Joy Through Economic Solidarity
As American capitalism continues to shovel wealth at the very rich by taking resources away from the struggling rest, it’s easy to feel defeated, especially with Donald Trump at the helm. This issue began with the idea that something else is happening underneath that official story of the economy. In our work every day, we see communities full of generous people working to lift each other up. So, what opportunities do people have in going about their lives to build solidarity? Every time we purchase something, share something, eat something — every decision we make to create homes and livelihoods that meet our needs can be tailored to bring maximum social justice to others.
To be sure, when we talk about fixing wealth disparity, it is often with justice in mind. But on top of achieving a healthier and fairer world, we believe there’s one more important thing. Joy.
What we want to strive for is a persistent and collective joy that can come from these solidarity economies, where our own happiness isn’t contingent on momentary success or someone else’s exploitation. This economic joy emerges from the knowledge that generosity is a shared responsibility. That our food, our work, our community are causing no one harm, and, in fact, are helping to lift up others. If our very existence is helping others to thrive, then that’s a joyful economy.
It might start with forming relationships outside the cash economy. A group of women in St. Louis formed the Cowry Collective to enable themselves to barter and trade services like lawn mowing, painting, farming, and cooking. Time-banking initiatives such as this are taking off across the country to share community burdens and tie people more strongly together.
It might involve bringing care and love into the cash economy. In Hawai’i, the state government, drawing on the traditions of its Native Hawaiian and Asian population, instituted a program to pay people who must work and also care for children and elders.
And as we consider how to build more diverse and joyful solidarity economies, we ultimately will come to this: What are we willing to give up for others? And what do we gain in return?
As economist Darrick Hamilton points out, the elite aren’t just the superrich. That means addressing systemic inequality requires a rebalancing, asking more of those who have benefitted — even indirectly — from our nation’s history of racial exploitation and subjugation. In Seattle, homeowners are giving up space to solve homelessness. Families are constructing tiny backyard houses for homeless people — literally saying, “Yes, in my backyard.”
And what are you willing to do? If you could create solidarity economies and bring joy to others and yourself, would you?
Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz is the former creative director at YES!, where she directed artistic and visual components of YES! Magazine, and drove branding across the organization for nearly 15 years. She specializes in infographic research and design, and currently works with The Nation, in addition to YES! She previously worked at The Seattle Times, The Virginian-Pilot, Scripps Howard Newspapers, Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Connecticut Post, The San Diego Tribune, The Honolulu Advertiser. She lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and currently serves on the board of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association. Tracy speaks English.
Christa Hillstrom is a freelance writer and former YES! editor.
Chris Winters is a senior editor at YES!, where he specializes in covering democracy and the economy. Chris has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in the Seattle area. He’s covered everything from city council meetings to natural disasters, local to national news, and won numerous awards for his work. He is based in Seattle, and speaks English and Hungarian.