Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Cleveland Model

Due to my health problems this entry is shorter than I had hoped. I apologize to my readers for its brevity.

There’s something exciting happening in the Buckeye State. While most of the corporate media is fixated on the crass politics going on in Congress there are some events taking place in the American heartland that are important in the movement towards creating an economic democracy. The few articles that are appearing in the media, while brief, are providing glimpses into these exciting developments.

The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative of Cleveland, Ohio is actively creating worker-owned cooperatives based on the Mondragon Cooperative. According to an article in Time Magazine this Initiative, which has been dubbed the Cleveland Model, the Evergreen Cooperative Development Fund provides to co-ops, “low-interest, long term financing. In the future, a financial institution more aligned with the Caja Laboral, which also handles consumer savings and lending, might be developed.”
(Source: Time Magazine)

Several of the cooperatives started by the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative are getting special attention in the press. The one that gets the most coverage is the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, which specializes in providing laundry service for the healthcare industry of Cleveland. Another co-op that’s received interest by the press is the Ohio Cooperative Solar (OCS) which specializes in installing large-scale solar panels. According to the Nation the Initiative isn’t stopping with just these two co-ops. It’s creating other co-ops in the Cleveland area such as the Green City Growers (which has a hydroponic garden that’s larger than a Wal-Mart superstore) and a community newspaper “Neighborhood Voice,” which will start printing later this year. (Source: The Nation)

The Cleveland Model is using the principles of Economic Democracy to solve one of the serious problems for starting co-ops, which has been access to investment. The Nation goes on the report that, “each of the Evergreen co-operatives is obligated to pay 10 percent of its pre-tax profits back into the fund to help seed the development of new jobs through additional co-ops. Thus, each business has a commitment to its workers (through living-wage jobs, affordable health benefits and asset accumulation) and to the general community (by creating businesses that can provide stability to neighborhoods).”

Another important feature of this is that it’s occurring from the grassroots level. Historically every change in any mode of production has originated from the bottom up rather than the top down. The potential for the Cleveland Model to be the start of a movement that could someday threaten capitalism is amazing.

Without a doubt the events in Cleveland are fantastic. Yet the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative is just one of several developments that are appearing not only in America but on the international scene. In the future I plan to draw attention to some of the other important developments.

For more information Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar and Green City Growers all share a web site: http://www.evergreencoop.com/

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Importance of Nonviolence

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time- the need for people to overcome oppression…Nonviolence is not sterile passivity but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In recent postings I attempted to define what capitalism is. Most of my previous postings consisted of laying out arguments for what I believe to be a system that would be far better than capitalism: economic democracy. An important issue that needs to be addressed at this time is a detail about changing the system: the necessity of nonviolence.

First, it’s delusional to think that it’s possible to change America through violence. Joseph Stack’s attack on an IRS building in Austin, Texas was a nothing more than cowardly act of evil. All it did was terrorize the hard working government employees in the building and murdering an American hero, Vernon Hunter, 67, who was laid to rest with full military honors.

Even if there was a remote possibility, which there isn’t, of success by such means what would a change by violence show from an ethical standpoint? Do we really want a system changed by violent means? Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”

Then there is a purely patriotic reason. Rev Norman Thomas once said, “If you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag; wash it." The drive to change America from a capitalist system to an economic democracy should come from a sense of true patriotism in which, out of love, we hope to “wash” our nation of the wrongs that exist rather than burn it.

It’s also important that as we write and discuss concepts such as class, and toss around terms such as “capitalists” or “workers”, that we avoid demonizing any one person or group of people. In all socio-economic classes there are individuals who are morally good and morally bad. Being a laborer doesn’t make one a saint nor does being a capitalist make one a villain. We need to emphasis that it’s the degrading and dehumanizing system of creating dominating relationships based on capital and the private control of marketable wealth that we strive against and not the individuals within the system. If we begin to demonize people then we run the risk of creating “The Other”, which often leads to violence.

A brief comment is needed here about the efficacy of nonviolent methods. Some, especially on the radical Left, claim that nonviolence is weak and ineffective. They point to all of the past changes in the modes of production and that they all were the result of violent means. What they fail to consider is that all of the prior changes occurred prior to the development of the modern democratic state. It’s the power of parliamentary, democratic institutions that has since shown to be the key to a modern peaceful transition.

On a summer day in 1963, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr King said, “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” The only choice available to us is a dedication to the use of peaceful, democratic, and parliamentary procedures. We won’t give up our right to protest and publicly demand change but our chosen means will be peaceful. We owe this to our ancestors, to our descendants, and to the nation that we love.