Sunday, September 25, 2011

OURGOODS: Sharing Power: From a Sharing Economy to Solidarity Economics

The Creative Time Summit is "a conference that brings together cultural producers—including artists, critics, writers, and curators—to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. Their international projects bring to the table a vast array of practices and methodologies that engage with the canvas of everyday life. The participants range from art world luminaries to those purposefully obscure, providing a glimpse into an evolving community concerned with the political implications of socially engaged art."

In 8-minute presentations, we heard from artists, activists, and designers from all over the world. A moving statement came from Annenberg Prize winner Jeanne van Heeswijk: "In my work, we are learning collectively to take responsibility."

So, what are the political implications of socially engaged art? If politics is about the distribution of power (or "how we learn collectively to take responsibility"), how does socially engaged art distribute power and help groups learn collectively to take responsibility? For me, a lot of socially engaged art is like the new term "sharing economy", giving a little without changing power structures.
The projects that moved me most at Creative Time's Summit and exhibition, Living as Form, truly engage communities by redistributing power. Remember, as Participatory Rural Appraisal tells us, "participation without redistribution of power is an empty and frustrating process for the powerless."

If you haven't visited the show yet, consider where each project places the participants in this ladder of participation:

- manipulate
- inform
- consult
- placate
- partner
- delegate
- participate

All of this reminds me of a conversation I had with Cheyenna Weber of SolidarityNYC...

Caroline (2010): “What’s the difference between the sharing economy and the solidarity economy?”
Cheyenna (2010): “It’s the difference between doing something that is
good and doing something that is just. It’s the difference between friends helping each other and true social justice.”

Cheyenna and Caroline (2011): We all recognize that sharing is good. Sharing, lending, and borrowing help connect neighbors, encouraging isolated individuals to create community by consuming less. But the latest sharing projects all focus on wealthy neighbors. What if I’ve never had too much? How do we address social inequity? How do we redistribute power to the majority who live without it? To transform an economic system which fails to meet community needs, we have to move from a sharing economy to a solidarity economy.

What's the difference? The solidarity economy is based on democratic control and social justice, not just cooperation and ecological sustainability. It's about sharing power. Solidarity means recognizing our global interdependence, addressing injustices in our communities by replacing dynamics of unequal power with grassroots, cooperative leadership. The sharing economy is one step towards a system-wide change, where all people are empowered to meet their needs. Sharing is about neighbors helping neighbors, but in which neighborhoods? Solidarity means sharing with your neighbor in public housing by joining a credit union, supporting low income immigrants who run worker-owned businesses, and providing sliding scale pricing at events to welcome all people. The solidarity economy addresses power imbalances directly through grassroots economic justice.

In New York City we are lucky to have hundreds of examples of solidarity economy practices. Sometimes they are new, utilizing economic innovations, and other times they are a return to ancient survival strategies which have served our communities well. Together they make up a dynamic alternative to an economy based solely on profit and greed. The models vary but cross all sectors of economic activity: housing, healthcare, retail, financial services, food, culture, and transportation, to name a few.

At we're documenting these practices and models in an online map and a series of short films portraying the stories of different solidarity economy leaders. The films, Portraits of the Solidarity Economy, include stories of food and worker cooperatives, intentional communities, credit unions, community gardens, barter networks, and participatory budgeting. Each is empowering specific NYC communities and in turn creating a solidarity alternative to the destructive economic transactions that dominant our daily lives.

If you want more info about the Summit, watch the videos here (in particular, I'd watch Laura Flanders, Urban Bush Women, Ted Purves, and
Jeanne van Heeswijk):

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