August 2023 Newsletter: Long Live Workplace Democracy & Worker Power!

August 2023 Newsletter

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!

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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:

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From Apprentice to Attorney: Ricardo Nuñez on his Experience in the Law Office Study Program

Ricardo Nunez Apprenticeship Journey Blog

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.)

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Law for Economic Democracy: A Failed Experiment in Building Community

Law for Economic Democracy: A Failed Experiment in Building CommunityIn 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).

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July 2023 Newsletter: #TenantsWithoutLandlords Housing Justice Resources

July 2023 Newsletter: #TenantsWithoutLandlords Housing Justice Resources

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!

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A love letter to the solidarity economy movement

From Chris Tittle A Love Letter to the Solidarity Economy Movement: Reflections from the past decade and questions for the next

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 [1]. 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 [2].

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#TenantsWithoutLandlords Recap and Resources Round-Up

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?

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Unplugging Our Homes From Corporate Power

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. 

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Can We Stop Auditing Each Other?

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?

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Resources for Radical Home Sellers

Homeowners bear a heavy weight of responsibility, especially once they come to understand the role that property ownership and the speculative market have played in the theft of land, the impoverishment of communities, and the widening gap between the rich and poor. Over the years, Sustainable Economies Law Center has created several resources to help homeowners navigate the possibilities for buying, owning, and selling homes in greater alignment with values of social and racial justice. We've recently compiled some of those resources into one place here: Resources for Radical Home Sellers

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Remembering When Land Was There For Us

What might we mean by “tenants without landlords?” This feels like a zen koan, a provocation to help us pause and revisit our understanding of what’s possible. Every person might have a different journey of inquiry with such a prompt. I’ll share one of my recent journeys, allowing me to glimpse the profound sanity of a world without landlords.

I just returned from a 6-month sabbatical in which I traveled to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Fifteen years after becoming a lawyer, and 13 years after co-founding Sustainable Economies Law Center, I sought to immerse myself in places and cultures that could teach me what a kinder, more just, and more loving world can feel like. This is how I ended up spending a month in West Sumatra.

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April 2023 Newsletter: Join us for #TenantsWithoutLandlords!

April 2023 Newsletter: Join us for #TenantsWithoutLandlords

When we envision ways to create affordable and humane housing, what do we imagine?

A tight knit community of neighbors organize to own and control their multi-unit apartment building in North Oakland.

A Black elder rallies her East Bay community to help buy her Pinole rental home through grassroots fundraising and community developed CA housing policy.

A POC, community-centered development coop that’s democratically led, buys up buildings in Oakland to make them permanently affordable. 

These are not visions of the future but a few examples of the powerful cooperative housing organizing that has happened in the East Bay alone! It’s important to celebrate those who, despite the slow movement of policy change and greed of corporate landlords, continue to play with the possibility of a different way. 

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March 2023 Newsletter: In celebration of Research Explosion Days

March 2023 Newsletter: In Celebration of Research Explosion Days

How do you get your co-workers to support your projects with their input and support? In a worker self-directed organization, where workers have the freedom to choose which projects they dedicate their time and energy towards, this question can be trickier than you might expect. We all have different methods to rally colleagues around our individual work. But over the years we’ve learned, if you make the work a party, people will show up! Hence, Research Explosion Days! (If you want to see a peek into how we did it over 8 years ago, check out this fun video.)

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February 2023 Newsletter: The Tyranny of Structurelessness

February 2023 Newsletter: The Tyranny of Structurelessness

My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders.” 

- Ella Jo Baker, civil rights movement organizer

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January 2023 Newsletter: New Year, New Look

January 2023 Newsletter: New Year, New Look

There’s something so nerve wracking about getting your photo taken. Maybe it’s from memories of school picture day and the emotions that go with it. Was my hair in place? Did I have anything in my teeth? Were my eyes even open for the photo?

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