food cooperatives in New York City--each concerned with remaining accessible for low-income people while also creating and participating in solidarity economics on a systemwide level. They're interested in justice, democracy, cooperation, and sustainability not only for their consumers, who become worker-owners, but also for the producers of their food, who are often organized into cooperatives too. Check them out:

Portraits of the Solidarity Economy: Food Cooperatives from Alex Mallis on Vimeo.

Collaborative consumption can help us use fewer resources and save money, but the solidarity economy connects us across race and class, often in ways that build a more just system for all. Community development credit unions, for example, are cooperative financial institutions, with charters that require them to provide financial services for marginalized communities. Then there are some businesses, like Third Root Community Health Center in Brooklyn, NY, that are worker-owned cooperatives that also provide sliding scale pricing and actively seek ways to bring health care to low-income people. When we support this kind of grassroots economic justice we move from sharing to solidarity, fully acknowledging our interdependence and taking action in ways that reverberate far beyond our own circle of friends.

In New York City we are lucky to have hundreds of examples of these practices. Sometimes they are new, utilizing economic innovations, and other times they are a return to traditions for collective well-being. Together they touch every sector of economic activity and make up a dynamic alternative to an economy based solely on profit and greed. (You can view a map of NYC's solidarity economy enterprises and intiatives here.)

Recently, SolidarityNYC produced a series of short film portraits of solidarity economy leaders, like those listed above. These films include people's stories from food and worker cooperatives, intentional communities, credit unions, community gardens, barter networks, and participatory budgeting. Each person is empowering specific NYC communities and in turn creating a solidarity alternative to the destructive economic transactions that dominant our daily lives.

We believe that in building networks of solidarity economy practices within and among our communities we can empower ourselves (and each other) to bring new forms of grassroots-led economic development to our neighborhoods. In doing so we'll not only do something good for each of us, but we'll bring greater justice to our city.

Want to do something similar in your community? We'd love to hear from you. Email us at info (at) solidaritynyc (dot) org.

Special thanks to Caroline Woolard of OurGoods.org and SolidarityNYC for co-authoring this post!

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