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Lessons for Building Lively Local Economies

Grace Boggs on what she learned at the 2012 BALLE conference.

grace boggs laugh by on being

Photo by On Being

Last week I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the 10th annual BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) conference. This was my first BALLE gathering, although I have followed the group’s progress over the years in YES! Magazine.

For a hard-of-hearing 97-year-old woman in a wheelchair, it was an exhausting three days. It also wasn’t easy for those who pushed me up and down the hilly streets of the city and graciously called it a “workout.“

But I was glad they and I made the effort because I learned a lot, especially about the critical role that philosophy of history, commitment to place, and leadership play in transformative, visionary organizing.

I met Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics, a book that traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism and reveals how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.

These trends, Eisenstein says, have now reached their extreme; their collapse provides a great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.

Eisenstein’s historic perspective helps us recognize that building living local economies in this day and age is a spiritual activity, a way to grow our souls. In a world where a globalizing economy is destroying communities and turning everyone, every thing and every relationship into a commodity, this evolution to a higher humanity has become both necessary and possible. It is the New American Dream that, deep in their hearts, millions of Americans long for.

That’s why Boggs Center friends and supporters wear [R]evolution T-shirts!

Our responsibility as leaders [is] to forge ahead even when others in our community are reluctant to become involved.

I watched a very moving presentation about the importance of place by Amy Kedron, a Buffalo native and Ph.D. candidate who was the founding executive director of Buffalo First. Amy explained how turning her Rust Belt city into gold began with organizing real neighborhoods where real residents and shopkeepers with real interests, memories, and histories live. (Amy also told me that reading Black Jacobins by C.L.R.James had meant a lot to her).

The session with Malik Yakini, the founder of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and D-Town, was both entertaining and instructive. Malik challenged us to accept our responsibility as leaders to forge ahead even when others in our community are reluctant to become involved. He narrated the tale of the Little Red Hen, who finds a grain of wheat and asks for help from the other farmyard animals to plant, harvest, and eventually bake the flour into bread.

Everyone has an excuse not to pitch in. So the Little Red Hen proceeds on her own—but once the bread is baked, all the previous non-participants eagerly volunteer to eat it.


Grace Lee BoggsGrace Lee Boggs has been an activist for more than 60 years and is the author of the autobiography Living for Change.

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