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].

Look at what we’ve built together

I love how much you – the US solidarity economy (SE) movement – have matured since I first started at the Law Center. Look at the formal institutions we’ve collectively built: worker coops, decommodified housing, land-based collectives, capital funds, political homes, movement governance spaces, and more. We collectively control hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, with more (though not enough) moving to Black solidarity economy projects. We have tens or hundreds of millions more in active capital campaigns. Look at how our leadership and relationships of accountability have broadened and deepened: the leaders and public visionaries of the SE today are Indigenous women-led land trusts and “assemblies of Black possibility,” not just mostly white pizza parlors (no shade to the vegan pizza chefs, I see you!). We have returned thousands of acres of land to Indigenous and Black stewardship. We have shaped presidential platforms and visionary federal policies. We have organizers and organizations all across the continent, networked in increasingly coherent ways. We are starting to exercise our collective governing power at greater scales.

I love that we aren’t waiting for someone else to save us. The SE movement has always been visionary, with its roots in formations like the World Social Forum proclaiming “Another World is Possible.” But we are more oppositional now too (to quote the strategic framework for a Just Transition). We are more committed to contesting for power and resources now, while continuing to offer joyful and even ancestrally-rooted visions of the future. A flourishing of mutual aid projects, home occupations, and abolitionist organizing point toward ways that the SE is becoming more connected to the lives of poor, working class, and BIPOC communities. To further deepen those connections, I think we also need to continue building non-professionalized organizing spaces. INCITE! told us a long time ago: the revolution will not be funded! It probably won’t come with a paycheck, and it probably won’t be registered with your local Secretary of State. Alongside cooperative institution-building, we need emergent and experimental projects that can create new political possibilities and organizational forms, projects that might break laws that need breaking rather than comply with settler-colonial legal regimes designed to dehumanize, commodify, and exploit our relationships to land, labor, and each other.    

Our practices of care are a gift to communities and movements

I love that we strive to practice the world we are creating. I love that we’ve not just thrown down for each other, but also slowed down with each other in moments of vulnerability and conflict. I love that we are learning to see our personal vulnerabilities as blessings, our conflicts as opportunities for healing and transformation. In my experience, the most durable and most strategic projects are those with a clear and unapologetic commitment to collective care. As Sarah Jaffe helps us see, “work will not love us back”  – but people can. We’ve been exploring this tension at Sustainable Economies Law Center in various ways over the past decade, asking how our collective labor might still be a site of restoration and care, not just a force of exploitation and domination (even “for the cause”). And at the Law Center, and increasingly across various other movement spaces, I’ve experienced relationships of real reciprocity, care, and perhaps even love. 

Late last year, I realized that it was time for me to leave the Law Center. The seeds of this decision were planted five years ago when I moved to South Carolina with a long term goal to support movement work in the Deep South. It was an open question whether the Law Center was the most appropriate organizational home for that, given its Bay Area/California home. But my realization finally came in the context of struggling with my mental, emotional, and physical health for an extended period. 4+ years of remote work and primarily virtual relationships, pandemic isolation and stress, becoming a new parent, and the accumulated burdens and responsibilities of stewarding an increasingly large and complex organization all contributed to that. After reaching out for support from several trusted friends and co-workers, I finally realized that if I didn’t make an intentional choice about when and how to leave, I might end up leaving in crisis. Our movements lose too many leaders and organizers to burnout, with significant impacts to the folks who suffer from burnout as well as to the organizations that must navigate that loss. It was in having deep relationships of trust, care, and accountability that I was able to acknowledge my own needs, have those needs recognized and supported by co-workers and partners, and make intentional choices to support myself and the work I have been committed to.   

Caring for each other is hard, y’all! Movements know how to throw down to stop an eviction, shut down a pipeline, walk the picket line, and hustle to raise and redistribute tens of thousands of dollars to neighbors in crisis. I also see us learning how to slow down to understand multiple truths inside a complex conflict, talk about the ways personal and collective trauma can shape us and our organizing, give each other seasonal rest periods, or provide extended leave to navigate a crisis or have the time we need as new parents even if that means pausing certain work. Beyond just acts of care, learning how to slow down together is essential for good strategy. 

I’ll never forget an early organizing lesson that highlighted this: inspired by our experiences at Standing Rock, a coalition of Native and non-native folks formed in Oakland, CA to push the city to divest public money from fossil fuel financiers. In an early meeting, most of the non-Native folks like me were eagerly discussing proposed policy language and organizing strategies when Pat St. Onge, an Indigenous grandmother and leader, helpfully told us to stop. Our urgency was reproducing the dynamics of settler-colonialism within the coalition, and we hadn’t yet built the trust necessary to mount, let alone win, a campaign. The way we conducted coalition meetings, our approach to working with City Councilmembers, our understanding of how state power operates and how to build community power all shifted when we took time to slow down and ground ourselves in the understanding of Native peoples in the coalition. This sounds so obvious to me in retrospect, but learning to really practice this in multi-racial and cross-class spaces is work that our movement is still learning how to do. 

Beyond the obvious imperative to follow Indigenous leadership in that particular campaign, I think we must continue learning how to be in generative conflict with each other to build effective strategy. And conflict often requires slowing down: to listen, to disagree without harming each other, to take responsibility for our actions, to interrogate our reactions, to name our needs and boundaries, to overcome the conflict avoidance built into so many white middle-class professional spaces. This is a gift the SE movement might offer to broader movements for liberation if we are truly committed to a culture of solidarity and care. 

A card with black text on white background called \

I am grateful to be embedded in a loving web of solidarity – with coworkers, comrades, family members, fruit trees, pollinating insects, soil microbes, ocean currents, ancestors. It’s been through these relationships (and the material privileges I have) that I’ve felt able to recognize and act on my deep needs for more rest, play, reflection, and spontaneity. (What if I never had to consult my google calendar again…???) So thank you for making me who I have become. Thank you for supporting me to continue becoming, to honor my own needs and sense of purpose by stepping back for a season or two from organizational commitments. Thank you for helping me see that freedom is in all of our blood and bones, in our dreams and collective memories, it is a gift from our ancestors and to each other that just might be possible in this moment – if we seek it together.

And it feels fitting that just as I was finishing this essay, I received a card in the mail from a dear friend and comrade with this “grounding in revolutionary reminders”:

And now, above all else, move into your place on the path that has been forged by every ancestor who has ever breathed into being the possibility of liberation.

May it be so.

[1] These include Sustainable Economies Law Center, Occupy the Farm/Gill Tract Community Farm, Phat Beets Produce and the Aunti Francis Self-Help Hunger Program, Bay Area Rights of Nature Coalition, National Lawyers Guild, Law and Social Change Jam, Fresh Future Farm, Lowcountry Mutual Aid Fund, South Carolina Housing Justice Network, Charleston Democratic Socialists of America, New Economy Coalition, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, and Nonprofit Democracy Network.
[2] Others have written powerfully about some of our movements’ most significant internal contradictions (read Maurice Mitchell’s “Building Resilient Organizations”) and raised important questions about professionalization, formalization, and the centering of nonprofit institutions as the solidarity economy grows (read Ester Choi’s Solidarity Economy: Emergent Work).  I offer these thoughts in the spirit of appreciative inquiry, that “what we feed grows” (see, among others, adrienne maree brown’s “Attention Liberation
Thanks for editing support from Alejandra Cruz, Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Richa Pokhrel, and Janelle Orsi

Showing 1 reaction

  • chris tittle
    published this page in Blog 2023-07-13 07:40:09 -0700

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