The Green New Deal From Below

The Green New Deal is a visionary program to protect the earth’s climate while creating good jobs, reducing injustice, and eliminating poverty. Its core principle is to use the necessity for climate protection as a basis for realizing full employment and social justice.

The Green New Deal first emerged as a proposal for national legislation, and the struggle to embody it in national legislation is ongoing. But there has also emerged a little-noticed wave of initiatives from community groups, unions, city and state governments, tribes, and other non-federal institutions designed to contribute to the climate protection and social justice goals of the Green New Deal. We will call these the Green New Deal from Below (GNDfB).

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Green Mountain Spinnery And Flat Iron Cooperative

Green Mountain Spinnery is a 40 year old cooperative based in rural Vermont. They mill high quality yarns made in the U.S., support regional sheep farming, and develop ways of producing natural fibers that are environmentally friendly. Flat Iron Cafe is a cooperatively owned coffee shop based in Vermont. They are still in the developmental stages but intend to create a model that integrates coffee, community driven events, and supports local food entrepreneurs within the space.

In this episode I speak with worker-owner Larisa Demos about the inspiration behind Green Mountain Spinnery and Flat Iron’s development. Initially this interview was just going to be about The Spinnery but I decided to ask Larisa to share a bit about a new co-op she is helping to develop.

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Cooperatives And Community Land Trusts: Natural Partners?

The first ever presidential visit to the South Bronx took America’s chief executive to a multi-unit cooperative, a radical break from the nation’s housing norms that became a symbol of hope during the depths of the urban crisis.

In October 1977, Jimmy Carter’s cream-colored limousine rolled into the devastation of the South Bronx. Escorted by six motorcycles and three helicopters, the trip had been kept secret until the last possible moment. There were two stops on the tour. At one, Carter saw a ghost block where every building had been leveled, confirming the nightmarish popular image of this section of New York City.

The other stop was something else entirely. The president was driven to a multistory apartment building at 1186 Washington Ave., where tenants had taken control after the landlord walked away.

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On Contact: Worker Cooperatives

On the show this week, Chris Hedges discusses worker cooperatives with Niki Okuk, activist and founder of the worker cooperative Rco Tires.

Okuk founded Rco Tires in 2012. They’ve since recycled more than 300 million pounds of rubber, diverting 70 million gallons of oil from landfills, and with 16 employees, making it one of southern California’s largest sustainability plants. Rco Tires creates alternative uses for trash tires, turning them into new products. Because of Okuk’s progressive hiring and management practices, the cooperative provides stable jobs for local black and Latino residents who struggle to find employment because of past criminal convictions or their legal status.

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How Rural Electric Cooperatives Can Support A Green New Deal

Today, as President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill is debated in Congress, it’s worth recalling that this isn’t the first time the US has faced an infrastructure deficit. “By the 1930s nearly 90 percent of US urban dwellers had electricity, but 90 percent of rural homes were without power. Investor-owned utilities often denied service to rural areas, citing high development costs and low profit margins,” recalls one account.

The policy response: rural electric cooperatives (RECs). In 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 7037, establishing the Rural Electrification Administration—today’s Rural Utility Service (RUS)—which provided low-cost loans to co-ops to wire rural America; by 1953, 90 percent of rural Americans had power.

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For Small Farms Surviving The Pandemic, Co-ops Are A Lifeline

Ian Colburn, Zoey Fink, and Casey Holland all operate small, diversified farms in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area. The farmers already had plants in the ground in March when they realized restaurants and farmers’ markets—two of their biggest sales channels—would likely shut down due to the pandemic.

Colburn of Solarpunk Farm worried his acreage was too small to support a robust Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and that he hadn’t planned for the kind of crop diversity that model demanded. Fink works part-time at Farm Shark Farm with her husband. They already had a CSA but didn’t think they could increase membership enough on their own to sell the rest of the vegetables.

“It was a scary time,” she said. “We thought: if we work together, we can be scaling up and serving 100 families per week.”

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New Deal Electric Cooperatives Struggle To Democratize

What began three years ago as a campaign to stop the spraying of weedkiller under power lines near homes in the Appalachian mountains of northeast Tennessee, has become an example of a more democratic process at electric cooperatives across the country.

Member-owners of the Powell Valley Rural Electric Cooperative earned the right to opt-out of spraying, and persuaded their co-op board to let them attend board meetings in ways that were previously prohibited.

Some members of Powell Valley have also begun to ask for a program to help members finance energy efficiency measures to save money.

These were small steps toward a more transparent and responsive electricity provider, but small steps can lead to bigger ones, said Bill Kornrich, a retired arts administrator who, with friends and neighbors, is part of Powell Valley Electric Co-op Member Voices, a group that’s been behind the reforms.

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How To Unlearn Capitalism Through Cooperative Ownership

In the context of user-generated content platforms, the coop model is just such a natural fit. One of the principle questions that made a cooperative model feel relevant is this idea of, “Who’s generating value, and who’s capturing it?” Under capitalism, it’s people with ownership who end up capturing most of the value. So at a base level, sharing ownership with a company’s users and creators can align incentives. And that can dramatically affect the decisions that a platform makes, and steer it in a way that is to the benefit of the people who actually use it and rely on it.

What’s Spotify valued at, a billion or more? And they’re completely dependent on musicians to make their platform’s content. Lately though, there has been more awareness that this model is not serving its creators. So where coops pop up naturally is when people are like, “I’m not being served.”

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The Art Of The Legal Hack

In our legal system — designed to protect private property, individual rights, and market exchange – it can actually be very difficult to share things legally. Attorney Janelle Orsi found this out the hard way as she worked with co-housing groups, worker cooperatives, and community gardens. “Our clients kept running up against legal barriers that make no sense: employment laws for co-ops in which people are both employer and employee. Landlord-tenant law for cohousing projects in which people are both landlords and tenants.”

Such frustrations led Orsi to co-found (with Jenny Kassan) the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in Oakland, California, in late 2009.

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Canada’s Housing Co-ops Find Success Despite Covid-19 Challenges

Housing co-ops in Canada remain positive about the future, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19 this year.

A recent survey conducted by the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF Canada) during a virtual town hall held last month revealed that 96% of co-op managers and staff were ‘doing well’. 

Most housing co-ops in Canada are rental co-ops developed during the 1970s and 80s under government social housing programmes targeting people with low to moderate incomes. Across Canada, over 2,200 non-profit housing co‑ops are home to about a quarter of a million people in over 90,000 households.

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California Voters Decide Uber And Lyft Drivers Are ‘Contractors’

Uber, TaskRabbit and other ride-hailing and delivery service companies in California can keep classifying their workers as independent contractors rather than employees after California voters approved a measure known as Proposition 22, according to the state’s still-unofficial tally.

The fundamental question of whether Uber drivers and similar workers should be considered employees or contractors has been debated and litigated for years now. The issue is often framed, however inaccurately, as a tradeoff between the flexibility that comes with being independent against the higher incomes and benefits that employees tend to get.

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Capitalism’s Worst Nightmare

On this week’s show, Prof. Wolff explores what major social changes will flow from today’s combination of major economic crash and the viral pandemic (capitalism’s worst nightmare). To answer, we consider how European feudalism changed after its 14th century combination of economic decline and the bubonic plague. The two big changes then were (1) switching from a decentralized to a strong state, monarchical feudalism and (2) transition from feudalism to capitalism. The two big parallel changes now are…

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‘It’s A Beautiful Thing To Be Able To Feed Your Community’

A little over a year ago Abrianni Perry, a 28-year-old transplant from Houston, came to Cooperation Jackson to learn about cooperatives from people who’ve been doing it for decades. She’s been happily plunging her hands into the rich West Jackson, Mississippi ever since. 

“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to feed your community, especially in a food desert,” she says as she works the seven acres of the Fannie Lou Hamer Community Land Trust’s Freedom Farm in anticipation of the fall growing season. “The dirt is soft, and when it’s wet I feel like a little kid making mud pies.

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The MEC Saga Shows That Canada Needs More Co-operation

The campaign to “Save MEC” — Mountain Equipment Co-op — has rallied more than 140,000 Canadians together to save a business that is being sold to an American private equity firm. But this grassroots and groundswell campaign wasn’t about saving a retailer; it was about saving a co-op. In fighting for a member-owned, democratic business, the campaign tapped into a passion in Canadians for co-operation.

That passion, which drove thousands of people to engage on social media, sign petitions, demand support from banks and donate more than $100,000 to a legal fund to challenge the sale of the co-op, proves that what Canada needs is not another American-owned store but more co-operation — more of doing business in a different way.

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Ending Poverty In Yuangudui, China

“Another year passes, but an unprecedented change begins.” Yuangudui’s stunning metamorphosis began on the 23rd of the 12th lunar month in 2013, the traditional Chinese holiday of New Year’s eve. On that day, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, arrived at Yuangudui. There, General Secretary Xi, concerned as he is with the elimination of poverty, personally interviewed the villagers about their livelihoods, and earnestly enjoined the party cadres and villagers alike: “Let us all work harder together, and make the days to come even brighter than before.”

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