Carpenter Maria Klemperer-Johnson is used to being the only woman on the construction site—but, thanks in part to her own work, that is beginning to change. She's leading a class of eight women in the construction of a tiny house in upstate New York, and hopes that the growing number of similar classes around the country will lead to greater gender equality in the construction sector."You're up against this assumption that you don't know anything."
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, carpentry jobs are expected to grow 20 percent between 2010 and 2020 (significantly more than the average job growth rate of 14 percent), with a median wage of 19 dollars an hour.
But the sector is extraordinarily male-dominated. As of 2011, women held 1.4 percent of carpentry positions in the United States—a number that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says has largely remained consistent over the last 35 years. Unless something changes, women will miss out on the almost 200,000 new carpentry jobs the bureau expects to see created in the next decade.
Women in construction often face harassment and discrimination, as well as limited networking opportunities that stunt career advancement.
"You're up against this assumption that you don't know anything," Klemperer-Johnson explains. "Many women are never taught those skill sets when they're young, and so they don't feel comfortable walking onto a construction site to ask for a job, the way many men do getting started."
Klemperer-Johnson, a master carpenter and contractor, got her start as an apprentice cabinet builder at Red Barn Cabinet Shop in Brooktondale, N.Y. There she learned joinery and traditional cabinet building before moving on to work in home construction. She took advanced classes in timber framing at the Heartwood School in Washington, Mass., where she says she was almost always the only female student.
In 2005 she and her partner Scott began construction of their highly sustainable timber frame and strawbale home in Hector, N.Y. The straw insulation came from a local farmer, and the timbers were cut and milled from trees on their land. "It took us about 2 years to build," explained Klemperer-Johnson in an email, "but I was pregnant for the first 9 months of that, and then went back to work full time while Scott finished the house." At the same time, she founded her contracting company, DoubleDog Timberworks, which is also the venue for her classes.
Klemperer-Johnson's classes in carpentry for women debuted in the spring of 2013. In the first one, eight women are collaboratively building the walls and infrastructure of a tiny house, repurposing a 1987 camper trailer for the base. The house will be about 165 square feet in size and should be complete by January 2014. "We started with basic tool skills and measuring to build the floor and cut and measure the plywood walls," explained Elizabeth Coakley, a student in the class who also funded the construction of the house.
The women who enroll in Klemperer-Johnson's classes come from all different backgrounds and levels of experience, she says, and many have told her that the all-women environment made them feel more comfortable. "Some women come with very little experience with this kind of physical work," she says, "and watching their bodily comfort increase is gratifying to see."Signs of support for women in carpentry
Klemperer-Johnson believes having an all-women's space for teaching carpentry skills is a step toward addressing the gender imbalance in this sector—and she's not the only one. All over the country, there are small signs of support for women in carpentry and other "non-traditional" occupations.
The Heartwood School, where Klemperer-Johnson studied, currently offers a class in carpentry for women, as does Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vt., and the Workshop for Women in Denver, Colo."Tiny houses are great for teaching."
In New York City, ReNEW, a branch of NEW Nontraditional Employment for Women is offering free, six-week intensive pre-apprenticeship programs for women who want to go into carpentry, solar panel installation, and other "green collar" jobs.
Support for women carpenters extends to the federal level. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor announced its allocation of $1.8 million in grants for women in "non-traditional" occupations. The grant money is going to six different organizations aimed at better supporting women seeking long-term careers in manufacturing, transportation, and construction.
These federal grants "will better connect women with apprenticeships, helping them to gain skills in fields that offer long-term career opportunities," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis wrote in a press release in June of 2012.
Despite these signs, there is still a long way to go. On August 18, The New York Daily News reported that of the hundreds of hopefuls lined up outside the New York City District Council of Carpenters to land a spot in their carpenters apprenticeship program, only one women, Gina Giuliano, applied.
Klemperer-Johnson hopes her carpentry classes will be an entrance point for women to become paid apprentices at DoubleDog Timberworks. It's her dream to build an organization supporting women learning carpentry skills by building tiny houses. "Tiny houses are great for teaching," she says. "You can build them inside all year round, they use fewer resources, and teach a wide range of skills."
Encouraged by positive feedback from students, Klemperer-Johnson is excited to continue developing the series. It's just a matter of how. "I'm currently pursuing funding options to expand the physical plant as well as our online presence," Klemperer-Johnson says. "The demand for these classes is there, and now it's a matter of developing the infrastructure to make them sustainable."
Erika Lundahl wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Erika is an editorial intern at YES!
Progressive organizations, from trade unions to large nonprofits, have long struggled to find ways of aligning their values with their work. In these organizations, "management" is often uttered with an air of disgust, seen—correctly—as the source of many of the injustices the staff works to fight. Yet, in spite of this, our organizations have tended to adopt the same management systems found in business and government, blind to the ways we perpetuate some of the very things we criticize in other institutions.
Ultimately, if we want to create a world of democracy, transparency, and egalitarianism, we need to start to demonstrate what that looks like in our own work. How do we make decisions? Who does what jobs, and why? How do we treat each other?
If we can't manifest our values in our own offices, it seems unlikely that we can do so in our communities, cities, or countries. Yet many social change organizations continue to churn out formulaic reiterations of the organizing systems constructed by Anglo-American industrialists a century and a half ago. At their core is the idea that a few great leaders will create hierarchies led by specialists and experts, and that the rest of us will be given a box (or cubicle) to fit within, to implement the visions of the infallible heroes at the top.Organizational change, as with social change, is most effective when it comes from the grassroots.
Some organizations have concluded that workplace dictatorships are simply a necessary evil on the road to a better world. Luckily, though, there have always been those less inclined to believe in the old fallacy of "the ends justify the means," which assumes that any steps towards a positive result are acceptable, even if they would be seen as unethical in any other context. Instead, some have chosen to explore what it might look like to do socially useful things in groups without undermining their core values in the process.
My new book, Anarchists in the Boardroom, tells the stories of Argentine worker-run factories, Occupy encampments, and direct actions against tax-dodging corporations to highlight some of the emerging alternatives to our inherited systems of organizing. There is something deeply human about these non-hierarchical systems that seems to bring out the best in us. They allow us to find our own ways of supporting the causes we believe in, rather than slotting us into hierarchies and departments that prescribe how we are meant to do so. Below are a few key lessons that could help our organizations to embrace the humanity of the people that make them up:1. Participatory consensus-based decision making builds trust
While there were far more differences than similarities among the nearly one thousand Occupy camps that emerged around in the world in late 2011, consensus-based decision-making was one of the movement's hallmarks.
This was no coincidence. Drawing on previous movements from Spain and Latin America, Occupiers knew that decisions made by a small part of a big group tend to lack the collective investment needed to turn those decisions into widespread action. Alternatively, when it comes to big-picture questions, decisions made by as-close-to-everybody-as-possible tend to create meaningful buy-in for whatever decisions emerge (even if this is initially a time-consuming process).
This is a fundamental difference between representative democracy and the participatory kind, which treats decision-making as constructive compromise rather than a fight to win by "50 percent plus one." Fundamentally, consensus-based decisions build trust among those involved, encouraging them to find their own autonomous ways of taking those decisions forward. The value of this trust-building shouldn't be underestimated.2. When we trust each other, we organize better
Without trust, even the best systems fall apart. There's a structural level to any form of democracy, but there's also a personal one. If we aren't working to build trusting relationships between colleagues, members, supporters, and others within and around our organizations, we will struggle to make those organizations the places we want them to be.A growing body of evidence suggests that people in all fields achieve far more when they have a strong sense of autonomy over what they do.
Trust helps us move beyond the formal structures of democratic process to the spirit of it, in which mutual accountability informs each of our individual actions without the need for an extensive decision-making process every time. In social movements the need to be trustworthy is amplified because the personal risks involved are often higher than in most formal organizations. Luckily, in most situations people respond to being trusted by becoming more trustworthy. Mutual trust breeds mutual accountability, which tends to push most of us to do better at the things we care about.
Formalized roles and hierarchies undermine trust by giving some individuals power over others, which is one of the fundamental reasons so many movements have avoided these structures. Instead, social movements (at their best) allow people to work together more fluidly, slipping between roles and following their individual passion to work where they are inspired to, rather than where someone else has told them to. A growing body of evidence suggests that people in all fields achieve far more when they have a strong sense of autonomy over what they do, as opposed to when they are told what to do and how to do it.3. We can't predict what the world will look like tomorrow, so focus on the moment.
In the range of examples I explore in my book, there is a noticeable absence of planning meetings or strategy retreats. When I met with the activists who helped kick-start Occupy Sandy—the self-organized disaster response effort that emerged after Hurricane Sandy hit—they told me that they didn't spend time "sitting in a room strategizing together," but instead got out and did what was needed.
This ad hoc responsiveness is often the norm in movements. It demonstrates the notion that the specifics of a movement's direction can't and shouldn't be determined before experiencing the on-the-ground realities. That responsiveness was more important than anything that could be conceived in a boardroom or conference center, months or years in advance.
The primary lesson I've found in bringing learning from grassroots social movements to organizations, is that organizational change, as with social change, is most effective when it comes from the grassroots. As in society more widely, if those of us lacking executive powers decide to wait for those in charge to bring us participatory democracy, we'll be waiting a long time.
Sometimes this is because of fundamentally different values often held by those who succeed in climbing institutional ladders. But more often it is simply the inability of a small group to know the right direction for a much larger one.
More involvement means more perspective. More perspective means better odds of finding solutions and ways of doing things we've traditionally missed. Thus, participatory democracy is better for achieving our social aims, and is within the reach of us all.
So it's over to you. How will you start your workplace revolution?
Liam Barrington-Bush wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Liam is a UK-based activist, journalist, social change consultant and author of the new book, Anarchists in the Boardroom: How social media and social movements can help your organisation to be more like people. You can buy the book from him directly, or 'like' his Facebook page. Liam tweets at @hackofalltrades.
So when her sewing teacher told her about a job in the United States that would pay enough money to support her family and maybe even start her own business, she accepted. She had never been out of the country, and the job meant leaving her children with her mother indefinitely.
Molina and her sewing teacher were flown to Tijuana, where a powerful woman known in Puebla as “la Senora” met them at the border. She confiscated Molina’s documents and clothing for “safekeeping.” “I thought it was strange,” Molina says, “but she had been living in the U.S. for so long so I thought, she knows how things are run.” A coyote took the two women to Los Angeles, where they were immediately put to work in a sewing factory.
Molina’s workday started at 4 a.m., sewing by the dim light on the machine. During the regular workday, she ironed, unloaded and reloaded delivery trucks, and stitched labels into dresses—some for major American stores. When the other workers went home, Molina cleaned the entire factory. She was subjected to physical abuse, and wasn’t allowed to leave the building unattended. She was, for all practical purposes, a slave.
“I thought slavery was only in the books,” she says. “I was surprised to find myself living in it.”
According to the International Labor Organization, nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labor—often called modern-day slavery—across the world. Many of them are exploited in agriculture, construction, domestic servitude, and manufacturing. An estimated 15,000-17,500 people are trafficked into the United States alone every year.
Molina’s experience is typical. What’s remarkable is what she did with it.
Just 40 days into her internment, Molina broke free. She got permission to go to church alone and figured out how to contact a concerned fellow worker who had noticed Molina’s abuse in the shop. With her help Molina connected with the nonprofit Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST).
CAST has worked with victims of forced labor since 1998 helping them re-enter society and training them as advocates. Survivors are well-positioned to lobby for policies that help victims, curb abuse, and prosecute offenders, says Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition. “We’re learning directly from the survivors we’re serving, and that’s informing all of these policy measures to have an impact on future lives.”
One such law is California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act, signed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger in 2010. Molina testified before the California legislature to help urge the bill’s passage. The law requires companies doing business in California with more than $100 million in annual global profits to report their efforts to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. Buck says the law poses a question to both consumers and companies: What are we doing about slavery?
Molina is now a pioneering member of CAST’s Survivors Caucus, a group of women from 13 countries who escaped forced labor in the United States. They are directly involved in crafting policies that meet the needs of trafficking victims—like what kinds of health care and visa protections they receive.
They also serve as a support group. Although she spent just 40 days in the sewing shop, it took years for Molina to recover emotionally—and eight years to reunite with the children left in Mexico. “I knew I could cry and share these feelings with the other survivors,” Molina says. “I don’t have sisters of my own, but if I had sisters, they would be like them.”
Molina looks ahead to lobbying for a federal counterpart to the California transparency act and a new California law addressing the growing problem of exploitative labor recruitment.
“Now that I’m a grandmother, I want a world free of slavery,” Molina says. “Now that I survived, I want to change something.”
Christa Hillstrom wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Christa is web managing editor of YES! and editor of Human Goods, a website covering modern-day slavery.
Last year, 150 workers threatened to commit suicide to protest working conditions at Foxconn, Apple’s primary Chinese product-assembly contractor. Since some workers had already jumped to their deaths from the roofs of the factories, Foxconn installed suicide prevention nets. As the media extensively covered this news, two other stories were also prominent: Consumers were lining up outside Apple stores, including in Beijing and Shanghai, eagerly awaiting the release of the latest iPhone, and Apple’s stock reached record heights. In other words, investors predicted that worker suicides would not discourage customers from buying Apple products. The investors were correct.
The extensive coverage did, however, spark a conversation in the business world about working conditions throughout a company’s supply chain, and how a business can access that potentially damaging information before it hits the press. In the wake of the Foxconn suicides and the twin tragedies in Bangladesh of the Tazreen Fashions garment-factory fire and the Rana Plaza collapse, more companies are considering the rights and safety of workers in their supply chains. And some new companies are looking at getting information about working conditions from the best source—directly from the workers.The difficulty with monitoring
The average Fortune 1000 company has 20,000 to 40,000 subcontractors that span the globe. Impotent regulation, weak law enforcement, and limited investment in monitoring and verification of working conditions make it difficult even for well-intentioned companies to make sure their products are produced without exploitation.
The globalization of production means that raw materials travel great distances and are handled by many middlemen as they are transformed into the finished product bought by a consumer. Each step in the process may be suspect: The U.S. Department of Labor, for example, identifies 134 goods from 74 countries believed to be made with child or forced labor. Countless other health and safety issues are not monitored. The supply chains are complex, and there’s no single organization monitoring the way the things we buy are produced. So how do we ensure that we are not buying exploitation-laden products? Can it even be done?
Generally, a company is not liable for the practices of a sub-contractor. Many companies do try to establish some ethical sourcing practices, but information is hard to come by and there’s no central source for such data.Surveying “allows us to understand the real life situations of individual workers in our factories.”
Eileen Fisher, Inc., sells women’s clothes and accessories and generates more than $300 million in annual revenue. It has a profit-sharing arrangement with its U.S. workers, and has a strong commitment to progressive human rights practices.
Still, according to Amy Hall, director of social consciousness, the brand’s corporate responsibility arm, when a nonprofit wrote to them asking if Uzbek cotton was used in their clothing, she had to admit they didn’t know for sure. In Uzbekistan, children are routinely forced by the government to leave school during the harvest and pick cotton—cotton that ends up in garments sold all over the world.
“Every single fiber we use, there are questions about it,” Hall said. “How is it sourced, how is it processed? Can it be done better...?” The questions, she said, have led them to where they are today: wanting to deeply and thoroughly map their supply chain to provide a more complete picture of where things come from and the conditions and needs of workers all along the way.
For years, companies trying to assess their supply chains for human rights abuses have relied on third-party audits to monitor factories. Typically, trained monitors conduct physical inspections and interview workers at the jobsite, where management can sit in. It’s easy enough for managers to unlock doors or correct other safety deficiencies while outsiders are present for short visits.Hearing directly from workers
But a recent trend in verification that is gaining some traction is getting data from workers themselves. Since a supply chain can have many links, some companies are investing in projects that find ways to ask workers on the factory floor about the conditions they experience—every day.
For example, LaborVoices, Inc., a social enterprise, uses mobile phones to collect data directly from workers who can anonymously report working conditions in their own language to a recording service. Recordings inform workers what their rights are—from health care to unions. LaborVoices then compiles the data and provides it to businesses seeking independent verification of contractor labor practices. Companies with subscriptions can monitor information coming from workers at specific factories via an online dashboard.
Kohl Gill, LaborVoices’ founder and CEO, a 2013 Echoing Green Fellow, believes that business thinking is shifting: “Companies are realizing that workers are good sources of information not just about working conditions but also about other facility-related factors that could cause disruptions in production.” More than 1,000 Bangladeshi workers were killed this year in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, where garments for Western brands were sewn. After that disaster the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which activists have pushed for years to clean up its supply chains, tapped LaborVoices to help monitor working conditions there.
Eileen Fisher uses a similar tool from Good World Solutions, an Oakland-based nonprofit that helps corporate clients design and launch mobile worker surveys and analyze data collected from the front lines.
Unlike traditional auditing where inspectors visit a facility once a year, usually at a predetermined time, Eileen Fisher’s program allows them to hear from workers in a supplier’s facility at any time. The company also commissions home-based surveys to glean additional insights from workers. Hall says surveying “allows us to understand the real life situations of individual workers in our factories.”
Last year, survey results from a community near Kolkata revealed that home workers weaving for Eileen Fisher suppliers lived below the poverty line. Hall says the company is now working with an Indian NGO to determine the best way to raise the weavers’ income: “Possible solutions include conducting time and motion studies to establish a fair wage rate and/or offering quality enhancement training for weavers to reduce rejected goods.”
At the same time, Hall also points out that the “complexity of the weaving structure,” which puts many layers of vendors between Eileen Fisher and the weavers, means they don’t have as much control over working conditions as they’d like.
The Internet and wireless csommunications provide an amazing ability to collect and analyze data. This creates an unprecedented opportunity to manage complex global supply chains for human rights risks and promote a culture of worker-informed verification that can be built in to all sourcing practices.
The social opportunity lies in ensuring that such effective models become scalable, enabling procurement managers to make conscientious decisions about who to buy their supplies from.
Samir Goswami wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Samir contributes to Human Goods and is founder of Economic Enterprises for Humanitarian Development, a nonprofit that designs data systems to address humanitarian issues.
Americans have been taught to not trust the Russians. And there is good reason to not trust them given the history of the cold war. But the American people also have good reason to not trust our own politicians, either. Democrat or Republican, the same agenda is pushed forward, an agenda that further centralizes power at the top of the political pyramid, concentrates ever more wealth in the hands of a small global elite, and pushes the world ever closer to a global feudal and fascist society in which the trappings of democratic government remain but the substance of popular self-rule has been thoroughly torn out.
I’ve often wondered when the American people, as well as the rest of the world, would say, “enough!” Perhaps that time has arrived. I wonder what went on behind the scenes that has caused the US administration to back down on its threats to attack Syria. Is it the lack of support from the American people? Is it the lack of support from Britain and our other allies? Is it resistance from Russia, China, and other governments that have not yet been co-opted, coerced, or otherwise brought into alignment with the agenda of the New World Order?
It’s probably all of these, as well as, perhaps some cracks developing within the ranks of the elite itself. In a remarkable turn of events, Russian President Vladimir Putin was allowed to address the American people directly in that icon of American media, The New York Times. In his op-ed that was published on Wednesday, September 11, Putin called for a reasoned approach to the problems of Syria and of the entire middle-east, saying, “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.”
You can read the entire article here: A Plea for Caution From Russia, What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria.
If the American government truly believes in the rule of law, then let it submit to that rule.
Also, thanks for reading and sharing the important news on Trust is the Only Currency that's not covered by mainstream media. Though it's been quite dormant the last year as I've moved my efforts over to Shareable, it's reached close to 100,000 hits with no publicity or promotion. Now it's time to take action!
By Mira Luna8/29/13From Shareable Brazil is recognized as one of the most advanced countries in terms of the development of solidarity economy though it's received little attention in the media, partly because of the Portuguese language barrier. I was lucky enough to conduct an interview through a translator that has contacts with the movement. This is an interview with Luigi Verardo, a consultant at ANTEAG (National Association of Workers in Self-managing Enterprises), translated by Miguel Hirota.
To give some context, the solidarity economy movement emerged in Brazil when the country was hit by a recession caused by the liberalization of capital markets in the late 90's. Many businesses closed and traditional employment opportunities shrank significantly. Then in 2003, the Brazilian Forum on the Solidarity Economy was established, formalizing the movement. That same year, the Network of Government Policymakers on Solidarity Economy first met and the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy was established under President Lula. In 2004, the first National Meeting of Solidarity Economy Enterprises took place. Today, there are more than 120 local solidarity economy forums and 27 state forums held on a regular basis. Working groups communicate with the forums and government and develop technical plans and operational aspects of the movement.
Values of the Solidarity Economy, as cited by the National Secretariat of Solidarity Economy of Brazil:
- Democratization of the economic relations
- Co-operation instead of forced competition
- Valuing diversity. Human beings are more important than profits
- Valuing local knowledge, constant learning and training
- Social justice and emancipation
- Protection of the environment
As part of Brazil's mission to share their experiences with the world, Brazil will be represented at the 5th International Meeting of the Social Solidarity Economy in Manila, Oct. 15-18, 2013.
What is the current state of Brazilian Solidarity Economy?
Currently Solidarity Economy is going through a redefinition process. It was built up with a social organization by the people and also with an institution (Brazilian government’s public policies). The relationship between these two entities hasn't fully matured. So there’s a need to work for autonomy and to deepen their characteristics.
What are some of the most exciting or important recent developments?
Among what has happened recently, the 5th National Plenary of Solidarity Economy (09th to 13th December 2012, at Luziânia, Goiás: see http://e.eita.org.br/vplenaria for the final report in Portuguese) and the 2nd Solidarity Economy Social Forum (11th to 14th July 2013, at Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul).
What tools do you use to strengthen Solidarity Economy?
The tools to strengthen are: holding plenaries, forum activities, communication between participants, mappings, trainings and funding.
What are its major accomplishments?
We have many accomplishments.
- Holding and broadening of forums (national forums, state-level forums all over Brazil regional and local forums).
- Having achieved, by way of the petition to the Letter to then President Lula, the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy (SENAES) and appointing the Prof. Paul Singer as its secretary.
- Linking Solidarity Economy with self-management. Defining Solidarity Economy’s principles.
- Having set up a social network and movement beyond political parties.
- Doing activities that combine the policies of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum (FBES) with that of SENAES by way of mapping existing Solidarity Economy practices in Brazil.
What are its major challenges?
We can point out, among other challenges, the problem of segmentation due to the fact that Solidarity Economy has been built up from three segments (public policymakers, different organizations and businesses) with a policy to put businesses as main players. As a perspective to get over this picture, there’s a need to deepen the characterization as a social movement with policy and culture to promote necessary autonomy for its development.
What enabled the movement in Brazil to move so fast and be so successful compared to other countries?
The movement’s organization has been developed quite quickly thanks to the following reasons:
The fact that the FBES organization was born as a fruit of the activities at the 1st World Social Forum which took place in Brazil in 2001. The fact it was held in Brazil promoted a significant impact among Brazilians who could join directly or indirectly. First of all a working group, the Brazilian Working Group of Solidarity Economy, was set up with the mission to diffuse and organize state-level forums at different regions, which turned into FBES in 2003 with representation, at that time, in almost every Brazilian state.
Solidarity Economy’s proposal found, especially in the first five years of the last decade, a fertile context - at that time there used to be a high level of unemployment, precariousness of the labor market and little social mobility.
With Lula’s election for president, at the end of 2002, there were a lot of expectations and possibilities to promote the solidarity economy within the executive power.
What role has government played? Has the government been helpful or resistant?
The government was both helpful and resistant.
There are difficulties for the government to work with social organizations. The State’s very structure is against promoting social organizations and movements. The executive power has its priorities, in the legislative power, the opposition parties created hurdles.
For more details on the organizational structure of Brazil's Solidarity Economy see this brief.
The International Reciprocal Exchange Association (IRTA), the premier association of the commercial “barter” industry, has been for more than forty years promoting the interests of small and medium sized enterprises by assisting its member trade exchanges to provide them with liquidity and effective opportunities for moneyless trading.
Since 2005, IRTA has been reaching out to the wider grassroots community of researchers, developers, and organizers of private currencies and complementary exchange mechanisms and has broadened its advocacy to include them.
The upcoming 34th Annual International Convention of the IRTA in Las Vegas will provide a unique opportunity for social entrepreneurs and monetary activists to further consolidate programs of cooperation with the well-established commercial “barter” sector of the moneyless exchange movement. The Convention will be held from Sept. 19 thru 21 at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas.
Along with IRTA President and experienced trade exchange operator Annette Riggs, and Rob van Hilten, Executive Director of QOIN, a consultancy for community currencies, I will be a panelist in a Saturday session (September 21) titled Understanding Diverse Exchange System Models: From Bitcoin and Berkshares, to Transparent Credit Clearing Networks. This session will consider three basic topics of discussion:
Bitcoin, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The benefits and limitations of cash-based local currencies.
The emerging global exchange network.
There is still time to register for this important event. You can get details about the convention program and secure your place by visiting the IRTA website at http://www.irta.com/.
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Wigwam Mills has been making socks in Sheboygan, Wis., for more than 100 years. This is quality footwear sold at sporting goods stores and specialty outlets, not the cheaper, flimsier items you might find at a big box store. Wigwam has more than 200 skilled and semi-skilled workers—some of whom are second- or third-generation employees.The TPP has supporters on both sides of the political aisle.
The company is a rarity, a survival story that inspires flag-waving. It endures in an industry that has seen similar plants close or move overseas where labor and real estate is cheaper and environmental regulations less stringent. It's a holdout from a time when the United States dominated the sock market.That wasn't so long ago, says Robert Chesebro Jr., Wigwam's president and CEO. He points out that in 1990, less than 10 percent of socks sold in the United States were imported. Today, it's the opposite: 90 percent are imports.
The small percentage of the sock market still supplied by U.S. manufacturers could decrease even more if the United States joins the latest global trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The partnership, which has been called "NAFTA on steroids," would establish a free-trade zone between the United States and 11 other countries, including Vietnam, Australia, and Singapore. Japan will also join the agreement, meaning TPP countries will account for nearly 40 percent of global gross domestic product and about one-third of all world trade.
Critics say that if the TPP is approved, the United States will lose jobs as even more major companies move their operations overseas.Bringing it home
Michael Stumo, CEO of the advocacy group Coalition for a Prosperous America, said that of the Americans who lose their jobs as a result of the TPP, about one-third will never work again, one-third will find lower paying positions, and only one-third will eventually find a comparable position."We've created a consumer mindset that has almost no social conscience."
"There will be much more poverty, meaning your infrastructure suffers and the divorce rate goes up. This puts stress on kids and causes social problems," he said. "If you want to have a successful economy, you want to capture as much of the value in the supply chain as you can."
That means bringing manufacturing back to the United States and supporting products made in this country.
Mitch Cahn, owner and founder of Unionwear, a uniform manufacturing company in Newark, N.J., says both can be done. In 1992, he took over an empty factory in a crime-blighted neighborhood. Today, his building stands on what he calls "one of the safest blocks in Newark." He has 115 employees, about 75 percent of whom have been there for 10 years or more. There are only 15 parking spaces on site, but that's not a problem: Most of the employees walk to work or use public transportation.
"From our factory rooftop, we can see dozens of houses where our employees live. We can see their kids playing outside. We can see them walk home from school," Cahn said.
A former Wall Street money mover, Cahn decided to open his manufacturing company because he "wanted to add value and create value instead of just moving it around." He rents out sections of his 75,000-square-foot building to businesses related to uniform manufacture, like screen printers and a sewing contractor. That reduces his transportation costs and carbon footprint.
Still, he says, products made in the United States are often more expensive than their foreign counterparts. Many of his company's products are sold to labor unions, government departments, and those in the anti-sweatshop crowd, like nonprofits and universities.
"Right now, no one buys a made in the USA product by accident. It's still more expensive, about 25 percent more expensive," he says.Buying American
Mark Andol, whose two New York stores sell only American-made products, says customers recognize that the quality of his products makes up for the price. When Andol opened his first store in tiny Elma, N.Y., in 2010, he had 50 products he could boast were American-made, including the packaging. Today, Andol's stores stock more than 5,000 items produced by 350 U.S. companies, and his Made in America stores have become tourist destinations.
"We try to lead with quality. Everyone else leads with price," Andol said. "Most businessmen are about making money and I'm about making livelihoods."The agreement will give unprecedented powers to multinational corporations.
Andol knows firsthand what can happen when companies take their businesses overseas. He ran his own general welding and fabricating business from 1989 until 2007, when a major customer decided to give its business to a Chinese company that was marketing the same products for $3 less per piece. Andol had to lay off 38 of his 69 employees, including family members and three friends he'd known since kindergarten.
"Nobody realizes what is lost when one product goes overseas. It's not just my people. It's the guys who made the boxes for me and the company who made the staples and labels," he says.A bipartisan secret deal
The TPP's specifics have been hammered out during closed-door conferences held throughout the world over the past five years. The 18th round took place in Malaysia in July. Leaked chapters of the agreement have caused concern among a diverse group of critics including the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and numerous U.S. labor unions. The agreement will give unprecedented powers to multinational corporations and affect individuals in member countries in ways that are both unexpected and undesirable.
Yet surprisingly, the TPP has supporters on both sides of the political aisle.
"On health care, on transportation, on abortion, on just about any significant policy issue, the Republicans and Democrats are at a complete stalemate," said Auggie Tantillo, a strategic consultant to the National Council of Textile Organizations, a lobbying group dedicated to the welfare of the U.S. textile industry. "On trade, there is an odd and convenient bipartisanship. You have these huge retailers and importers that are supporting the TPP on both sides of the aisle."
Curt Ellis, communications director for the American Jobs Alliance, put it more bluntly: "Both Democrats and Republicans have been captured by the financial elite on Wall Street and are doing their bidding. Both parties are collaborating on the economic destruction of this country," he says. "We can expect [U.S. House Speaker John] Boehner to hold Obama's hand as they push us over the cliff."
Of course, some would benefit from the TPP. During one round of negotiations, Chesebro said, one U.S. retailer argued that the TPP could save consumers money on socks—approximately 63 cents a pair. "How many people will be positively impacted by paying 63 cents less for a pair of socks?" he asked.
And to get those savings, product quality will likely suffer, says Tantillo. More importantly, working conditions in certain countries may worsen. Environmental concerns will be further ignored. Still, Tantillo doesn't think many American shoppers will care.
"We've created a consumer mindset that has almost no social conscience," he says. "If something goes on within U.S. borders, we're quick to react to it and rightfully so. If it happens outside the United States, such as the disastrous factory collapse in Bangladesh, we're like, 'Whatever,' as if there's no connectivity."
President Obama said he wants to see the TPP made law by October. He may get that wish if Congress grants fast-track authority allowing him to sign the agreement without pre-approval by Congress.Taking a stand
Like other hometown American factories, Wigwam Mills is likely to take a hit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though Sheboygan, Wis., 2,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is far from the international meetings where free trade deals are arranged. In the 1990s, this town of 50,000 was named "The Best Place to Raise a Family" by Reader's Digest magazine. Sheboygan is known for its bratwurst, and this year's 60th annual "Brat Days" featured carnival rides, a footrace, and an extreme eating competition.The key to defeating the TPP at this point is to employ a "vampire strategy."
Wigwam Mills factory employee Sue Procek is a Wisconsin native. She applied for a job at the company more than 30 years ago after seeing an ad for a sock pairer. Of course, she'd heard of Wigwam. Everyone here knows Wigwam.
"I heard it was a nice place to work and family-friendly and all that so I put an application in," she said. She got the job. Procek is now a work distributor, divvying up product among workers—"the girls," she calls them—who add finishing touches. The position is considered semi-skilled, and Procek, 56, also serves as secretary/treasurer for the local union. "I thought I could make a career here," she said, "and I was right."
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Procek and her colleagues on the factory floor only learned about the TPP a few months ago. Chesebro, their boss, has long followed TPP negotiations, and he alerted employees to possible ramifications of its passage. "If this were to go through and increase our costs, we could lose 20 people," Procek said. "That's just us. One small place. Add 10 other plants and that's 200 people. This could affect a lot of people."
The key to defeating the TPP at this point is to employ a "vampire strategy," according to Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign: Drag it out of the shadows and into the sunlight, then watch it burst into flames.
If the American public knew the details of the TPP—which Stamoulis calls the "biggest corporate power grab so far this millennium"— they would not stand for it. There would be a popular uprising, he said, similar to the one against the World Trade Organization in 1999, at the so-called "Battle of Seattle."
"People's movements have stopped corporate power grabs like this time and time again. The more people learn about them, the more upset they become," Stamoulis says. "It's up to us to spread the word from the bottom up."
Natalie Pompilio wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Natalie is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She is the co-author of More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell, and her work appeared in Best Newspaper Writing 2006. Her website is nataliepompilio.com.
In June, I reported the launch and abrupt shutdown of an exciting community development project in a poor suburb of Mombasa, Kenya. The Bangla-Pesa voucher system, conceived and organized by American aid worker Will Ruddick and several local micro-entrepreneurs, is intended to provide additional liquidity that makes it possible for unmet needs of local residents to be satisfied out of their own excess productive capacity.
After a mere two weeks of operation, the Government of Kenya arrested Ruddick and five local micro-entrepreneurs, charging them with forgery. Amidst an indignant outcry from the global development and complementary currency community, the case bounced around through the Kenyan bureaucracy and on Friday, the central bank finally dropped the charges.You can read about this latest development on the Koru Kenya website.
Now, the way appears to be clear for this project to move forward and to build upon its early success. The Bangla-Pesa project is in my opinion one of the most promising current developments in the realm of alternative exchange and community development and deserves wide support as other similar communities line up to replicate it.
Here are 6 short and inspiring videos that tell the whole story. I suggest that you view them all starting with the background of the Bangla-Pesa up through the State’s withdrawing the case. These videos are automatically played in sequence.–t.h.g.
Regarding effective community initiatives, you might want to read this inspiring article from Der Spiegel about two Greek women in Athens who have done some remarkable social action things: People Power: Young Greeks Team Up to Combat Crisis.
This story shows what Greeks can do, and are doing, to make things better for themselves, aside from government policies and actions, by organizing “self-help initiatives to provide free medical care, repair street lighting and monitor public spending.”
The rest of the world might follow their lead. read about it here.
Restaurants like Knife and Fork didn't use to exist in places like Spruce Pine, a town of just 2,200 people nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. About 80 percent of what the restaurant serves is sourced from within a 40-mile radius. For the most part, the only things that aren't local are beer, wine, and cheese.
"I see myself as less a chef and more as a sourcer or a seeker of great products," says chef Nate Allen.
An All-Local Meal in Appalachia
Check out our infographic on local food in Appalachia.
Ten years ago, Allen says, there was no real demand for local food here. But over the last decade, southern Appalachian consumers have started seeking it out. Restaurateurs, specialty food producers, and farmers have shifted their business models to meet this demand, and for many, the local food movement has been a welcome answer to shifts in the national economy.
Since 2002, skyrocketing demand for local food has been recorded in the Local Food Guide published annually by the Asheville-based Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. The number of local farms listed in that guide has grown from 58 to 691—a startling increase of 1,091 percent. Likewise, the number of farmers markets is up 197 percent, and the number of restaurants serving local food is up 542 percent.
The reasons for such a dramatic shift are manifold—but like so many social movements, this one started with a problem.Finding a post-tobacco future
Back in the late 1990s, Charlie Jackson and plenty of other North Carolina farmers were watching tobacco profits melt away, and coming to terms with the prospect that no other cash crop could take its place. So they decided to try something different: touting the economic and environmental benefits of local food.Back then it was often difficult to explain the importance of buying local, Jackson says. On the one hand, some farmers had handed down sustainable food practices for generations. On the other, convincing people to pay a little more for a little less convenience is one tough elevator pitch.
But Jackson and other volunteers spent a few years making that pitch anyway. After a few years, the idea started to catch on, and in 2002 Jackson helped to found the nonprofit Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, along with two initiatives that would help transform the local and sustainable food movement in southern Appalachia. The Business of Farming Conference was founded to teach farmers how to market their products to local and regional customers, while the Local Food Guide showed consumers how to find food produced nearby. Just over a decade later, Jackson, now ASAP's executive director, estimates that more than a million copies of the guide have been printed.
ASAP has also set the standard for what qualifies as local through its Appalachian Grown certification program. The primary criteria for qualification is that a certified producer must be within roughly 100 miles of Asheville, where dozens of restaurants serving local food have sprung up, supplied by several thriving farmers markets.
In a 2011 ASAP survey, 59 percent of Western North Carolina residents reported buying local food products on a weekly basis when they were in season. ASAP's success means it's now setting the standard for local sustainability programs: it's sharing its ideas with budding programs in Knoxville and Chattanooga, and is even helping to start a local food program in the Mary Valley region of Queensland, Australia.A better market close to home
Sunburst Trout Farms has been a family-run business for three generations, producing everything from trout fillets to marinated trout, trout sausage, and caviar. Before gas prices started to spike in the early 2000s, Sunburst generated 30 percent of its business by selling to Whole Foods stores nationwide. When gas prices continued to rise, Whole Foods asked Sunburst CEO Sally Eason to drop the price on fillets, her biggest-selling item. The new price would be so low that she'd be losing money on the deal.Today's Appalachian consumers are willing to go without tomatoes in February, to eat what's in season instead.
"I said, 'I just can't do it,' and they pulled the plug," Eason remembers.
But the same price hikes Eason was experiencing had also affected area chefs, who were seeking out lower-priced sources of fish. They found that buying closer to home reduced the impact of gas prices, and Sunburst happened to be only about 30 miles away from Asheville's thriving restaurant scene.
Finding enough purchasers turned out not to be a problem: After the Gulf oil spill, demand was so high that Sunburst ran out of fish and almost went out of business. By early 2011, Sunburst had a waiting list of about 180 customers it was unable to supply. A capital grant from the USDA that year brought the company back online.
Since that time, Sunburst more than doubled its workforce to 23, and has been able to supply half of those customers on the waiting list, most of them chefs. Today, around 90 percent of Sunburst's customers are within 100 miles of the farm.
Selling locally is good business for Sunburst. Eason charges $5 to $10 for delivery to most of her customer base, and that covers costs. Compare that to two-day overnight shipping to the West Coast, which might cost as much as $100, by Eason's estimation—a cost she generally had to deduct from her own profits.
Andy Perkins, who co-owns Looking Glass Creamery in Fairview, N.C., with his wife, Jen, agrees that small-business owners make more by selling locally. For four years, Looking Glass cheese has been sold by posh retailer Williams-Sonoma, and up to 80 percent of the company's business is through wholesale. But the Perkinses recently opened a retail location on their property and at the local farmers market because "your margin is much greater when you sell directly to the consumer," according to Perkins.
Looking Glass Creamery was founded in 2009, and by 2011 demand for its cheese was so high that Perkins left his job as an audiologist to work at the creamery full-time. Today, the Perkinses have three employees, all learning to make cheese.
Those aren't the only jobs the creamery has created. The Perkinses source their milk from farms within about 30 miles of their house, and one third-generation dairy farmer was even able to reopen his farm after commodity-scale production proved unsustainable. Today, Pack Dairy has only about a dozen cows, but Perkins estimates that he pays 50 to 150 percent more per gallon of milk than the local milk cooperative once did; in any case, Perkins offers a much more stable price.A more social economy
When the Perkinses buy from local farmers, they say they're getting a better-quality product. But just as important is building a more deeply networked community—and part of that is collaborating with other farmers to achieve shared goals. Perkins' wife, Jen, joined with other local cheesemakers this year to launch the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail, a nonprofit collective open to tourist visits.
"We have this idea that having the cheese trail is going to help us all," Perkins explains. "It's a way of keeping these sustainable businesses going. It's not looking at each other as competition.""My son knows when he puts honey on toast that it comes from Milo Acres."
Other local farmers echo Perkins' perspective on the issue. "There are things about it you can't put a price tag on," says William Shelton, whose Shelton Family Farms operates a Community-Supported Agriculture program, or CSA, offering weekly food shares out of Whittier, N.C. "I have four sons, and the experience has been good for them. … At the market, it's a social experience. It's a connection to the community."
Nate Allen was seeking a sense of community, too, when he and his wife, Wendy Gardner, opened their restaurant, Knife and Fork, in 2009. As a private chef, Allen had traveled all around the world—but he found home in Spruce Pine: "Suddenly you have a group of people that work together to benefit the whole, and that can't really happen on a global concept."
On the Sunday brunch menu this August, Knife and Fork offered up sweet and spicy rabbit wings, trout terrine, and locally sourced eggs cooked any way you like. But a decade ago, the climate wasn't right for a hyper-local restaurant like Knife and Fork, Allen says. "There wouldn't have been the agricultural community to support it; there wouldn't have been the understanding," he explains.
Today's Appalachian consumers are different, says Allen. They're willing to go without tomatoes in February, to eat what's in season instead. In the process, they're rediscovering a connection to the land.
"You're going to get a sense of time and season," Allen explains, "and you will once again have reason to celebrate different occurrences at certain times of year."
The extra work may not be for everyone, but luckily, Allen has a passion for seeking out local producers.
"It's a ridiculous amount of legwork," he admits.The challenges of going local
Selling locally can involve a lot of extra legwork on the farmer's part as well, and the fewer customers there are, the more work it is.Shelton Family Farms is about five years into its CSA program, but William Shelton says he might transition away from the model. His mid-sized farm is too far from Asheville for Shelton to access that customer base, and he worries he'll never have enough members to justify the extra workload. Packing individual boxes and transporting them to customer pick-up locations is more work than selling wholesale, and farming is already a tough job.
"I'm too big to do that all myself," Shelton says, "but I'm too small to hire a full-time secretary."
Jackson agrees that a smaller customer base creates problems. But he says that the market is growing even in rural areas, a trend that ASAP is trying to accelerate through its farm-to-school programs, which help farmers connect to distributors who sell to local schools. The programs also educate kids about where their food comes from, taking them to local farms and organizing cooking demonstrations. ASAP is also working to bring local food into area hospitals, though Jackson says the biggest driver has been word-of-mouth.
The online Local Food Guide lists four hospitals, five school districts, and one child and family center buying locally.
Farmers markets help producers expand their local customer base, too.
"In 2002, there were 32 farmers markets in the Western North Carolina [and] Southern Appalachian region," Jackson says. "Now there are 95."
Amber Lax of Black Mountain, North Carolina, has been buying from her local farmers market for eight years, during which time she guesses the number of vendors has roughly tripled.
"It grew from us buying produce to us being friends with a lot of the farmers," she says. And now that she's visited several farms with her kids, ages 7 and 1, she feels that her son, Benjamin, is more willing to try new foods—even healthy ones.
"My son knows when he puts honey on toast that it comes from Milo Acres," she says. "When he eats kale he knows that our friend, Lori, picked that herself."Customers demand sustainability
Still, few farmers can say they sell exclusively at farmer's markets or through local CSA programs. So ASAP also helps connect them with larger-scale markets. It works most closely with Ingles Markets, which distributes out of Asheville to its network of more than 200 stores in the region. Appalachian Grown signage in these stores helps local products stand out from the crowd.
ASAP's Appalachian Grown certification program is geographically oriented, open to just about any family-owned producer within about 100 miles of Asheville. The producer agreement sets no expectations regarding farming practices such as the use of pesticides and fertilizers, yet environmentally sustainable ways of farming are on the rise. In the last two years, the number of organic farms in the Local Food Guide has increased by 22 percent, with certified naturally grown farms showing an even bigger increase, at 33 percent (naturally grown certification is similar to organic certification but is cheaper for farmers in terms of fees and paperwork). Farms with GMO-free products have also increased 33 percent; free range is up 16 percent; and humanely raised animals are up 16 percent.
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Jackson says demanding a change in farming practices a decade ago would have meant turning away a lot of struggling farmers.
"If I had gone to [farmers] a few years ago and said, 'You should do organic,' they would have looked at me like I was crazy. And I would have been, because there wouldn't have been a market for it," Jackson says.Southern Appalachia is ahead of the curve in making this model work.
"Historically, we've lost farms at an alarming rate over the last half century. … Our strategy is to keep as many farms as we possibly can."
So ASAP didn't try to push farmers into sustainability. Customer demand pushed them, instead.
"If we connect people to farms and food, they'll start changing the way they eat, and they'll start changing the way farmers farm," Jackson explains.
For many customers and restaurateurs, knowing the farmer who produced their food eliminates the need for an official organic certification, which can be prohibitively expensive to acquire.
"A lot of the chefs in the area, we don't need a governing stamp of organic," Allen explains. "We just want to know the people doing it. We want to see the property."
Consumer motivations are indeed shifting, and not just toward more environmentally sustainable practices. One of the first surveys ASAP conducted around the year 2000 found that freshness was the most important motivator for consumers who chose to buy local. By 2011, more than eight in 10 consumers said they bought locally to contribute to the local economy and support local farms.
The shift points to just how interconnected this local community has become: consumers once again know where their food comes from, know who produced it, and are proud to support those producers.
It’s pretty good proof that local, sustainable food in Appalachia isn’t just a passing trend. It’s both a return to tradition and a new model for economic and environmental viability.
What's more, while southern Appalachia may be ahead of the curve in making this model work, it's by no means limited to these mountains. It's a way of doing business that's worth trying anyplace where a critical mass of farms and tables exist within a few hours' drive from one another.
Erin L. McCoy wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Erin worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer in Kentucky for almost two years. She is now a Seattle-based freelance writer specializing in education, environment, cultural issues, and travel, informed by her time teaching English in Malaysia and other travels. Contact her at elmccoy [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter @ErinLMcCoy.
One aspect of the monetization of life that is proceeding nearly to totality in our time is that someone finds a way to commoditize nearly any movement or concept, even those that were explicitly anti-commercial in their conception. This was the fate of “cool”: what was once an emblem of African-American and Beatnik rejection of bourgeois values became a potent marketing device: buy this car, this sneaker, this album, and you will be cool, too.
The monetization of everything is profoundly dispiriting, because it reinforces the suspicion that, in the end, “It's all about the money.” We encounter someone espousing inspiring concepts about healing, transformation, or compassion, only to find that those concepts have been copyrighted and packaged into some kind of expensive program. We wonder whether maybe the whole thing is about the money and not the healing. Maybe these were just sales gimmicks. And so we develop a wariness and a cynicism that taints our view of life and, indeed, urges us to join the sell-athon.
The concept of gifting, and the spiritual value of generosity, is not exempt from cooptation in the service of profit. I remember as a teenager listening to televangelist called Pastor Mike who, invoking Mark 10:31, promised that God would repay any gifts to his ministry a hundred-fold. “Give till it hurts!” he said, and surely many people did, as he became a wealthy man. I once heard a story on Snap Judgment (my favorite radio show) from a man who had been childhood friends with Reverend Mike's son, and once come across boxes and boxes of old jewelry that people had sent him with heartrending notes to the effect, “This is all I have to give, we can't make ends meet...”
Odious as Pastor Mike's methods may be, they would not be so effective if they were not invoking (and then redirecting) a truth with deep psychological resonance. We all desire – and fear – to enter fully into the gift, to let go of how our gifts will come back to us. When a person feels deeply supported by the universe, that person also feels at ease to be generous. Echoing Pastor Mike, New Age teachings claim the converse is also true: that by practicing generosity, one will receive the experience of being deeply supported by the universe; that is, one will experience abundance.
It would be a trivial exercise to criticize this idea on skeptical materialist grounds – the “experience of abundance” comes through hard work, thrift, smart investments, socioeconomic privilege, natural talent, and good luck, not through giving away your money or time in hopes it will magically “change your reality.” But that critique gets nowhere with someone who doesn't agree with its basic worldview. I prefer to address New Age teachings with New Age logic, to see whether an internally consistent, coherent, and useful metaphysics might emerge.
One problem with many of the “abundance” teachings is that for the generosity to have its intended effect, it must be genuine. It must reflect a genuine belief in life's abundance. If it is intended, even unconsciously, as a way to manipulate God or the universe, then it is actually an embodiment of scarcity thinking. It is avarice in disguise. Related motives might include:
- A desire for absolution from selfish or greedy behavior;
- A desperate cry for relief from economic oppression (similar to buying a lottery ticket)
- Acceptance by a church, “gifting circle,” or other in-group;
- A desire for self-approval as a pure, giving person;
- A desire for approval or solicitude from others.
None of these motive embody the spirit of abundance; therefore, even accepting New Age principles, no one should be surprised when any “gifting” tainted with these motives doesn't bring the hoped-for return. But that doesn't mean that the metaphysics is invalid. Generosity and abundance are two facets of a single state of being. Yes, real generosity will draw abundance to you, but in order to be authentically generous, you must already be in a perception of abundance – the feeling, however momentary, of, “It's all right to give.” You may have noticed, in your episodes of generosity, a feeling of unconcern about your own well-being. That is natural when you are other-focused. “I'll be fine,” you think. Any giving that has instead as its backdrop one or more of the above motives will – by the very logic that Pastor Mike or gifting “circles” invoke – bring on the experience of further scarcity. One should not be surprised if one's gifts to Pastor Mike, tuition at the prosperity programming seminar, or membership in a pyramid gifting “circle” brings precisely that: further scarcity.
In the last two weeks at least 10 women have written me asking me to comment on “Women's Wisdom Circles” or “Women's Gifting Circles.” Structurally, they are obvious pyramid schemes – eight women (or more or less, depending on the model) give $5,000 each, and one woman receives $40,000. The givers advance with each recruitment of a new $5,000-paying member toward the center, when they themselves will receive $40,000. This 800% return on investment is testament to her “abundance mentality” and proof to the newcomers of the power of “opening to receive.” A certain kind of faith is needed – quite true when it comes to persuading newcomers. It is the faith of a salesman in his product.
One might say that those who never make it to the center (the top of the pyramid) didn't have enough faith, that their lack of results betrays their poverty mentality. That might be true in a real circle, but in a pyramid the structure itself, independent of the faith or efforts of the people involved, limits success to just a few. The only way to avoid that is if every winner herself rejoins eight other “circles,” recycling her $40,000 back into the common pot. That's the only way that some or most women won't lose their $5,000.
Another way these schemes create scarcity is through social disruption. You may have noticed what happens to friendships when money becomes involved. Imagine what happens when a dear friend of many years asks you to pony up $5,000 to join her circle. Whether you accept or decline, the friendship may have been damaged. Either your friend will be offended, or you may suspect that your friendship is being parlayed into money. Imagine the pressure you would feel if you had paid $5,000 and needed to recruit eight people for that money not to be squandered.
Friendship is not immune to the monetization of everything. Direct marketers has relied on that process for many decades now. While their sales trainings never say, “Play on feelings of trust, obligation, and fear of offending to convert your friends into customers,” that is what ends up happening. Sooner or later, you suspect that the Avon lady isn't really coming to visit because she likes you. Similarly, women's “gifting circles” will tear the fabric of community.
In the face of all this, I want to recognize the beautiful aspirations that are struggling to emerge here: to step into generosity and abundance, and to build community with others on the same path. For that is indeed a path of wisdom and a reclamation of the divine feminine. Therefore I'd like to offer some alternatives to Women's Gifting Circles that truly come from abundance thinking and that build community instead of rending it.
The first is the Gift Circle, initially described to me by Alpha Lo, that has popped up independently in many other places. I've written about it here. In brief, 10 or 15 people gather in a circle. No one occupies a privileged position – it is a true circle. Participants take turns naming something they would like to give (anyone in the circle can say, “I would like to receive that,” or “I know someone who needs that,” etc.) On the second round, each person names something he or she would like to receive. In this way, the gifts and needs of everyone in the group become known, people get used to giving and receiving from each other, and, if the group meets repeatedly over time, a community of mutual reliance develops. People experience abundance – both the joy of giving, and the experience of having their needs met.
Another alternative that does involve money might be called a gifting club. A group of people gather, each pledging a certain amount of money. Each person comes with a proposal for whom to give the money, such as a worthy cause or needy person, and the group makes a decision together through a consensus-based process. Such a group could even model itself on the Women's Gifting Circles, using money as a kind of initiation, except that instead of going to one of the members, the money would go to a charity of some kind. This arrangement excludes that unwelcome visitor that so often plagues our minds: the thought, “She is really just in it for the money.” Yet, it still includes the initiatory element of making a payment, which is part of the power of Women's Gifting Circles to bring participants into a non-ordinary space. To enter a sacred circle where customary pretense and personae can be dropped is an important unmet need in our society. Why, though, does it have to be wedded to motives of financial gain?
Do you really want to step into abundance and gift? Then do something that offers no direct path to return, something about which you can honestly say, “I'm doing this because it is my pleasure to give,” rather than, “I'm doing this so I will get even more back.” You might end up with more back after all, but if so it will come via mysterious paths. But you won't be concerned with that, because you will stand confident in the abundance of life, believing that as you care for life, life will care for you.
We in this society are deeply programmed for scarcity. This is not our fault. The whole system conspires to make us feel separate, anxious, and poor. On the deepest level, our cultural mythology holds us as discrete, separate individuals in a world of other, and our technology and social infrastructure reify that mythology, cutting us off from intimate connection with community and nature. Furthermore, the money system operates very much like a pyramid scheme, with all its attendant social dislocation and the constant, nagging feeling that one is constantly being ripped off. Like a “gifting circle,” our economic system concentrates wealth in the hands of just a few, and compels one and all to scurry for more “recruits” – to find some aspect of nature or relationship that is unmonetized, and turn it into a good or a service. That is what we call “economic growth.” Like all pyramid schemes, this can last only as long as there are new recruits available: more atmosphere we can convert into a waste dump, more trees we can convert into buildings, more topsoil we can convert into corn syrup, more skills and relationships we can convert into services.
We are running out of all of these. It is time, past time, to adopt a new mythology and a different model of giving and receiving. Women's Gifting Circles, though structurally part of the past, illuminate by their very name a way forward – toward the circle not the pyramid, toward the gift and not the transaction. Surely, many women will walk away from the experience cynical and disillusioned. I hope they don't throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss the glimpse they may have had of the sacred power of the circle.
Hungary is about to pay off its debt to the IMF and has ordered their employees to leave the country “as soon as possible.” The Hungarian Minister of Economics says his government is confident that it is well positioned to pursue an independent economic policy.
Is this the start of a revolt of sovereign nations against the global bankers? Will others follow Hungary’s lead? What sort of backlash might be expected? Will the bankers try to influence next year’s elections, or failing that, will more drastic actions be taken to oust the present Hungarian government? As a member of the EU, Hungary will be no push-over like Libya.
As host of All In, a weekday prime-time show on MSNBC, Chris Hayes has emerged as one of the most prominent progressive commentators in the country. Still in his thirties, Hayes earned distinction in the 2000s as a labor and political journalist for magazines such as In These Times and The Nation. Given that labor journalists are an endangered species in the United States, the rise of someone with experience in the field to a platform with wide popular reach is an encouraging development.
This month, I spoke with Hayes about how he approaches workplace issues on his show, about the state of labor journalism, and about how All In interacts with programs such as The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz, another labor-friendly broadcaster.
Amy Dean: How do you think the prospects for labor journalism have changed over the past decade?
Chris Hayes: Labor coverage has shrunk dramatically. Unions have shrunk. I think there has been a new crop of excellent young journalists writing about labor. Sarah Jaffe is really, really good—as are Mike Elk and Josh Eidelson, to name just three. They are writing about the frontiers of labor."There's more amazing work being done on more topics than probably ever."
As the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements has shrunk, what ends up happening is that the coverage has expanded to look at workers who aren't in unions. I think that is right and appropriate. So I have a lot of faith. There's a lot of really good reporting in the progressive press on workers. It's looking at different kinds emerging models to build worker power that aren't necessarily [based on] an NLRB election, since that process has been rendered completely dysfunctional and impossible.
Dean: The idea of a labor beat sounds anachronistic now, doesn't it? But there used to be one at each of the major daily newspapers.
Hayes: Yeah. I came in at the tail end. I think even by the time I was coming of age that was on the wane. Now it's really gone.
Dean: Would you have any recommendations for today's labor journalists trying to elevate their voices above the noise?
Hayes: I think whether you're doing cable news every night, or you're writing about the NSA, or you're writing about fast food workers striking, the thing is to find the story. Stories are different than topics. Stories are different than issues. Something happening, some new policies—that's not a story. A story is about people. It's about protagonist and antagonist, about the trajectory of a hero's journey, and about conflict. All of those things. What ends up grabbing us as readers or as viewers is when you find the right story to talk about whatever the underlying injustice is.
Dean: Along with Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow, you've covered topics like the bankruptcy in Detroit, the Wisconsin uprisings against Gov. Scott Walker, and the movement to raise the minimum wage. How do you think MSNBC's coverage has affected the wider media landscape, in terms of making issues of concern to working people more central?
Hayes: I think it's a huge net benefit. And I think Ed Schultz deserves tremendous credit for being a pioneer in this regard. Labor issues are getting more coverage than they've ever gotten before on cable news, first and foremost thanks to Ed Schultz, and then assisted by others of us who've taken up that mantle. I've been covering labor since I was a reporter at In These Times at the age of 24 or 25. When you actually can put workers on television, like we've done a whole host of times, I think that's really powerful."The one thing I can kind of control every day is what we put on air between the hours of and eight and nine eastern."
It's such an uphill battle to drive the conversation. But I have to say—to use the example of the fast food workers—we started covering that story in the spring, during maybe our first week on the air. We had some fast food workers on then. This time around, [during the most recent wave of strikes], the workers were on Morning Joe; they were all over Fox; they were on CNN. The McDonald's budget was on the Today show and it was on Colbert. I know the way this industry works: People do look at what other people are covering on TV. So I think we do have an effect when we elevate that kind of stuff.
Dean: Your debut as a host of your own prime time show on MSNBC was not without controversy. Some viewers were upset that Ed Schultz's program—which had a focus on labor issues—was moved to the weekend. They worried that the network would be less aggressive in speaking to the concerns of working people. How did you handle that type of feedback from viewers?
Hayes: The decision about how the network is programmed is quite literally made above my pay grade. I came into it after the decision with Ed had already been made. I genuinely was not a party to that. I take seriously people's concern about the uniqueness of Ed's focus on the working class and labor issues. I think we have done a pretty good job of fulfilling that, making sure the voices of workers are front and center. I think that we're putting more working people on prime-time television than anyone else right now.
The thing I've learned more than anything in my first four months on the job is [to appreciate] that old serenity prayer about what you can control and what you can't. The one thing I can kind of control every day is what we put on air between the hours of and eight and nine eastern and whether that meets the standards and vision I have for what we can do with this very precious real estate. Everything outside of that—what people think about the show, how they react to it, how they react to me, what they think of me—I genuinely can't control. So I don't try to control it. I try to focus on the work and produce the best work I can produce. And I try to have faith that that will ultimately be what makes or breaks me.
Dean: Do you see yourself more in a role of illuminating the problems facing our nation, or as highlighting efforts to resist and turn things around?
Hayes: I think it's a balance of both. That's something we think about. There are different stories that might produce pathos, empathy, anger, rage, sadness, inspiration, or hope. You need to be thinking about combining and mixing those every night. Viewers will get exhausted if it's just an hour of rage, or an hour of stories that are total bummers, or if it's just an hour of bright, inspirational segments.
Hitting those different notes is something we think about all the time—not just with stories about working people and the economy. It's about making sure there's a mix of stories that have different colors to them in terms of how you emotionally connect. It might be, "That's an outrage. I'm angry about that." Or, "That's really sad." Or, "That is totally inspirational." Or, "That is hilarious." Whatever it is, you need to be attentive so that you are not playing one note.
Dean: You have mentioned a decline in labor coverage. At the same time, you seem to be indicating that there is more good labor writing out there today than in years. What do you make of these contradictory trends?
Hayes: I don't think there is enough [labor journalism]. But the nature of the current media environment is that there's more amazing work being done on more topics than probably ever in the history of journalism. The downside is that it's harder and harder for those things to get traction.
There's a lot of amazing work being done. It's just that there's such a crowded field that things don't have the power they would have if they were on the front page of the Kansas City Star thirty years ago. That's the tradeoff.
Amy Dean wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Amy is a fellow of The Century Foundation and principal of ABD Ventures, LLC, an organizational development consulting firm that works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement. You can follow Amy on twitter @amybdean, or she can be reached via www.amybdean.com.