2017 was a rough year, but communities continued to come together and build people-powered economies. We want to share the work we did this year at the Sustainable Economies Law Center, and give you a few reasons to stay radically hopeful!
Below is our 2017 Annual Report highlighting the progress we've made toward a more democratic and equitable economy. (Click the image below to see a full-sized PDF!) All of this was accomplished in deep partnership with people and groups JUST LIKE YOU! Here's to flying far together in 2018 and beyond.Read more
By Simon Mont, Organizational Design Fellow //
How can nonprofits and movement workers committed to social transformation embody the change we want to see and become more effective, accountable, and equitable as we do it? In late September 2017, thirty-eight people from eighteen different organizations based in ten different states came together to answer this question and learn how to effectively govern, manage, and coordinate their organizations. Over three days, the gathered organizations each contributed to training, knowledge sharing, and relationship building to prepare the soil for a vibrant community of support for these organizations and more long into the future: it was the beginning of the Nonprofit Democracy Network (NPDN).Read more
A team of worker cooperative members, stewarded by the Sustainable Economies Law Center, successfully amended California State's worker's compensation law in favor of worker cooperatives. The law, SB 189, includes a provision that allows cooperatives to claim exemption from workers' compensation requirements under certain conditions. SB 189 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last month and will go into effect July 1, 2018.Read more
Three years ago we set out to make it possible for communities to own their energy. And boy did we run into some strange things along the way!
Before introducing those peculiarities, first some background: If people could own their energy, they’d be more secure - both financially and infrastructurally. We could save money and increase our ability to bounce back after natural disasters by producing clean, decentralized energy in our own communities. If ordinary people could put their money toward renewables, instead of investing in fossil fuels on Wall Street, we’d also speed up our response to climate change.
Sacramento, California – Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that would require California officials to focus on and address the challenges facing farmers of color in the state by making access to state and federal resources more equitable. This comes at a critical moment as the current generation of farmers is retiring and new farmers are increasingly represented by people of color, including immigrants and refugees.Read more
If we don’t want our organizations and movements to replicate the oppressive power dynamics of the dominant culture, let’s design for the power relations we do want. This week, we are incredibly excited to host nearly 40 people from 17 social justice organizations from across the country for the three-day launch of the Nonprofit Democracy Network - a community of practice, organizational development training program, and peer support network for nonprofit organizations that want to deepen democracy within their organizations and make our movements for justice more participatory, responsive, and leaderful.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center (Law Center) is proud to be a sponsor of ComCap17, a national conference on community capital being held in Monterey, CA, September 10-13, 2017. Leaders and changemakers in the community capital movement will come together in Monterey to discuss and share knowledge, tools, and strategies for harnessing the collective wealth of a community and increasing access to capital.
Check out the conference schedule to see all of the exciting and timely topics on the conference agenda. For example, our Executive Director, Janelle Orsi, is a keynote speaker and will talk about The New Meaning of Equity, and our State Policy Director, Christina Oatfield, will be participating in a working group titled Why California Doesn't Have A Crowdfunding Law? Let's Make it Happen. Janelle and Christina will both be participating in a panel discussion on Financing the Legal Food Economy-Farms to Fisheries. And that is not all--the Law Center is holding a Community Capital and Legal Cafe, modeled off our popular Resilient Communities Legal Cafe, during which participants will have an opportunity to chat with us about raising community capital for their community-based or cooperative enterprise ideas.
We are excited that so many of our collaborators and supporters are scheduled to be there too, including: Marco Vangelisti, Founder of Essential Knowledge for Transition; Kim Arnone, Brian Beckon, and John Katovich from Cutting Edge Capital; Michael Shuman, Economist, Author, and Law Center Advisor; Arno Hesse, Founder of Credibles, Amy Cortese, Author and Founder of Locavesting.com; and many more.
Feeling inspired to hear and connect with this jam-packed schedule of speakers? Come join us in Monterey, CA, September 10-13, 2017.
Get 25% off the full conference pass when you purchase your ticket HERE!
By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director //
After the 2008 economic recession, banks were more conservative about lending and the general public was more aware of the flaws in our financial institutions and related regulations. Since then, small businesses, start-ups, nonprofits, investors, and ordinary folks with modest savings have shown growing interest in fundraising strategies such as crowdfunding, crowdinvesting, direct public offerings (DPOs), and community capital. These strategies all involve raising money from a large number of supporters, through donations or investment dollars from the business owner's friends and family, customers, and members of the broader community who want the business to succeed. Community members who have a personal interest in or see the value of a local business are often willing to take more risk or a more modest return on their investment than would a financial institution or investment professional who seek to maximize profits above all else. This is just one reason why beginning farmers might find community capital attractive.Read more
Even if you have plenty of hobbies, you might want to consider adding this one: Making policy. Our studies show that spending even a few hours per month shaping local or state policy can significantly improve the health and happiness of your local community. Sustainable Economies Law Center has a whole project dedicated, more or less, to this slogan:
By Chris Tittle, Director of Organizational Resilience //
At a recent Oakland City Council meeting, Wilson Riles, a community leader and former City Councilmember, reminded us why Wall Street is so-called: it actually had a wall built around it in the 17th century to keep out Native tribes displaced by early colonists.
It’s also worth remembering that Wall Street was the site of New York City’s first slave market, and the first modern financial instruments were developed to collateralize Black bodies in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.Read more
By Sue Bennett, Sustainable Economies Law Center staff member //
Last year, the Sustainable Economies Law Center brought together a group of five community composters from around California in a monthly phone call, creating a small, but powerful, California Community Compost Coalition. These amazing individuals are transforming the ways their communities manage food and yard waste, and they are helping California comply with a mandate to divert organic waste from landfills. Yet, these compost entrepreneurs have been encountering many frustrating legal barriers, prompting them to take action at the city and state level. Already, they are demonstrating that – even without policy advocacy experience – people can shape law and policy when they get organized and speak up!
Photo by Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self RelianceRead more
By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director //
We believe that community land trusts (CLTs) are an underrated yet critical solution to the housing crisis, not only in the Bay Area but pretty much everywhere. They need more attention, funding, and other forms of support, such as government policies and programs to nurture their development.
What is a CLT and why are these organizations so great? Here’s an excerpt from an op-ed I wrote about CLTs last year:Read more
By Charlotte Tsui, Staff Attorney //
A Call to Action
Late last year, in response to AB 2883 and its adverse consequences on worker cooperatives, Sustainable Economies Law Center put out a call to our cooperative network in California to convene a working group whose primary objective would be to change the law to be more responsive to worker cooperatives. Worker-owners from seven different worker cooperatives responded to the announcement, including The Cheese Board, Drought Smart Cooperative, Niles Pie Company, Three Stone Hearth, Arizmendi Bakery, Home Green Home, and Echo Adventure Team.
Even with little or no experience in policy work, the worker-owners who enlisted arrived brimming with energy, ideas, and a strong desire to hit the ground running. By the end of the first meeting, participants had divided responsibilities and self-assigned to different committees.Read more
By Neil Thapar, Food and Farmland Attorney //
|Photo Credit: Piro Patton|
How can we secure food justice in the United States when 98% of all farmland is owned by White people? When Black farmers own less than 3 million acres of rural land today, compared to over 15 million acres just a century ago? When 180 million acres were stolen from Native communities in the 19th and 20th centuries? Developing a just food system requires (1) confronting the reality of racial disparity in farmland ownership and its negative impacts on wealth distribution, health outcomes, and cultural vitality, and (2) replacing the current reality with an equitable distribution of farmland that prioritizes communal stewardship, local control, and diversified ownership.
Successfully developing this future will rely on expanding access to capital for farmers of color beyond the conventional financing institutions that have, so far, failed to meet their needs.Read more
By Janelle Orsi, Executive Director
What would it take for you to pull your retirement savings out of Wall Street and invest it in things that enrich your local community? Could you invest your IRA or 401(k) in, say, a local farm, solar cooperative, worker cooperative, or housing cooperative?
These questions are so worthy of answers that 15 volunteers and staff of Sustainable Economies Law Center gathered last year for a day at the law library to imagine and design a cooperative that would enable everyday people to direct their retirement savings into local investments. We sought to understand the applicable financial and tax regulations and assess the possibility that ordinary people could come together and form the required custodial entities to enable self-directed IRAs for themselves and their communities. Our key takeaways were: 1) It would be challenging, but not impossible; and 2) There’s so much we can do in the meantime! 3) We have created a community The Next Egg, where we're empowering ourselves to self-direct retirement savings toward building vibrant communities!Read more