“We are in this together, learning from each other.
We are the midwives, the seeds, and the sprouts of what the world can be and where the world will turn to when they understand that the current systems are pushing us off a cliff.
For me, that is why we come together. To remember this in our bodies.
To learn from each other.
To grow with and from each other.
To disagree and understand the contradictions and evolving strategies.
To be bold.
To be supported.
To connect and feel the interdependence we yearn for and which will create the conditions for our own liberation.”
These were my opening words to the annual member meeting held at the 2022 Worker Co-op Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Over 480 individuals registered and attended the two day conference where SELC staff members met with policymakers, activists, entrepreneurs, organizers, and artists to learn, share, and embrace comrades who we’ve been separated from for over two and a half years.
Chris Tittle and I had the privilege of attending on behalf of the Sustainable Economies Law Center and wanted to share a few highlights from the conference.
¡Cooperativistas unidos jamás serán vencidos!
We were both in awe of the depth of Spanish speaking worker-owners, worker cooperative entrepreneurs, and technical assistance providers. On the first day of the conference, there was a breakout session led by our friends at Prospera, which had participants clapping, singing, and learning together. On the second day of the conference, there were multiple day long sessions only in Spanish and also sessions being simultaneously translated. It was heartening to see this level of language justice, especially given that this was the first in-person conference that many of us had been to in three years. Getting to experience the level of activity and passion the Spanish speaking community brought to the worker coop community was powerful. It reminded us that a core constituency of the worker coop movement is made up of Spanish speakers, and we’re privileged to be working alongside many of them at the Law Center.
Legal Frontiers of Solidarity Philanthropy
SELC was invited to provide a training during the day long track titled, “Creatives and Commons: Building the Solidarity Economy for Working Artists.” This track of sessions that was co-organized by Art.coop and the Guilded Freelancer's Co-op, featured conversations with key stakeholders in the solidarity economy: artists, funders, and ecosystem stewards. Participants heard case studies of work in the arts advancing the solidarity economy, and shared essential learnings, built relationships, and strategized paths forward together. Chris and I presented on “Creative Approaches to Funding Cooperatives, or Legal Frontiers of Solidarity Philanthropy” where we discussed how we should be thinking of artists as workers who could cooperatively own stuff, why now is the time to abolish philanthropy and invest in workers, and that it is going to take an ecosystem of organizations to channel those resources into community control. You can see our slides and other resources here: 2022 National Worker Coop Conference - Creative Approaches to Funding Cooperatives
Chris and I appreciated the insights that were shared during this track and were also inspired by the innovative work being done by Creative Rebuild New York and the approach to funding artists through their Artist Employment and Guaranteed Income for Artists programs. The Artist Employment program is funding up to 300 artists, culture bearers, and culture makers in collaboration with dozens of community-based organizations across New York State for two years where participating artists receive a salary of $65,000 per year, plus benefits, with dedicated time to focus on their practice. The Guaranteed Income for Artists program provides regular, no-strings-attached cash payments for 2,400 artists who have financial need where each artist receives $1,000 per month for 18 consecutive months.
Leveraging the Moment for Worker Cooperative Policy
Chris and I were also invited to a round table discussion with policymakers from the city of Philadelphia and from the Philadelphia State legislature. Policymakers included:
Philadelphia Councilmember Kendra Brooks, the first Working Families Party member elected to Philadelphia City Council in history;
Pennsylvania State Representative Christopher M. Rabb, a father, educator, author, and social justice activist who has been promoting worker cooperatives for over 5 years; and
Pennsylvania State Representative Joseph Hohenstein who’s dedicated his professional career to helping the community and fighting for justice as a nationally renowned lawyer on immigration rights and keeping families united.
Our conversation was meant to provide an update to the policymakers from worker-owners, movement support organizations like SELC, and worker cooperative activists on how the policy environment has shifted and where we’ve been seeing successes and new windows of opportunity. One such policy soon-to-be win is SB-1407 California Employee Ownership Act, which would establish the California Employee Ownership Hub within the California Office of Small Business. The Hub would work to “increase awareness and understanding of employee ownership among stakeholders, assist business owners and employees in navigating available resources, and streamline and reduce barriers to employee ownership.”
We’re excited to continue pushing forward policy efforts with our partners across the country to make worker cooperatives and democratic employee ownership the default business option for new and existing businesses.
It Just Felt Right to be Back Together
None of this could have been possible without the tireless efforts of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives’ staff and board and the Democracy at Work Institute staff and board. Being on the board of the USFWC, I saw the months of preparations - navigating ways to make sure that language justice, disability justice, and accessibility were being integrated into all aspects of the conference. For example, the day-long tracks were a shift to account for COVID and MXPX (aka “Monkeypox”) protocols so that groups would be podded together all day instead of switching every 90 minutes into new groups, masks were required in all indoor spaces, and the annual member meeting was simultaneously translated in-person while also being live streamed and translated simultaneously there, as well.
Being back together was such a fulfilling and joyful experience. Hugs and elbow taps were exchanged (with consent), dancing was had, and awards and recognitions flowed throughout. Individuals we had previously only met virtually were suddenly sitting across from us discussing what their organization’s were dreaming up for the future, sharing personal lessons learned from the past few years, and building the trust and solidarity that can only come from being in person. It was meaningful and the conference was done with intention and care. I hope more of us can experience, in big and small ways, what Chris and I were able to experience at the National Worker Coop Conference, energizing our work and passion for economic democracy in all areas of our lives.