Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Solidarity Economy Means Cultural, Environmental and Political Transformation

by Jim Tarbell

In 2007, at the Atlanta US Social Forum I witnessed the formation of the US Solidarity Economy Network. (USSEN). This past week, I used my time at the Detroit Social Forum to investigate how the Network was progressing. When I mentioned this to my colleagues, they nodded approvingly, but then stared at me quizzically asking, “What is the solidarity economy.”

That question is being answered as more people become involved with identifying and defining this organic, transformative phenomenon. Nancy Neamtan of the Quebec Chantier de L’Economie Sociale points out that “for years everyone was defining themselves as a community radio or a fair trade association or a workers co-op or a housing co-op and there was no common umbrella for defining ourselves as part of the economy. So the leap we made in 1996 was to come together as a broad network of co-ops, non-profits, and social movements in urban and rural areas that shared a vision of a solidarity economy that is democratic, inclusive and equitable.” She goes on to say that the solidarity economy is “citizen-based action within the economy through cooperative, collective or non-profit organizations that are producing goods and services based on a logic that sees the primacy of people over capital, that are democratically controlled, that respond to the needs of the community and that promote a philosophy of empowerment.”

Among the many workshops on the solidarity economy at the USSF, the Center for Community-Based Enterprise (C2BE) hosted one called Building Local Community and Creating Jobs through Cooperation. It featured several businesses across the country and included a Detroit neighborhood of community-based enterprises that hosted lunch the next day for a tour of Detroit community-based enterprises.

The US Solidarity Network ( helped organize a whole track of workshops at the Detroit Social Forum including one on how to map and organize solidarity economy members locally. Meanwhile, the Intercontinental Solidarity Economy Network (RIPESS) offered reports from solidarity networks across the planet. Representatives from Quebec, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America reported back on laws, forums and networks that are being developed around the world to support and strengthen the solidarity economy.

At the Friday night plenary, Daniel Tygel, Executive Secretary of the Brazilian Forum on the Solidarity Economy captured the imagination of the entire Social Forum saying, “We must be able to deal with our differences, and we must be able to find what we have in common to get over the individual or organizational perspective, so that we can get to a massive perspective to propose transformation. . . We are always thinking about the transformation of the economy and the transformation of society. The main project of the solidarity economy is to combine economy, culture, the environment and politics. What we are fighting for is a kind of termite method of killing capitalism. The termites are eating the wood, but if you look at the house, it looks like it is there, but the termites are eating the wood and one day this house will fall down.”

The next issue of Justice Rising will highlight the solidarity economy and how we can all participate in the coming transformation. Let me know if you want to participate in this issue or have ideas about its content. We are all in this together and it will take a massive effort to come together and create a truly transformative solidarity economy.

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