By Nicole Wires, Non Profit Quarterly
Can movement nonprofits create and sustain liberatory and resilient structures, cultures, and practices—and still be effective and efficient in their operations?
This question was at the center of an experiment led by the Nonprofit Democracy Network, a fiscally sponsored project of the Sustainable Economies Law Center. The experiment, called Collaborate to Co-Liberate, brought together over 200 practitioners from nearly 90 organizations across the country (and beyond) for 15 months to co-develop ways to build accountable, self-governing, and radically democratic organizations that embody liberatory visions while preserving overall effectiveness.
Read full article here.
(Originally published November 28, 2023)
Sustainable Economies Law Center joins the chorus of voices from around the world demanding an immediate ceasefire, an end to the siege on Gaza, and the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. We affirm our commitment to a world where all people live in their full dignity, free from subjugation and apartheid. We commit to honoring Palestinian self-determination. We commit to putting continued political pressure on our elected representatives, attending mass protests, and participating in boycotts. And as our friends and partners at Movement Generation have reminded us,
…we must continue to be visionary while oppositional. A ceasefire is imperative to stop the bad, but the battle will not end there, leaving Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the status quo of cyclical violence. Moving in the same direction as the ongoing movement to end Israel's occupation, genocide, and apartheid gives us a pathway to restore Palestinians’ right of return, self-determination, sovereignty, and land back. -
Colonial laws have displaced and made way for violent theft of Palestinian land, just like the lands of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and beyond. We acknowledge that the law has consistently upheld the theft of communal land and wealth, which is why we practice and train other legal workers in nurturance lawyering in our work to support land return to Indigenous and Black land stewards of Turtle Island. We must keep our hearts and minds open and engaged as we work towards a transformative shift away from privatization of land, which justifies racial and colonial violence, and remember that it is a “fictitious notion” created to restrict usage, to increase profit, and to create scarcity.
In this blog post, Law Center staff share how they’ve experienced and witnessed the impacts of settler colonialism in their lives and work, and how that experience helps us make sense of the ecological violence, displacement, and genocide currently happening to the people of Palestine. They also share resources on how to support and be in solidarity with the people of Palestine during this devastating time. With this piece, we’re also trying to be in conversation with each other, with our community, in hopes of supporting one another. We’re pushing back against professionalism and liberalism, which often has people afraid of speaking out, sharing individual experiences, and connecting with one another.Read more
As you read this newsletter, Law Center staff and a few of their children and co-parents are enjoying our bi-annual all staff retreat. Since we work almost entirely remotely, we’ve made a commitment to retreat twice a year. We head to a beautiful place and unplug because we know nothing beats joining together as bodies in space to reconnect, recommit to each other and the work, and express gratitude for each other.
This year we’re diving deep into the luxury of bodily wisdom. We’re working with a Generative Somatics facilitator, Donaji Lona, who’ll guide our collective body through exercises and activities meant to support “individual, community, and collective liberation through working to embody transformation. Have you ever walked into a room and felt the buzzy collective energy of all the people? When everyone sits in a circle, facing one another after months apart, the vibe is palpable. This time around, we’ll be welcoming 4 new staff members into the organizational body.
Looking around at the ever changing configuration of our team, we can find ourselves asking: Where do I fit in this group? Do we value the same things? We’re curious and excited to encounter the wisdom of our individual bodies and how our individual needs and desires might impact the organizational body.
Being part of a worker self-directed nonprofit often requires a person to walk the fine line between sharing stewardship responsibilities with coworkers while maintaining capacity for personally meaningful projects. This tension highlights the push and pull of being an individual within a collective body. We have the power as a WSDN to set priorities as a collective, but it requires trust and clear communication — two things that we’ll be investing time and energy into this week! Since we’ll be focusing on this important time together all week long, we’ll respond to emails when we return. Thanks for your understanding!Read more
The movements for rematriation, reparations, and land justice are beginning to realize dreams many generations in the making.
Back in June, Sogorea Te’ Land Trust announced they have partnered with Movement Generation to rematriate 43 acres to Indigenous care, in the unceded Bay Miwok territory of the San Francisco East Bay Area! MG and Sogorea Te’ liberated the land title from the speculative market, with Sogorea Te’ now holding the deed. We at the Law Center are proud to have supported the process, providing legal advice to both MG and Sogorea Te’ to help them create long-term agreements together for care of the land. Imagine how MG and Sogorea Te’ will restore peoples’ relationships with land and how this new land base will make space to experiment together to create liberated futures!
If you want to support MG’s Free the Land Campaign to build the Justice & Ecology Center visit https://movementgeneration.org/freetheland/. If you’re curious about how to liberate land back into the hands of loving land stewards, check out our Seeds of Land Return Toolkit. Sogorea Te' also made a beautifully designed version of Seeds of Land Return!
What does it feel like to be liberated with the Land? The Law Center, in partnership with The Cultural Conservancy, have brought together a network of deep-rooted Indigenous and Black led organizations — including Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, The Nest, Shelterwood Collective, Movement Generation, and EARTHseed Farm — to create a film that will focus on Indigenous and Black land steward circles in the East Bay and Sonoma County living into the dream of rematriation and reparations.
This film aims to activate and embody a 100-year vision for land justice in the Bay Area articulated in a 2019 convening we co-organized at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. It will amplify the work of the circles central to this moment, this place, this movement. If you want to read more about how the film is being collectively shaped, check out our blog post, “Indigenous and Black Land Justice Film: Participatory Narrative Workshop.”Read more
Imagine Indigenous and Black people free
to love and live with liberated Land.
Imagine the unique gifts the Land and her people have
to offer future generations.
This is happening now—a groundswell, a watershed moment.
This is happening here—in Northern CaliforniaRead more
By Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Nonprofit Quarterly
Excerpt: The Sustainable Economies Law Center is a nonprofit organization democratically run by staff co-stewards who are caring, trusting, and radical. Still, the proposal for a 40-week paid parental leave policy proposal was controversial. Along with my two co-workers, I helped draft an organizational policy proposal to support pregnant people and new parents.Read more
Here in the Bay Area, it’s been an exciting season for workplace democracy and workers flexing their collective power.
Thanks to the collective organizing of NoBAWC and The Real People’s Fund, vital resources and services have been restored to the Oakland City Budget, specifically for co-ops and small businesses. The workers of the iconic 127-year-old Anchor Brewing Company launched an effort to purchase the brewery and run it as a worker co-op after announcing it was declaring bankruptcy and closing for good. And lastly, the Bay is gaining another worker-owned business!
We’re proud to share that Law Center Fellow Sarah Kaplan represented the workers of Nick’s Pizza and Bakery throughout the conversion process thanks to support from the Law Centers’ Worker Cooperative Legal Services Fund. The Legal Services Fund has been covering no-cost legal services to worker cooperatives since 2019 because many new cooperatives lack access to affordable and specialized legal support. Our Fund has enabled legal and technical support for 16 worker cooperatives across the country, including in Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, New York, California, and Puerto Rico.
If you’d like to support worker cooperatives to gain access to legal services, consider donating!Read more
Endowments in the Age of Extinction: How Foundations Can Legally Activate their Endowments to Fight Climate and Economic Crises
This is an embarrassing situation, to say the least: We have a narrow window of time in which to take action and avert massive extinctions, sea level rise, and other climate disasters. We’re also watching the rapid spread of global poverty, inequality, and community displacement. Meanwhile, U.S. philanthropic foundations sit on more than a trillion dollars that could be activated for climate and economic justice, but most of that money is instead invested in the Wall Street companies fueling the disasters. “We can’t spend our endowment,” sings the chorus of funders, “our hands are tied.” Among foundations, there is a widespread belief that, somewhere, there lurks a legal document or law forcing them to cling tightly to most of the foundation’s assets. Very often, that belief is wrong. This needs to come to light.
Some foundations are seeing the light, and one large UK foundation, Lankelly Chase, just announced a plan to “abolish itself” and give away the full endowment. The foundation said in a statement:Read more
In California, apprenticing in a law office or alongside a practicing attorney is a little-known pathway to becoming a lawyer. Becoming a lawyer without going to law school means you can sidestep the debt, and trauma-inducing, white dominant culture of law school, and are able to create the learning environment and rhythms that best meet the needs of the apprentice. For example, learning in a non-hierarchical, nurturing environment that views everyone involved as both learners and teachers. Increasingly, movement lawyers are looking to grow awareness of the apprenticeship model as a way to diversify the legal profession and empower legal workers. In California, this program is called the Law Office Study Program and the rules for apprenticing are set by the State Bar of California.
In summer of 2021, after 7 years of apprenticeship, the Law Center’s Director of Economic Democracy, Ricardo Nuñez passed the bar and became an attorney, joining three previous non-lawyer staff members who became lawyers via apprenticeships. He joined his coworker Mwende Hinojosa on Zoom for a casual conversation about his journey — the experience of self-directed learning; the challenge and heart ache of finding his own way; and the joy of living out his grandfather’s dream.
(This interview was edited for consistency and clarity.)Read more
In the early days of the Law Center, co-founder and staff attorney Janelle Orsi had a vision of bringing together 1 million lawyers in the name of economic democracy. This vision motivated Law Center staff to build a community of cooperative legal workers, which would come to be known as Law for Economic Democracy (L4ED).Read more
We all want safe and healthy neighborhoods and stable housing, for ourselves, our family, and our kin. What we came to realize during our May #TenantsWithoutLandlords campaign, is the breadth and depth to which our community is living that vision. Our community is building housing policies that strengthen tenants' rights, identifying and utilizing legal tools to liberate housing and land, and organizing communities who govern their own housing and neighborhoods, so that we can take care of each other. We’re building a future our community deserves and it’s so exciting!Read more
Dear movement friends, comrades, teachers, peers, family (if you're reading this, that's you!) ~
This month I’ll transition off the staff collective at Sustainable Economies Law Center. I’ve spent the last several months reflecting on what I’ve learned – and what questions still feel alive – from more than ten years working and organizing with a range of professional, voluntary, and grassroots formations loosely part of the US solidarity economy movement . I’ve been personally transformed by the relationships I’ve built this past decade. And still I’ve found it easy to sometimes see all this work as hopelessly marginal, to lose track of our collective impact while overwhelmed by the day-to-day grind of audits and grant reports and legal work. Have you ever struggled with that?
If so, here is a humble invitation to reflect on what we have built together. As Gopal Dayaneni powerfully reminded some of us in a recent Collaborate to Co-Liberate webinar: “freedom is the pre-existing condition.” I have glimpsed collective freedom enough times in your presence to know it is always possible .Read more
Housing is fundamental because housing is a prerequisite to everything: health, safety, and well-being. Can you imagine what our community would look like if we had all that we need?Read more
Can we build new housing and not plug into the electricity grid? Recently, the Law Center wanted to help an Oakland-based grassroots group do this, and it brought up some interesting questions about law, about climate justice, and about life.Read more
Since 2018, Sustainable Economies Law Center staff have annually dredged the bottom of our souls seeking enthusiasm about our annual financial audit. We’ve learned to make it enjoyable and easeful in many ways. It helps that we’ve worked with wonderful people – our awesome bookkeepers at the cooperative Wholehearted Bookkeeping, and thoughtful CPAs at Crosby & Kaneda.
Yet, especially after supporting several clients with audit processes, I have heavy questions in the pit of my stomach: Could the audit process do more harm than good? Could audits be an unmerited drain on organizational resources? Could they lend toward a culture of distrust? Could they be disrupting organizations’ missions? Could they be a tool to perpetuate racial bias and white supremacy?Read more