Editor’s note: In addition to this written synopsis, video recordings of “Decolonizing Economics Summit: The 3rd Annual Post-Capitalism Conference” sessions are now available here.
The third annual Post-Capitalism Conference took place this past weekend — with one major shift from previous years: the conference is now titled “Decolonizing Economics,” and far from being a simple title change, the theme of decolonization was quite prominently weaved through the entirety of summit’s sessions.
Decolonizing Economics was anchored by the Wiyot Tribe, Cooperation Humboldt, Cal Poly Humboldt faculty, and a number of different sponsors — including Shareable. During the 3-day virtual summit, community members and practitioners gathered to share information and experiences, strengthen alliances and networks, explore decolonial strategies, and uplift practical solutions to healing the land and people.
Ted Hernandez, Tribal Chief of the Wiyot Tribe, opened the summit by giving a traditional blessing and then sharing the history of the Wiyot tribe, emphasizing the importance of knowing the history of the peoples whose lands we are on. “It’s a history that people don’t want to talk about, but we need to,” Hernandez said.
And it is indeed a very dark history — as became abundantly clear when Hernandez shared the story of the Wiyot Massacre, which occurred in February of 1860. The massacre occurred as tribal members participated in their annual world renewal ceremony on Tuluwat island — just across from Eureka in Arcata Bay. Men, women, and children were ambushed by white settlers who then proceeded to murder hundreds of Wiyot people with axes, knives, and guns. “They pretty much annihilated the Wiyot tribe that night,” Hernandez said.
For over a century afterward, Tuluwat Island was under the control of white settlers and was used as a staging ground for boat repairs and other activities which left the island full of toxic materials like asbestos and lead paint. It wasn’t until 2012 when the Wiyot tribe, after years of appeals, were finally given parts of their land back — on what is now known as Indian Island — by the city of Eureka. In a bittersweet full circle, the tribe was finally able to complete their renewal ceremony of 1860 that ended so abruptly in bloodshed. Today, the entire island has been returned to the Wiyot — it’s one of the most successful examples of land rematriation in the United States.
Indigenous people all over are not able to perform their ceremonies on their sacred lands. It’s important that we give the land back to bring the balance back to the world — it’s what makes our world more round. — Ted Hernandez, Tribal Chief of the Wiyot Tribe
David Cobb, one of the lead organizers of the summit and part of Cooperation Humboldt’s core team, has been working closely with the Wiyot now for years and is currently serving as Department Head of the Dishgamu Humboldt Community Land Trust. “I am an uninvited guest on Wiyot ancestral territory,” Cobb explained. “Working on this summit is helping me to learn how to live appropriately and in right relationship on this land.”
As part of this right relationship, Cooperation Humbold pays an Honor Tax — 1% of their entire gross revenue— to the Wiyot people for the right to be on their land.
“The Wiyot tribe has been involved with this conference from the beginning, though this year the Tribal Council voted unanimously to sign on as a co-anchor of the summit,” Nicola Walters, coordinator of the summit, told Shareable. “This is because of the deepening relationships between Cooperation Humboldt and the Wiyot, as well as the summit organizers and the tribe.”
Walters is a lecturer in the Politics Department at Cal Poly Humboldt, a labor organizer with the California Faculty Association, and a founding member of Higher Ed Labor United. She started working with the conference last year when she saw that something needed to be done to address the socio-economic crises facing higher education.
She explained that the decision to center decolonization at this year’s summit was made intentionally, in order to expand the conference’s focus: “The idea of post-capitalism gets us somewhere, but then we have to ask: What are we trying to accomplish? Yes, let’s end capitalism, but what’s on the other side?”
What is to be done?
The summit’s opening session was followed by a session titled “What is to be done?” — named after the famous political pamphlet written by Vladimir Lenin. The pamphlet outlined a skeletal plan for going beyond individual battles for higher wages and decent working hours, moving towards a plan for restructuring all of society. In this historical moment at the conjuncture of ecological collapse and late-stage capitalism, speakers Yvonne Yen Liu (Solidarity Research Center), Richard Wolff (Democracy at Work), Jessica Alvarez-Parfrey (Transition US), and Kali Akuno (Cooperation Jackson) again explored the question: what is to be done?
Zooming from Los Angeles, Yvonne Yen Liu began the discussion with a conversation about municipalism, putting an emphasis on building stronger cities defined by direct democracy, feminism, and anti-capitalist principles. “We have the social conditions that are ripe for a municipal movement that will stitch together all the autonomous institutions, organizations, and grassroots groups that are working across the city to create a city-wide People’s Platform similar to what Barcelona en Comu (Barcelona in Common) in 2015,” Liu hypothesized.
One of the main themes of Liu’s presentation was the importance of connecting the dots: “People are already organized in networks, we just want to connect the disparate nodes — a network of self-organized movements.”
This is essentially the concept of trans-localism, which frames the cooperation cities movement that includes organizations like Cooperation Humboldt, Cooperation Jackson, and Cooperation Richmond here in the Bay Area, among others.
Liu ended by inviting the audience to the launch of the Municipalism learning series on May Day (May 1st), with a panel of all-star speakers and a party with music and food. More info can be found at municipalism.org and losangelesforall.org.
Up next was noted economics professor Richard Wolff, who is co-founder of Democracy at Work and host of the podcast Economic Update.
Speaking on the pervasive impact colonialism has had on our collective wellbeing and greater societal consciousness, Wolf explained how the act of decolonizing should be applied to every aspect of our lives — not limited to the arena of economics.
We need to decolonize not only in terms of all the settler economies and colonialisms of the last umpteen centuries — we also need to decolonize our minds, because they too have been colonized. — economics professor, Richard Wolff
“Our ways of thinking about everything — especially economics — have been colonized by a tradition of thought that is much more deeply lodged in the minds of people like us than most of us are most of the time willing to acknowledge or admit,” Wolff said.
Wolff’s presentation centered on breaking the hold of colonialism in the way that we think — particularly in terms of how we think about economics. “The entirety of the economics profession assumes that capitalism as a system is somehow intrinsically necessary or natural,” Wolff lamented. “It’s not.”
This is an idea that political and cultural theorist Mark Fisher called capitalist realism: the idea there is no alternative to capitalism.
“We need to break the hold of this assumption — that this arrangement is the only way,” Wolff explained. “We need to regain the wisdom of people who live other ways — many Indigenous communities.”
This sentiment was expanded on further by the next speaker, Jessica Alvarez-Parfrey. Alvarez-Parfrey is the Executive Director of Transition US. In her introduction, she recounted sitting in an Econ 101 class learning about the Tragedy of the Commons and “losing her mind.”
We are literally unable to see the confines of the capitalist system has put on us — these blinders that we only see one progression as our destiny and which are imposed through violence. — Transition US Executive Director, Jessica Alvarez-Parfrey
“We are so new at this, we are unprepared for the massive complexity of all of these relationships that we are having to navigate — especially since a very small number of people have been in charge of wiring in the assumptions and designing the architecture, Alvarez-Parfrey said.”
Transition US is working on a 3-year campaign titled “Regeneration Nation,” with the aim of exploring colonial harms, histories, and structural inequities while focusing on the beautiful promise of regenerative design. They’re also organizing a Fall 2022 Week of Action, in an effort to celebrate stories of resilience, struggle, innovation, and collaboration. The celebration is set to kick off on October 10, Indigenous People’s Day.
The final “What is to be done?” session was facilitated by Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson, who highlighted the need for an integrated, unified collective.
“The right-wing is creating a consolidated block — where is ours?” Akuno asked, while emphasizing the need to federate all of our various projects.
People are already doing many things, the issue and the challenge that we have is how do we combine this? How do we organically construct a political program around it that enables us to build collective power and capacity? — Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson
“That is the challenge…there’s tons of stuff going on, we’re just not connected, Akuno said.”
The rest of the day included sessions on Dishgamu Humboldt Community Land Trust, local public banking, and the screening of the films “El Cacao: The Challenge of Fair Trade” and “No Place to Grow.”
What is post-capitalism?
The second day of the conference began with an exploration of what post-capitalism actually means — an important question for a summit with the same title.
Emily Kawano, co-director of the Wellspring Cooperative Corporation and the US Solidarity Economy Network, started things off by giving a definition of what capitalism is: “A lack of clarity of what capitalism is can easily lead to just reforming and thereby strengthening capitalism,” Kawano warned. “Clarity about the long-term vision helps to ensure we’re building transformative reform.”
Kawano’s definition of capitalism came from the Center for Popular Economics:
With capitalism’s definition established, the space was open for a discussion of what post-capitalism is — some examples that were explored include worker co-ops, mutual aid, time banks, community land trusts, participatory budgeting, credit unions, public banking, and electric co-ops.
Kawano’s presentation was followed by presentations by Will Fisher, an assistant professor of Economics at Cal Poly Humboldt, and Jerome Scott, a labor organizer and former director of Project South.
I would have really liked to hear a lot more about what post-capitalism could look like, and what it currently looks like, but in lieu of tangible historical and emergent examples of post-capitalism, much of Fisher and Scott’s presentations existed in a pretty abstract framing around the need to move from capitalism to socialism to communism. The ensuing panel discussion dived deeper into these abstract questions, though brief discussions of liberated zones and solidarity economies were mentioned.
I suppose it’s difficult to have a concrete discussion around something as nebulous as post-capitalism, but as Kawano touched on in her presentation, there are certainly many examples to point to.
What role does art play?
The next couple of days provided several thought-provoking and exciting sessions: People’s Network for Land & Liberation, Decolonizing Restoration, Non-Reformist Reforms: The Intersection of Electoral Politics & Solidarity Economy, Cooperative Cannabis for Post-Capitalist Communities, Carbon Supremacy, False Equivalencies, and Corporate Impunity, Labor and Organizing in Higher Education, and The Intersection of White Supremacy, Capitalism & Settler-Colonialism — all of which were recorded and will be available online.
One of the most unique sessions explored the role of art and culture in building a post-capitalist society and featured artists Stephanie McMillan, Michelle Hernandez, Kwame Braxton, and Shamako Noble.
Kwame Braxton and Shamako Noble opened the session with spoken word poetry and then took a deep dive into how art can subvert capitalism and provide inspiration for a post-capitalist future.
One way to weaken the enemy is to highlight their weaknesses through art — art can reveal the true horrors of the system—visual artist Stephanie McMillan
“[Art] can build connections, strengthen communities, present positions and make arguments, start conversations about the problems of the day, and it can also assert emancipatory visions of the future,” McMillan said.
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McMillan argued that whatever we decide to do has to first be imagined. This sentiment is a great encapsulation of the post-capitalism conference as a whole — another world is possible, and we were gathered together to imagine what it could look like.
According to Nikola Walters, with over one thousand participants — up from 500 last year — the conference exceeded the organizers’ expectations.
“The summit created a space for incredible conversations, coalition building, transformative thinking, and inspiration,” Walters told Shareable. “The relationship that has been growing between the Wiyot Tribe and Cooperation Humboldt is a testament to what we have been trying to create through these conferences. We are trying to deepen relationships, strengthen communities, connect across differences and actually work together for the future we all deserve. And, we are actually seeing how this conference can help that work.”