We reached out to our friends at SolidarityNYC to ask for their thoughts on the new economy and how it intersects with their work. SolidarityNYC connects, supports, and promotes New York City’s solidarity economy.
Here’s what they had to say.
By Lauren Taylor Hudson and Cheyenna Weber
What does the new economy mean to your organization?
Cheyenna: Solidarity economy is a Latin American term, originally, and is in use globally within social movements seeking economic democracy. In the U.S. it is less responsive to trends in entrepreneurship or philanthropy, which we see as a strength, though it does mean we’re often asked to identify how it relates to sharing economy, new economy, green economy, cooperative economy, or collaborative consumption.
SolidarityNYC uses the “solidarity economy” term, which we then define as a framework, rather than some kind of monolithic concept of “the economy.” When we buy into the story of “the economy” we render invisible activities that do not hold an established value in the private market. We use “solidarity economy” as a shorthand. We consider solidarity economy activities to be those utilizing values of social justice, cooperation, democracy, ecological sustainability, and mutualism.
We recognize that there’s a spectrum for these activities, and that some may be better with some values over others. The real distinction for us is whether something is democratic. So, on our map for examples there are a lot of cooperatives included because those are democratic entities, but we’ve also included Amalgamated Bank because it is owned and operated by labor unions, which are democratic in some ways (although not in all ways), and practice a politics of social justice for working people.
Lauren: This is not to say that those of us working from a solidarity economy framework are deeply divided from others who use “new economy.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Much of the time we’re talking about the same things: cooperation, collectives, the commons, timebanks, skillshares, etc. In the end that work is still getting promoted and supported.
It’s when we pivot these activities outwards to an audience less familiar with an “alternative” economic analysis that the politics of our language becomes evident. The new economy includes a lot of “normative” or capitalist economic practices (like social entrepreneurship and local capitalism initiatives) that solidarity economy does not—it’s a much wider tent. It’s not so much an incorrect position as it is a different focus. Both frameworks are trying to grapple at envisioning a different economic paradigm than the one we’re working against (an incredibly difficult thing to do). As a result, we’re inhibited in how we think of economic possibility, and moving away from a capital-centric analysis becomes all the more uncomfortable.
It is also important to note that unlike the phrase “new economy,” the activity that the solidarity economy references aren’t “new” at all. Communities of mutualism have a very long history and have often arisen as responses to a lack of institutional economic support and other forms of oppression. To call these practices “new” reifies an equally long history of erasure. Interestingly, it also requires us to answer “Well, new for whom?”, which is important when individuals in this movement outline what practices and positions we choose to highlight in our conferences, resources, and projects.
What projects are you working on?
Lauren: Right now we are developing several of our earlier projects and adding additional depth to that work. First, our map of the Solidarity Economy is entering its third phase. Our mapping project started as a way for practitioners in the solidarity economy to see each other and recognize how their work fits under a similar banner. Now we are beginning to shift our focus toward how newcomers to the SE framework can interact with the map and how it can function more intuitively. This has translated into making multiple edits of the language and context of the map, as well as having a deeper conversation on what content is represented. Doing so has allowed the collective to really revisit and define what our values, definitions, and principles are.
We’re also continuing our Portraits of the Solidarity Economy video series which highlights individual SE sectors and businesses. Like the map, these videos act as visual representation of existing vibrant economies of mutualism.
Cheyenna: We’ve also committed to bringing together solidarity economy leaders to develop a proposal for advancing our political and economic power as a movement. The strategic planning process is underway, coordinated by a steering committee of leaders who are supported by a grant our collective solicited. The committee is building on SolidarityNYC’s work but is a distinct entity, with its own goals and values that we’re supporting. Our hope is that the group will identify what forms of organization solidarity economy leaders and participants can undertake to expand their activities and ultimately meet the dire need for affordable housing, empowering non-predatory financial services, healthy and affordable food, living wage jobs, and economic security that exists throughout New York City’s five boroughs. We have a great deal of work to do.
What does the new economy mean to your movement?
Lauren: Economic democracy is at the crux of our work and it is crucial that we signify it as a guiding principle. For SolidarityNYC, the movement we place ourselves within and the narrative we want to put forth is one of diverse economies and actors working alongside each other to support their shared goals and principles.
Cheyenna: The “new economy” language presents both an opportunity and a challenge for those focused on economic democracy. Since the term is new and still being defined, it is easy to lose sight of important political concepts within the broad tent. A bigger tent can mean access to new audiences, but it can also suffer from clarity of vision. The solidarity economy framework (I’m not sure I’m comfortable calling it a movement) seeks to bring together the many stakeholders involved to grow something together, but according to clearly defined values. As we’ve seen with the “sharing economy,” it can be very easy for capitalists to co-opt our language in service of exploitive practices, obscuring the actual grassroots organizing and frame that so many found helpful in the first place. My hope is that those who are using “new economy” will be clear about their principles and values so that the rest of us understand their vision. Will the “new economy” agenda articulate a need for, and directly support, economic democracy? Or will it advocate for green capitalism with wider benefits to local communities? It’s too early to tell.
The SolidarityNYC Project is collectively directed by a committed group of activists, artists, and community members. Lauren Taylor Hudson does mapping and research, while Cheyenna Weber does organizing and community building. You can follow SolidarityNYC on Twitter and Facebook.