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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Re-Weaving North Carolina

(Debosree Roy, who sill be joining GEO's network of writers, wrote this report for GEO. She is a student activist living in Charlotte, NC.)

America is the land of the brave and the free. Over the years, the definition of who is brave and who is free has changed. Or it might not have had, because the vision of the fathers are not known first hand and Adam Smith’s invisible hand is abused once too often while explaining the wealth gap, the inequities and differences in the largest free-market democracy in the world.

We are beings sore with the trappings of capitalism. We keep contributing to the oppression hoping that one day we will walk into a fellow being, equally sore, and together we will start a movement to fight the injustices. Others just take the amicable path. They either join the posse, buy the BMW on credit or mulch over child support while flipping burgers at McDonalds. This is where the sheer evil genius of set up lies; we are conditioned to believe that all women are born equal and free, while the truth is the opposite. We never question, our fury is never roused, because we are told that we are the authors of our own destinies. We are the robot millennials of this brave new world which tests the limits of our humanity everyday. But sometimes, through the drug induced comatose haze, we perceive pockets of dissent; we actually run into a person who is as frustrated with the system as we are and more importantly, wants to do something about it.

And that is what just happened when frustrated millenials with a clear objective of bringing change met at the campus of Appalachian State University earlier this year. The occasion was the New Economy convergence and the sylvan setting of the mountains in Boone, NC brought out the natural woman in all of us. The convergence, which lasted over a weekend, brought together students from seven North Carolina institutions of higher education. There was a lot of collective noise, but the one theme that stuck out was the need to come together and create an atmosphere of resilience and sustainability, in the economic, social and academic spaces of North Carolina. Over informal chat sessions, Re-weaving NC was born, headed by a young scholar of jurisprudence, supported by a family of students of the liberal arts and sciences.  It was a great moment. I don’t know if history was made (that is a vulgar clique), but it changed the dimensional directionality of many. Marcuse would have been proud. Student power was back with a bang and we started looking forward to redefining the notions of bravery and freedom.  We met again in summer at Re-route, The New Economic Institute’s convergence in NYC. In a room lined with bunk beds in a Harlem hostel, over NYC pizzas, we discussed moving the movement forward. Our heads were buzzing with novel ideas learnt at the convergence. Re-weaving NC’s first solidarity meet was conceptualized, votes we taken, a mission statement was formalized and we agreed to spring forward in the solidarity movement in our beloved state. Ed Whitfield’s novel take on the paradigm of “teach a man to fish” led us to re visit our convictions on the disparate scheme of things in the existent economy. With this image in mind, we started to dream of what a Solidarity Economy should look like in a state economy which has an equal distribution of agriculture and industry. 

North Carolina has an ostentatious name. Many call it the new south. This is not an attempt to demean the south, but the roots of North Carolinian economy lay in its plantation economy past. As a foreign chronicler of the situation and circs in this swing state, I have been amazed at the spontaneous spurts of progressive thinking in North Carolinians in a general atmosphere of languid stink that is characteristic of the special unfreedoms borne by residents of the America living south to the Dixon-Mason. This is the country of porch swings and peach cobblers at Nana’s Southern Cooking. However, this is also the state where the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act  was repealed and a legal marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, under the aegis of red “reform”.

North Carolina is primarily rural. While there is an abundant presence of local economies in our state (primarily visualized in “buy local” signs posted in shop fronts on main street markets  in small towns), the concept of solidarity is skewed at its best. For example, in a touristry town near the Smokies in eastern North Carolina, small businesses serve Welch’s products while there is perfectly good local jelly being made and sold by their next door neighbours. When I asked the owner why we were not getting local muscadine spreads to go with our toast, his answer sounded something on the lines of “Why should I sell my neighbor’s produce?” The very premise of inter-dependency in the solidarity scheme of things is not being visited. This may not look like a big problem, but it posits a big question mark on the sanctity of “buy local’ when it is preached and not practised. We are living in the trappings of macro economics; branding, marginal returns to cost and all that jazz while trying to promote Nana’s peach cobbler in a town dotted with several chain restaurants. 

This is our big adventure, an adventure to find the happy isles where the personal and the political are the same. Where we appreciate the art and craft of human ingenuity in making traditional muscadine jelly, where we share trading and retail spaces with each other to preserve our local culture and ethos and save it from vanishing down the toilet of vulgar consumerism.  There are many cobwebs to be cleared. We are hopeful that we will ( clear the cobwebs somewhat, I mean) in the days we spend together at Greensboro between September 19-21, when Re-weaving NC will have it’s very first convergence, ably supported by the New Economics Institute.

Watch out for details here!

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