Economy conference hits Baltimore

Kevin Zeese, Ian Schlakman & Jim Johnson (Cooperative Challenges & Strategies) Photos by Bonnie Lane.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance brought the It’s Our Economy Conference to Baltimore on Friday night. The conference was free to the public.

Paul Jay, CEO of The Real News Network introduced the conference graciously hosting and televising the event in his town hall space A large crowd was very engaged listening intently to the opening plenary comprised of Margaret Flowers (co-director, It’s Our Economy), Diane Bell Mc-Koy (President& CEO. Associated Black Charities), Michael Coleman (United Workers Leader) and Jacqui Dunne (CEO Danu Resource).  Gar Alperovitz was scheduled to be included in the opening plenary but unfortunately could not attend.

“What would it look like if we had an economy that put people and environment before corporate profits?” Flowers asked the audience. That quote seemed to be the conference main theme.  She also quoted Gar Alperovitz, “In feudalism there was an economy that grew up and became capitalism.” Paul Jay then showed a video he conducted with Gar Alperovitz. The video can be seen here.

Paul Jay, Margaret Flowers, Diane Bell-McKoy and Michael Coleman  (Bonie Lane)
Paul Jay, Margaret Flowers, Diane Bell-McKoy and Michael Coleman (Bonie Lane)

Diane Bell -Mc Koy talked about the detrimental impact of structural racism in relationship to the economic outcomes of people of color.

“African Americans are at the bottom by all economic indicators. Institutional and structuralized racism limit transactional change and only a few benefit.”

She also illustrated the unfortunate reality where the police determine that’s it OK to treat all people of color in certain specific low income neighborhoods as criminals. “We must have people of color at the helm and challenge how barriers limit our collective future.”

Bell-Mc Koy added: “Higher education and scholarship information is only available online in most cases. We can’t have racialized policies that gamble our futures. White privilege must be addressed. People don’t know what they don’t know. If you don’t have the opportunity where do you get it?”

Jacqui Dunne followed her on the panel. Dunne is an award-winning journalist from Ireland with a focus on people, the planet, profits and power within. Her latest book is Rethinking Money. She told the story of Joaquim Melos who created a community banking system that used local assets as currency. Between 2007 and 2009, Banco Palmas made 3139 Palmas loans, an equivalent of $2.5 million, benefiting 2,500 families. Melos was arrested on money laundering charges.

Banco Palmas lawyers asked the opposing attorneys, “Gentleman, what have you done for the poor?”

The court ruled in Melos favor.

Michael Coleman gave his own personal heart-touching testimony of struggle and barriers as a convicted felon. Coleman is now a leader with United Workers. When he was 17, he had to raise his younger brothers and sisters.

Coleman explained that when you have to choose between food for your family and education, food wins and that leads to a life on the streets. “Human rights worldwide are intertwined. We must look at the big picture. Come to each other as humans,” he said.

Coleman also pointed out, “Developers get all the subsidies. Communities don’t. We must fight for fair development.”

Alison Burchell & Robert Price. (Bonnie Lane)
Alison Burchell & Robert Price. (Bonnie Lane)

The University Of Maryland School Of Social Work hosted day two. Participants attended several morning and afternoon sessions on cooperatives, money and finance, affordable housing and renewable energy.

In the morning I attended the session on Overcoming Challenges to Strengthen our Cooperatives with Jim Johnson. Several Baltimore worker co-ops were present including Civilization Systems, 2640, Red Emma’s, and Charmingtons.

Cullen Nawalkowsky from Red Emma’s spoke about the uncertain future of books and coffee, “Who knows you might be able to download a book into your brain one day or coffee might come as a pill?”

Ian Schlakman, who’s a candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District owns a worker cooperative with his wife, Vanessa Holub, named Civilization Systems.  They are trying to get a good grasp on membership according to Schlakman.

After lunch from CUPS Coffeehouse, afternoon sessions began with an additional topic to choose from, Food Security. I attended Creating Local Renewable Energy with Alison Burchell. Burchell is a former fellow of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey. She co-founded both Clean Energy Action and Ratepayers United of Colorado. She livened up renewable energy for us. Imagine Baltimore with its own Publicly-Owned Green Energy Economy complete with all LED lights, peel and stick solar panels and quinone batteries?

The closing panel consisted of Steve Dubb, Dorcas Gilmore and Michael Peck, moderated by Chris White.   Peck is the North American Delegate for Mondragon. Mondragon is the world’s largest industrial worker cooperative. He talked about his work and helping to create a template for a union coop with the United Steelworkers and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center.

Photo 4- Dorcas R. Gilmore, Steve Dubb, Michael Peck with Ian Schlakman. (Bonnie Lane)
Dorcas R. Gilmore, Steve Dubb, Michael Peck with Ian Schlakman. (Bonnie Lane)

Gilmore has worked as Assistant General Counsel for the NAACP. She told us about Jackson Rising. The Jackson Rising New Economies Conference was just held in Jackson, Mississippi from May second to fourth. At the end of the conference they formed. “Cooperation Jackson” and came up with four short-term objectives.

Cooperation Jackson is establishing an educational arm to spread the word in their communities about the distinct advantages and exciting possibilities of mutual uplift that business cooperatives offer.

When Mayor Chokwe Lumumba was still in office, Cooperation Jackson planned to establish a “cooperative incubator.” providing a range of startup services for cooperative enterprises. Absent support from the mayor’s office, some MXGM activists observed, a lot of these coops will have to be born and nurtured in the cold.

Cooperation Jackson aims to form a local federation of cooperatives to share information and resources and to ensure that the cooperatives follow democratic principles of self-management that empower their workers. We’ve always said “free the land,” observed one MXGM activist. Now we want to “free the labor” as well. Cooperation Jackson intends to establish a financial institution to assist in providing credit and capital to cooperatives.

Some of ‘Baltimore It’s Our Economy’ attendees have decided to form a People’s Assembly to continue  to meet and work together to create an economy and environment for the people.