The Southern Grassroots Economies Project, a network of organizations that build cooperative economic institutions in the southeastern United States, just completed its fourth CoopEcon—a training institute for cooperative members. The following is excerpted from the dedication of that gathering:
We dedicate this gathering to Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and the many other victims of police and other racist violence; we honor the heroic people of Ferguson, Mo., and the countless ordinary people in communities across the country who know a change must come and are willing to participate in creating that change.
Self-reliance carries with it a level of independence that frightens the powers that be.
We dedicate this gathering to the people of Appalachia who see the tops blown off their mountains and their streams poisoned. They watch as their children get cancer at high rates. Their beautiful homeland is sacrificed to the greed of the coal companies, then abandoned when there is little profit left to extract. We honor those who organize and resist this devastation.
We dedicate this gathering to the neighborhoods that grocery stores, seeking higher profits, left years ago, making it difficult to find fresh fruits or meats or vegetables. We honor those who have decided to do something about it and, with technical and financial help, build the stores they need.
CoopEcon honors these individuals and communities by helping them to make a change. CoopEcon is about changing the world, at first one neighborhood, one grocery store, one mountaintop at a time—but soon, all at once.
None of us can know what will happen in the next few years. We can’t predict when millions of people will be drawn into action by some event—a catastrophe, perhaps—some situation that cannot be ignored. We can’t gaze into a crystal ball and foretell the future. But we can prepare for it.
We do this by working to build a sustainable economy that meets peoples’ needs, while learning and teaching the skills and building the organizations that will scale up to improve the lives of many more people in the future. Our full humanity is expressed only when we have the capacity and the opportunity to be productive, to do for ourselves, meeting our needs in our communities.
For many of us, that means working in the South.
The South is our home. It is often neglected, misunderstood, misrepresented, and underestimated. We know its history and its potential. We know that those who see us as a source for their unquenchable thirst for profit have no need for many of us. They do not want us to be capable of doing for ourselves. As it was the case of the black landowners who were a foundation of the Civil Rights struggle, self-reliance carries with it a level of independence and confidence that frightens the powers that be. Meanwhile, it gives us great courage. This is the South that we want.
The world in which Michael Brown would still be alive is a world we have yet to create.
We live in a world of contradictions and disparity. There are islands of great wealth and privilege in an ocean of poverty and despair. The concentration of power and wealth among the wealthy few leads to ecological, social, and economic devastation for the many. There are some of us, like Mike Brown, that the wealthy and powerful have no place for. They just want us “off the street, on the sidewalk”—if there is a sidewalk.
And if we are defiant, if we refuse to move out of the way, if we refuse to become invisible, if we refuse to stop being inconvenient, if we assert our humanity instead, demanding to be noticed, refusing to comply, then we might be summarily executed—like Mike Brown, left lying in the street as a sign to others that we must obey.
But many young people still refuse. These young people who refuse to do as they are told are our only hope. Those who passively seek to comply with all authority are accepting their own dehumanization and becoming agents of the dominant power.
The world in which Michael Brown would still be alive is a world we have yet to create. It is a world in which people are valued, not as a means to an end, but as ends in themselves.
Ed Whitfield is co-founder and co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities. He serves on the boards of the New Economy Coalition, the Working World, and the Southern Reparations Loan Fund.