By Chris Tittle, Law Center Director of Organizational Resilience
In March 2018, several of us sat in a rooftop garden overlooking downtown Oakland. As we discussed the future of the region, the city skyline suddenly appeared as a timeline, revealing the past and future imaginations of developers, city planners, and investors. We could literally see the concrete visions of developers from 100 years ago towering next to the visions of today’s developers unfolding before our very eyes. Taken together, these buildings represented much more than just a place to work or sleep, but an idea about how life should be lived and who the city is for. Undoubtedly, these people have a long-term vision for this city -- and their visions are backed by capital and political power.
By Sue Bennett and Chris Tittle, Co-directors of the Law Center's Worker Self-Directed Nonprofits Program
On March 27-29, 2019 the Law Center and an amazing team of facilitators and co-organizers hosted the second Nonprofit Democracy Network: Tools for Collective Self-Governance gathering. Over three days at the Omni Commons in Oakland, 60 people from 26 social justice organizations from around the country dove deep into the practices, structures, relationships, and cultures of workplace democracy.Read more
Last month Sustainable Economies Law Center energized over thirty people to run on behalf of our organization at the Oakland Running Festival. Our ‘Workers Run Oakland’ campaign raised over $12,000 for workplace democracy, which enabled us to support our Solidarity Fund Recipient, Bay Area Black Worker Center, with ~$600.
Our goal was to raise awareness about the legal education, advocacy, research, and advice the Law Center provides for community members at the frontlines of worker cooperatives and worker self-directed nonprofits...and have fun doing it! To spread our vision for a worker-run Oakland, we hosted a bunch of events to celebrate all of the wonderful workers we know:
By Janelle Orsi, Law Center Executive Director & Co-Founder
Our retirement savings hold transformative potential if we can get our pool of capital out of Wall Street and into our communities. Along with our partners at LIFT Economy and author Michael Shuman, we’re hatching a plan to channel that capital into local communities by 2020. Aside from developing and sharing resources on self-directed retirement savings, we’re aiming to build a group of 500 people ready to turn their nest eggs into a force for good. A group of that size can bargain with plan providers and custodians for lower fees and other benefits that smooth the path to local investing. Plus, we can collectively target our investments for deeper impact!
By Denise Fairchild & Anthony Giancatarino of The Progressive
Excerpt: The debate over the Green New Deal is growing more intense, but generating more heat than light. In some quarters, there is outright hysteria. (“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is coming for your hamburgers!”) But there is also a misperception across the political spectrum that the transition to green energy requires top-down, centralized control, as Mitch McConnell recently claimed.
...For example, in nearby Oakland, the People Power Solar Cooperative has created a community-owned solar project where residents pay less than the utility rate for electricity. Additional cost savings are reinvested into new cooperative energy projects.
Read the full article here.
(Originally published April 3, 2019.)
The 7 kW installation is a culmination of the cooperative’s work to develop a model for solar development that focuses on building community wealth and fostering long-term community ownership.
People Power Solar Cooperative announced the construction of its first solar project in Oakland on March 21, piloting a new model for community-owned energy in California. The residential-sized 7 kW project is financed entirely by small investments from over 50 local community members and leaders -- the cooperative’s Owners -- who have each purchased up to ten $100 shares of People Power. It is the first residential energy project in California to be owned by members of the broader community, and not municipally-owned, as far as the cooperative knows. The model is simple: the cooperative owns the project and will sell power to the homeowner and tenants at a rate lower than PG&E’s. The cooperative will, in turn, pay small dividends to the Owners who helped finance the project. People Power encourages anyone to sign up to learn more and get involved at peoplepowersolar.org/get-involved.Read more
Excerpt: There is a group in the United States that is changing laws to reorganize the inequality structure created by today's capitalism. The Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland, California.
Read the full news article, our first coverage by international media, here!
(Originally published on March 20, 2019.)Read more
By Peter Hagerty of East Bay Times
Excerpt: ASHLAND — Leave Oakland’s Fruitvale District and travel south along East 14th Street beyond San Leandro, and food choices get limited to what’s available from a drive-through or inside a convenience store. That’s about to change in a big way. The Ashland Market & Cafe, a corner spot within an affordable apartment complex, will bring healthier meals to the low-income neighborhood while serving as an “incubator” for four up-and-coming food businesses at the same time.
...The space also will host community events, such as the “Pop-Up Legal Cafe” from 5 to 7:30 p.m. April 11, when Oakland’s Sustainable Economies Law Center will offer a donation-based legal clinic.
Read the full article here.
(Originally published on March 19, 2019.)
By Jean Tepperman of East Bay Express
Excerpt: Andrea Hurd of Mariposa Gardening was nowhere near retirement when she decided a few years ago to convert her business to a worker cooperative. She had grown her company and developed her own style of ecological garden design. "As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I felt a huge passion for building a larger company," she recalled. But at the same time, she didn't want to become a full-time business manager like many successful contractors. Now, as a worker-owner of the Mariposa Gardening Cooperative, she shares management and gardening with other worker-owners.
Read the full article here.
(Originally published March 6, 2019.)
Yesterday, the Sustainable Economies Law Center submitted a cartoon comment-letter on behalf of 29 organizations to CalRecycle (the CA Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery). CalRecycle has drafted regulations to implement SB 1383, a law mandating reduction of methane emissions through the diversion of organic material from landfills. Community organizations spoke up because there is a high risk that the new rules will create barriers for people doing small-scale composting. Already, many California farmers, gardeners, and composters are facing insurmountable legal barriers to their composting operations, so this letter asks CalRecycle to carve out protections for people transporting organic material to small compost sites, farms, or compost sites operated by nonprofits.
For more background on the issues, here's a short (and kinda silly) video called "A Scary Carrot Story."
Other organizations that signed the letter included:
- California FarmLink
- Northern California Recycling Association
- Berkeley Climate Action Coalition
- Del Norte and Tribal Lands Community Food Council
- San Francisco Permaculture Guild
- Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA)
- Oakland Food Policy Council
- Common Compost
- Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE)
- BioFuel Oasis
- Planting Justice
- Slow Food California
- Center for Food Safety
- Acta Non Verba Youth Urban Farm Project
- The Gill Tract Farm
- Ecology Center
- Epic Renewal
- RSF Social Finance
- Richmond Grows Seed Library
- Northern California Land Trust
- Greywater Action
- ReSoil Sacramento (Green Restaurant Association of Sacramento)
- Everfux Technologies
- Community Alliance with Family Farmers
- Phat Beets Produce
- Urban Sprouts
- Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
- The Butterfly Movement
- And a long list of individuals named in the letter
BERKELEY, CA (February 27, 2019) — Last night, Berkeley City Council unanimously adopted a set of recommendations provided by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (Law Center) and a coalition of worker coop members and advocates. In doing so, Berkeley became a national leader in supporting worker cooperative businesses.
Supporters wore the color green to signify how worker cooperatives put people and planet above profit. (Represented: Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn, and members of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Project Equity, Network of Bay Area Cooperatives, Democracy at Work Institute, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and worker cooperative members and advocates.)Read more
BERKELEY, CA (January 25, 2019) — In what the Bay Area worker cooperative community considers a milestone moment for the movement, the Berkeley City Council is slated to discuss the Office of Economic Development’s (OED) efforts to support worker-owned cooperative businesses and related recommendations by the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Among the recommendations is a proposal to make Berkeley the first city in the nation to commit to providing city procurement incentives to worker cooperatives and to tailor its revolving loan fund to the needs of worker cooperatives and businesses converting to cooperative ownership.
On Tuesday, February 26, Berkeley OED staff will present its worker cooperative program suggestions at a Berkeley City Council meeting. At the meeting, Berkeley council members will have the opportunity to push for bolder commitments, such as additional benchmarks, further study, or for staff to return to Council with supplemental reporting. Organizers expect that 50-100 members of the worker cooperative community will be in attendance at the Council meeting to show support for the worker cooperative proposal.Read more
Did you commit to reading more books as your new year’s resolution but don't know where to start? As always, we're here to help! Check out these books recommended by Law Center staff members Tia, Subin, Sue, and Chris:
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Recommended by Tia: This was published in 2017 but I read it last year for a book club dedicated to reading works by women of color, so I'm gonna go ahead and choose this one. One of the characters in the book is an artist, cleaning lady, and single mom who may or may not be involved in a crime of arson. The book deals with issues ranging from high school pranks to parenting in a “color-blind” community where all dolls are white.
Recommended by Subin: I love this book. It’s filled with inspiring stories of on-the-ground solutions to build an inclusive clean energy economy. It’s like a recipe book for equitable and transformative approaches to renewable energy, written by community leaders around the country. Read it if you’re wondering if there’s any hope in the struggle to transition away from our extractive dirty energy economy. Not a bad way to start the year.
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
Recommended by Sue: I listened to this book by Anand Giridharadas cuz I knew I might not get around to reading it-and wow i’m glad i did. The main point is that the “philanthropists” both modern and historical are claiming they have the solutions to the world problems that they themselves have created. WE and the author know, the solutions they fund will never radically change our society. From the book’s website: “Former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can–except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it.” Nothing many of us don’t already know but I enjoyed the way the book provided the information.
Recommended by Chris: Our friends and comrades at Cooperation Jackson published this critical yet inspiring look at the practical and theoretical basis for building land-based solidarity economies. For those searching for a comprehensive strategy for radical transformation that is not afraid of the future nor shy about our past, Jackson Rising is essential reading.
So Lucky by Nicola Griffith
Recommended by Sue: This novel, by one of my favorite authors is a quick, but not an easy read...should be required reading, particularly for those of us who are currently non-disabled.
Sometimes it feels like our work at Sustainable Economies Law Center makes a sudden leap forward, and I’d like to share how that just happened. In December, we hosted a launch party for two cooperatives we’ve been incubating for more the two years, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative and People Power Solar Cooperative. Over 250 community members and 30 sponsoring organizations showed up to celebrate. By the end of the night, each cooperative signed up more than 80 members to buy shares, thereby raising seed capital for their first projects and spurring a lot of excitement and hope.
Going beyond these outward signs of success, I’m even more proud to share what’s happening at a deeper level with the cooperatives: A culmination of best practices, cultural shifts, and innovative structural elements that make these cooperatives microcosms of social transformation and powerful platforms for movement-building and systems change. I’ll try to summarize it here, though I suspect we’ll be spending coming years unpacking it, discussing it, and helping it spread.
First, I’d suggest that you click to open the easy-to-read cartoon Bylaws of EB PREC and of People Power, since much of the unique legal DNA of the two cooperatives is expressed there. Here are seven elements that make the cooperatives powerful and how they show up in the Bylaws:
1. Movement cooperatives, not just consumer cooperatives:
Unlike conventional housing cooperatives or energy cooperatives, which are formed to provide housing or energy to their members as consumers, EB PREC and People Power could be described as movement cooperatives. They exist not only to provide housing and energy, but to build large membership bases and serve members’ collective goals to transform our systems for land ownership and control of energy. EB PREC and People Power envision building memberships of hundreds or even thousands of community members. (For both cooperatives, see the Bylaws sections on Becoming an Owner.)
2. Decentralized organizations designed to grow from the grassroots:
In the words of EB PREC’s Bylaws: ”We want to spread power to as many people as possible through a decentralized structure where small groups of Owners are in the driver's seat of the Cooperative’s activities. We prioritize decentralized governance because it builds people power, creates resiliency, and fosters a strong sense of community ownership, activating people to protect and steward land in the long-term. The activities of the Cooperative will therefore be spread out among small semi-autonomous groups that will be accountable to the whole.” EB PREC and People Power are designed as backbone organizations, acting as conduits of financing and providers of technical and administrative support to many small groups organizing to acquire properties or build solar projects. The mandate to foster organizing from the ground up is embedded in the legal structure of both organizations. (See the Bylaws sections on “Spreading Power,” “Owner Groups,” and the “Governance Overview.”)
3. Self-managed staff collectives:
The day-to-day work of EB PREC and People Power is carried out by self-managed staff collectives. We view this as critical to building power for members and activating grassroots economic organizing, because self-management gives every staff person the power to take action in response to the needs, visions, and projects of the cooperatives’ members. Another way of saying it: Members express their power through and in close collaboration with the cooperative staff, so if staff don’t have power, then members don’t have power. The Law Center – through our own practice and support of dozens of other organizations – has developed expertise, resources, and regularly sold-out workshops on worker self-governance, and we’ve embedded it in the legal structures of EB PREC and People Power. (See the sections on the trusteeship role of the cooperatives’ staff beginning on pages 29 of both Bylaws.) We believe that the deep intrinsic motivation of workers – even in real estate and solar companies – is a critical resource to tap for social change, and we can only tap it if we give power to all workers.
4. Building collective power with community capital:
Anyone in California can buy a share of EB PREC or People Power for up to $1,000 per person, and the cooperatives have already raised $80,000 and $30,000 in shares, respectively. Each real estate and solar project will be partially or wholly financed by capital sourced from a broad base of community members. Importantly, community capital is not just a way to raise money; it’s a way to build power for the community. The cooperatives enable many people to pool their resources and use that collective power to leverage other capital to carry out projects in their own communities. The Law Center has worked for years to pave a legal path for everyday people to invest in their local economies, so we’re thrilled that this is coming to fruition. Learn more in this blog post, and see the financial sections beginning at page 39 in both Bylaws, as well as EB PREC’s section on “Becoming an Investor Owner,” and People Power’s section on “Becoming a General Owner."
5. Non-extractive financial structures:
EB PREC and People Power plan to build and hold critical assets for our communities, so it’s imperative that we create enforceable protections against profit extraction or other imbalances that could arise from excessive return on capital, excessive land prices, excessive pay to executives, or low wages to employees. The Bylaws apply floors and caps on financial benefits and compensation, balancing the benefits provided to their multiple stakeholders, including investors, workers, residents, and consumers. (See the Bylaws sections entitled “Non-Extractive Finances.”)
6. Legal structures for permanent community ownership:
EB PREC and People Power use a suite of protections against commodification of the organizations and their resources. Outside organizations and individuals hold board appointment power and veto power over attempts to change essential structural elements, sell land or other resources, or liquidate the organizations. EB PREC also has a mandate to protect land by giving other organizations, like land trusts and local Indigenous tribes, purchase options and rights of first refusal to prevent the land from re-entering the speculative market. The vision is for both organizations to be permanent title-holders of their community-owned resources. (See the Bylaws sections entitled “Permanent Community Stewardship,” “Vision Protectors,” “Appointed Directors,” and “Closing or Selling the Cooperative.”)
7. Participatory legal documents that deepen collective understanding:
Even while they contain complex and innovative legal components, the Bylaws are written in plain English, with cartoons, and other diagrams that make them understandable even to a high school student who test-read them for us. Bylaws like this enable high levels of stakeholder participation in their creation, which yields countless insights into the process of developing legal structures, and creates operating rules that are aligned with the culture and work happening on the ground. To refine these documents, we held many lively and engaging discussions with the cooperative staff. This process built a core of leaders with deep understanding of and buy-in to the complex legal structures we created. The process was emblematic of a broader goal of the Law Center: We want to bring law and policy down to earth so that everyday people can actively shape the operating rules of their own communities toward social transformation.
Happy New Year!
My New Year's resolution is to continue building a cooperatively owned future of work that meets the needs of immigrant and QTPOC communities. That's why, on March 24th, I’m participating in the Law Center’s first-ever Workers Run Oakland marathon fundraiser and I’m looking for folks to run (or walk) with me to help reach our goal of raising $30,000! Will you join me at the Oakland Running Festival as a #WorkersRunOakland Run-Raiser? Registration closes January 31st!Read more