New Group Looks to Unite North America in a Cooperative Economy

Across North America, movements of people have come together to build economic, social and political systems that are oriented toward healthy communities. Often, that means systems that function outside of the parameters of capitalism.

The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership is one such organization, inspiring thoughtful change and supporting cooperative businesses and education in Detroit, Michigan. Its mission is “to nurture the transformational leadership capacities of individuals and organizations committed to creating productive, sustainable, ecologically responsible, and just communities” and this mission manifests in the center’s workshops, events, classes and community network.

Another organization is the Jackson, Mississippi-based Cooperation Jackson, whose mission is “to build worker organized and owned cooperatives [that] will be a catalyst for the democratization of our economy and society overall.” The organization has been successful to the point of municipal-wide grassroots organizing that has given them political power in the form of the mayor’s office. Many consider the Jackson community’s nonviolent action and strategic organizing to be revolutionary.

Naturally, groups and individuals involved in strategic organizing for economic and political change often reach out to one another for support and to learn from each other. As local movements grow and develop, that support becomes even more important.

In North America, the newly launched Symbiosis network includes 15 groups — including the Boggs Center and Cooperation Jackson — and 300 individuals from across the continent united as a confederation of concerned citizens and activists with goals rooted in solidarity, sharing and direct democracy. The work is culminating in a congress of municipal movements this September in Detroit.

The idea is to cultivate “long-term dual power,” according to Katie Horvath, a coordinator with Symbiosis. “We know we aren’t going to change systemic effects of capitalism … unless we go beyond municipal organizing. We wanted to lay the infrastructure for making decisions at a confederated level,” Horvath says.

She says the idea of building dual power is about “how to build a new society in the old without falling into the utopian trap of small isolated communities … to actually be able to create networks that start to challenge and replace existing political and economic institutions.”

What that actually looks like changes from place to place. Horvath points to Cooperation Jackson as a model where, through the work of building economic cooperatives that feed into one another, local organizing can capture political power, just as the movement that started Cooperation Jackson captured the mayoral position.

With September’s congress, Horvath hopes to “learn best practices from groups that are further along in this process” than she is in Detroit. She adds that in Detroit, the group is “trying to connect direct democratic institutions that already exist into a citywide network that is capable of taking on the current political and economic institutions that have a stranglehold on the city.”

The congress will be an opportunity for local organizations from across North America to share resources, strategies and solutions, and to determine future plans.

Mario Quintero, a part of the Symbiosis network in Mexico, is a coordinator with the group Asamblea de los Pueblos Indígenas del Istmo de Tehuantepec en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio (APIIDTT) (Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Defense of the Land and the Territory), doing organizing work in Southeast Mexico.

APIIDTT works in communities of Native peoples, such as Binniza, Ikoots, Zoques, Chontales and Mixes, especially in defending the land against what Quintero calls “megaprojects” — the expansion of extractive industries like mining that threaten the natural and cultural assets of the people. The organization also fights against high electric rates, and participates in multiple national alliances including in the Red Nacional de Resistencia Civil (National Network of Civil Resistance), and the Congreso Nacional Indígenas y el Concejo Indígena de Gobierno (National Indigenous Congress and the Indigenous Council of Government).

APIIDTT is joining the Symbiosis movement because the challenges presented by hyper-capitalism are shared across borders. “It is very necessary to create networks of collaboration, mutual support and rebellions,” says Quintero. “We also believe in the idea of ​​building federations and confederations, strengthening inter-continentalism and building autonomy.”

Dialogue across borders and with other groups, he says, is important. In this way, they are able to share methods across the Americas, promote a collaborative community, and share information in ways that transcend repression and media isolation.

That’s what Symbiosis seems to be about: sharing knowledge, experience and information on how direct democracy and cooperation is working locally, and spreading those lessons and experience to support one another on a much larger scale.

“We must open communication channels to facilitate the exchange of experiences,” says Quintero.

The goal, says Horvath, is to “crowd out institutions with a lot of power over our lives by meeting our needs and the needs of our neighbors.”

Collaborating with people already doing that, in the real world rather than the digital one, can reinforce the power of it.

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This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.