Rising Voices for a New Economy

There is a long and storied history of community organizing that’s been dominated by groups working independently towards their own separate goals. But in a world where income inequality is squeezing the middle class to the point of oblivion and those with the biggest bank accounts have the loudest voices, two of the nation’s best organizers have decided to turn tradition on its head and join forces.

A conference held earlier this year in Washington, DC, was the first step. The “Rising Voices for a New Economy” organizers gathered together some of the most marginalized voices in the country to share stories and strategize. Over 500 members of National People’s Action (NPA), a network of grassroots organizations whose diverse members include young people trying to improve public housing in the Bronx to family farmers in the Iowa, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), converged on Washington, DC. Together, the two networks represent nearly 100,000 people and 73 affiliate organizations across the country.

“I think there was just a recognition,” says NPA’s executive director George Goehl, “that we actually don’t have any choice but to collaborate. The same root causes are impacting everybody. So if you’re fighting to save your home from foreclosure, or you’re seeing corporate agriculture come into your state and ruin family farms, you see corporate power.”

Even before the economic collapse almost five years ago, people of color, immigrants and women were already struggling to survive. NDWA founder Ai-Jen Poo points out that the fastest growing jobs today are poverty-wage jobs and “within the next few decades, nearly half of our economy will be working for poverty wages.”

Producer Karla Murthy went to DC to see how these groups have rallied around one particular issue: getting corporations to pay their fair share. Companies are making record profits, but paying record low taxes. They would like to see corporations paying their fair share in taxes in order to rebuild the public sector and create better-paying jobs.

And they are hopeful about the future. Poo says, “It’s a transformative experience for people to speak truth to power in a really direct way. And it is about civic engagement and participation. It is about making this country the country that makes everyone visible.”

Goehl agrees, “We’ve started to figure out the strategic moves we would need to put in place to realize the new economy. And for us, that means moving from playing checkers to playing chess.”