The Story of an Artist and Worker Owned Cooperative Enterprise

I’ve watched as too many smart, creative, innovative and motivated people – people who have contributed so much to their communities, become more and more marginalized and economically vulnerable over the last 3 decades.

I, and many of my friends are among this group. As artists, musicians and culture bearers in New Orleans, Louisiana we drive the region’s largest industry and employer – tourism and hospitality.

We knew long before hurricane Katrina that something was very wrong with our economy, as economic and workforce development initiatives and policies became increasingly about big business and privatization

Large sums of money from our public coffers were going to subsidize these big corporations in the form of tax credits, abatements and tax increment financing, siphoning money needed for our city’s schools, housing and other much needed social and economic benefit for residents of New Orleans.

What you don’t know about New Orleans

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In concert with this privatization was a concerted disinvestment into working class neighborhoods of the city along with the demonization of workers struggling to make ends meet and take care of their families.  As a majority African American city this took on an especially racist tinge.

Yet, it is the black community that has contributed the most to New Orleans throughout its history, making New Orleans world renown for its creative culture from music to cuisine to architecture and a grassroots street-level culture of resistance, innovation and activism that is unlike any in the United States.

New Orleans has long had a social cultural economy that is, in its essence, what we now know as Solidarity Economy.

We are the only city in the U.S. that has Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, organized neighborhood groups within the city’s African American community that are expressly concerned with cohesion, solidarity, sharing and helping.

Social aid and pleasure clubs grew out of the benevolent and mutual aid societies of mid to late 1800s to provide education and financial assistance along with jobs and livelihoods to newly freed slaves following the Civil War.

Who supports the people?

Today, New Orleans social aid and pleasure clubs continue to provide those suffering economic hardship with aid, ranging from school supplies for children to free food for the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday season and more, thereby foster unity and solidarity in community.

They also provide work, jobs and economic development through their Sunday afternoon second line parades where hundreds, sometimes thousands wind their way through the city’s backstreets dancing together behind the club and the music of several brass bands.

Prior to a club’s annual second line parade tailors are hired to make the impeccable suits and costumes worn by members, musicians are hired and a variety of vendors are invited to sell their wares, ranging from food and drink to arts and crafts.

Along each parade’s route are stops at neighborhood businesses such as bars and corner stores – small businesses that on ordinary days struggle to stay afloat given their location within underserved low-income neighborhoods.

My involvement as a member of a several consumer cooperatives shaped my rout to analyzing economic process

My own route to analyzing economic processes came from my own involvement as a member of several consumer cooperatives in the early 1970s in Vermont and western Massachusetts, one an electric cooperative and two food co-ops.

Later I was a founding member of a short-lived daycare cooperative, providing those of us within an informal shared housing co-op with a work-at-home livelihood for the 6 months we all lived together.

Later I worked as a seamstress and designer, selling my work at many arts and music fairs and festivals throughout the northeast.

In the 1980s, as a single mother, I worked in radio, music and social services and after the collapse of the Bank of New England in 1989 lost all 3 of my jobs within 30 days.

I decided to move to New Orleans, a city I had visited several times before and had come to love. I also knew my unemployment check would go much farther in New Orleans than it would in Northampton, MA, where rents were high, public transportation was abysmal and jobs were disappearing quickly as a result of the economy tanking after the collapse of the bank.

Meanwhile New Orleans economy was still suffering the effects of the mid-80s oil bust resulting in a large population loss and tourism was moving in to replace jobs lost.

Wealth Inequality 

I met musicians, artists, Black Indians, (also known as Mardi Gras Indians), social aid and pleasure club members that possessed a heritage, knowledge, talent, skills and innovative thinking that I had never encountered in such abundance before.

My first job after my unemployment ran out was with a well-known luxury hotel working in PBX, (phone switchboard operator). It was a miserable boring job in a windowless room that paid minimum wage.

I met women that had worked for the hotel for more than a decade and were still making just above minimum wage, while trying to support their children, making them eligible for public aid in the form of food stamps and sometimes in the form of public housing.

It quickly became apparent that this was the government supporting a luxury hotel paying poverty wages, but the onus was on these hard working women who had to stand in the check out line at the grocery with their foodstamps, as the more fortunate in line behind them muttered about ‘Welfare Queens’ while assuming these women did not work at all.

New Orleans schools were notoriously underfunded at that time, and deliberately so, because the state’s main economic development strategy of ‘business attraction’ was the sales pitch of a large pool of low wage labor. Right-To-Work laws and other labor union erosion strategies ensued to keep the city’s workers in poverty.

During the 1990’s the social safety net began to unravel at a rapid rate with Welfare Reform and the Crime Bill and related economic restructuring that advanced the interests of corporations through privatizing The Commons, programs like the Hope VI mixed income redevelopment of public housing, the Workforce Investment Act, which put the interests of private business owners over those of workers and resulted in the stagnation of wages and the growth of poverty and economic inequality.

The New Orleans Blues Project

In response, in 1998 I became a co-founder and lead organizer of the nonprofit New Orleans Blues Project , the nation’s first arts and music economic and workforce development organization at a time when notions of creative and cultural economy were first being developed.

I was researching and reading Pierre Bourdieu, Karl Marx, Mark Granovetter, Paulo Freire, Karl Polanyi and soon, Richard Florida, author of the best selling Rise of the Creative Class.

At the same time The Blues Project worked to develop our program Community Development Through Music, a training program in non-performing aspects of music and entertainment.

I wrote a proposal that garnered the Blues Project the BLUES HIGHWAY Millennium Trail designation through the Clinton administration’s White House Millennium Council, which we received in June of 2000.

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I found myself in D.C. meeting with the council in November, 2000 two weeks after that years contested presidential election at a time when no one knew who our next president would be. Needless to say, moneys allocated for Millennium Trails went toward war in Iraq. The Blues Project struggled and disbanded in 2003.

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It’s been said that following hurricane Katrina, New Orleans became the first ever domestic Structural Adjustment Program of the economy, the first of which was imposed upon Chile in 1973, (known as ‘the other 9/11’), with the overthrow of democratically elected President Salvador Allende and the installation of U.S. backed dictator Augusto Pinochet. This first domestic Structural Adjustment Program in New Orleans worked so well it was taken national with the 2008 financial collapse.

As a small group of evacuees in Memphis following Katrina, we toyed with the idea of re-starting the Blues Project while we contemplated what was happening in our city from afar and what our lives would be like upon return.

While also taking courses in Urban Studies at the University of Memphis, I wrote a grant for us to record a CD. The result was Dancing Ground, under the group name “New Orleans Rhythm Conspiracy”.

During the recording and production of the CD, I began floating the idea of an artist and worker owned cooperative enterprise and we incorporated as Rhythm Conspiracy Productions in late 2010.

My experience as a writer and artist has led me to believe that the cooperative enterprise structure of worker owned is the best for any type of work or livelihood in any economic realm, but especially for those working in the creative industries and cultural economy, as we often work project to project as freelancers or contract workers to other businesses and tend to have erratic incomes as a result, and are typically under-compensated for our work.

 

Also known as the Gig Economy, freelancers now make up 34% of the U.S. workforce.

 

In the last several years those of us that are member owners of Rhythm Conspiracy and others around New Orleans from: ArtistsMusicians, Foodies, Techies, Students and Scholars, Social justice activists, Social aid and Pleasure Club members and the Dancing People that follow them in Sunday second line parades.

All have been working diligently together to build the cooperative enterprise model, based on the social aid and pleasure clubs that have existed here for more than 100 years, and our region’s cooperative solidarity economy movement and eco-system, informing, advocating for, and advancing the cooperative model and the solidarity economy of the South.

The way to move forward

More and more of us see the Cooperativism and Solidarity Economy as a way for people and communities to move forward together in solidarity, in a more autonomous self-determined manner toward mitigating the obscene abuses of this era of brutal neoliberalism that consists of land grabbing, gentrification, displacement, war, immoral wealth hoarding, erosion of worker’s rights, high rates of child poverty and more.

 

As a part of our collective efforts, we created the New Orleans Cooperative Development Project several years ago, that has since become Cooperation Louisiana, (soon to launch at http://www.CooperationLousiana.org), in solidarity with similar efforts throughout the U.S. South, such as Cooperation Texas, Cooperation Jackson, Highlander Research and Education Center, the Fund For Democratic Communities and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project

All of us, as people, organizations and communities, work together to craft local and state legislation for fair and just economic and labor policies that allow greater control over our work, livelihoods, and economic lives in ways that meet the needs and desires for ourselves, our families and our communities.

How volunteering on a campaign by Aazer changed my perspective towards militarization

In the beginning of the Syrian revolution, as documented by many sources, people gathered in squares and chanted for freedom, equality and dignity. The Syrian government responded with violence; starting with tear gas and riot police batons – just once or maybe twice, to live ammunition and ending with barrel bombs and chemical weapons.

People continued protesting in novel ways to get around this violence, the idea of flash protests or “Mozaharat Tayara” as they are called in Arabic was born. People would gather in one street and chant for 5 minutes, then disperse quickly before the arrival of security forces.

Nevertheless, the need to retaliate against the regime’s violence grew bigger with every martyr that fell in these squares, with every person killed under torture in regime prisons and with every destroyed house.

People organized local armed groups that were tasked with protecting the demonstrations, and it grew from there to full-fledged battalions that would attack and seize regime security establishments.

Until the end of 2012, almost 60% of Syria was liberated by the Free Syrian Army brigades and battalions. People organized local councils and committees in their neighborhoods and towns to manage their needs.

Who failed the people?

“The word of protest organizers and community leaders was still stronger than that of those with guns. That changed drastically because of the international community’s failure to support these local councils” and instead supporting different armed battalions and brigades.

And by the beginning of 2013, the rules of war became the law in liberated areas. Those with guns have the power, and they took over control of liberated cities and towns.

At the time I was supporting the Free Syrian Army, I would celebrate with my friends when we see the news of a new town or neighborhood is liberated.

We were always wary of the consequences though, the rise of militias and armed factions was showing terrible signs already. Prisons and checkpoints within liberated areas became a norm,

“Guns were no longer there to protect and defend the people against an oppressive regime, but turned against the people they claimed to protect.”

The Aazer campaign to deliver aid to the Atmeh refugee camp, and previous fund-raising solidarity campaigns were born out of the need to support local councils and civil activities in the face of militarization. Or at least that is how I rationalized it to myself

During my visit to Atmeh refugee camp and its neighboring villages, I realized that medicine is available in Syria, but it sits in storage. I understood then what the phrase “warlord” or those profiting from war meant.

Atmeh Refugee Camp

The refugee camp workers in Atmeh had funding from more than one organization , but the day to day medicine was not covered. They felt helpless, they just needed money to buy it from these warehouses and distribute it freely to the people in the refugee camp. And the amount of money Aazer raised was not huge – 12,000 USD as far as I remember, but was able to cover the needs of the pharmacy for one year.

This could be seen as supporting warlords or war profiteers in a way, but if more solidarity campaigns like that could be organized through the Aazer platfrom, medicine can be made available for free. And those making the profit will make it, we cannot stop them, but we can at least end their blackmailing of the civilian population.

And soon enough, the civilian population will not be at the mercy of warlords as more solidarity calls continue supporting and responding to the needs of communities as raised by community workers on the ground.

solidarity

And this is my lesson that I wanted to share with you, Collective solidarity can be the answer to militarization this way. I may be dreaming, but it all starts with a dream. And one step at a time, stone on top of the other, and dreams can be realized.

Sharing our stories say something about what it means to be human. We’ll get in touch to hear yours.

US Wealth Inequality – How the Rich Keep You Poor

If you feel like the American dream of hard and financial security isn’t working for you, you’re not alone.

58% of all new income is going to the top 1% , that’s a rigged  economy, to my mind- Bernie Sanders

So what is a rigged economy?

It works like this: the rich get richer, and use their money to influence politicians, who then make policies that keep the wealth flowing to the top.

Get this- US wealth inequalitythe top 0.1% of Americans own almost as much wealth as the entire bottom 90%. And they can afford to make sure the system keeps the money flowing one way: up.

In fact, adjusted for inflation, wages for most of us have actually been going down since 2009.

Taxes

But at least the super rich are paying their share of taxes right?

Well, not quite.

Most people make money earning a salary, but the super rich make most of their money from investments known as capital gains. And even though that’s a lot of money, it gets taxed at much lower rates than wages.

And speaking of taxes, the super wealthy and big corporations have the cash to employ expert accountants to them take advantage of all kind of loopholes and pay the least amount of taxes possible.

With that money saved, big business and wealthy individuals have lots of cash to throw at the political system to influence it.

Campaigns

After all, politicians rely on donations to finance their campaigns. Thanks to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, corporations are able to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections using super PACs, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars. The maximum an individual can give? Just $5,000 .. if they have it.

Legislation

Don’t think the money stops when the votes are counted. Lobbyists for businesses and Wall Street woo politicians and influence legislation. Sometimes they even write it

Remember back in 2008 when the banks crashed the economy? Congress wrote something called the Dodd-Frank Act to regulate banks and make sure they couldn’t do that again. But big banks pushed back hard.  And they won.

Mehrsa Baradaran, Author  -How the other half banks- says:  “The final version of the bill that came out of congress was found to be exactly Citibank’s proposal. So in fact they didn’t change it at all. Citibank said this is what we want and that’s what go passed”

Here’s what happened to the rest of America’s: Millions of jobs lost, hundreds of thousands of homes foreclosed on, retirement accounts drained and dismal job prospects for new graduates.

Wall street’s recklessness ruined the American economy, but  virtually nobody went to jail. In fact, the government bailed out many of the big banks, using trillions of dollars of our tax money. Despite increasing profits, Wall Street is still subsidized by taxpayers.

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It’s not surprising, considering the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street. You have former Wall Street folks working in the government to regulate banks, and you’ve got government workers moving on to lucrative Wall Street jobs.

So if they economy is rigged in a way where money and politics ultimately serve the super rich, then who’s looking out for the average American?

 

Dena Takruri

 

Aazer units people from all over the world to support each other, in a democratic, more flexible and sustainable way. GET INVOLVED

 

 Solidarity is the natural state of humanity

 

You have looked inward and know you are not violent, you wish the best for others, you cringe at the violence you are shown.  You have looked outward at your neighbors and your community; revealing human commonality in these feelings.  You see others working for a better world, contributing to society, donating time and resources to help others.

You even see most of the people working within their political confines to the best of their ability for a better world.  You know these are not the actions of violent people.  Still you are told that “others” not like you are violent, yet those you meet when travelling the world quickly dispel this myth as well.

Feelings of compassion and empathy, the yearning desire to help, common human experiences such as raising children and the need to contribute, to be acknowledged…

These are not isolated rarities in humanity; this is the common ground for all humanity and a reason that solidarity is the natural state of humanity…

Something is wrong here.  There is a disconnect between your reality and the one presented to you.  Many years of monitoring public information shows me that this projection of a violent humanity is a manipulation of the public opinion for profit and power.

Major strife does not originate directly from the people.

Instead, major strife, social disharmony, conflict, and hateful ideology originate from violent and coercive institutions such as government, which sits at the center of society controlling humanity.  Such institutions point to the direct and indirect responses of humanity to this intrusive control as justification for the coercive violence it injects.

Humanity falls victim to propaganda and false ideologies that promote these institutions of control over humanity.  Mainstream media works hand-in-hand with these institutions to promote both the false view of humanity and the false ideology of “necessary control” that keeps humanity addicted to government while discouraging rational discovery of the invalidity of government through logical introspection.

Government is invalid.

This may be hard to swallow.  You were taught (by government and its mistress mainstream media) that government is the only way to maintain a civil society.  Because of this, you may not believe that government is a violent institution or that politicians are violent, yet every law passed is a means of control that comes with a threat of violence.

Politicians pass these laws knowing full well violence will be levied against dissenters of said laws and are therefore complicit in the instigation of violence against humanity.  This threat of violence is coercion.  Whether or not you believe it necessary for a better society does not alter the complete immorality of using coercive violence against others.

This immorality is amplified by the availability of methods to achieve the same goals without coercive violence, such as voluntarism and the political equality of individual sovereignty (personal freedom) combined with direct democracy (collective freedom).

The only valid “law” is: DO NOT HARM OTHERS OR THEIR PROPERTY.

This is the law of our species survival.  Everything else is for exploitation.

Divide and Conquer.

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Governments actively work against human solidarity to maintain control; this is evident in most all news coming from truthful news outlets.  Control of human beings is domination, and to be controlled is the equivalent of being a slave; this truthful perspective is suppressed for the same reason.

Governments create boundaries geographic (borders) and ideological (wealth redistribution, favoritism, nationalism, patriotism, etc.).  These imaginary boundaries divide humanity and are used to separate humanity into “good” and “bad” groups to justify attacking/exploiting them, usually for the profit of the few pulling the strings.

Political Parties (gangs) keep the public at odds while insisting on your consent for the existence of the coercive violent institution of government (elections).

Meanwhile…

Human violence is on the decline.

“The statistics suggest that this may be the most peaceable time in our species’s existence.” — Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University

peaceablo (20)

 

Subtract the wars (run by governments), the polarization (run by governments), the hateful ideologies such as modern racism (a class war division technique sanctioned and perpetuated by governments; see “On White Privilege” – Tim Wise, and you are left with a pretty peaceful humanity.  Further discount the effects of control and manipulation, the social psychological trauma of full immersion in disconnected reality propaganda, and humanity seems very peaceful indeed.

If it were not for institutions constantly breaking humanity apart, we would have naturally united long ago in acknowledgement of the commonality of existence.

This brings me great hope. 

This drives my efforts to bring truth to humanity so everyone can see this reality for what it is.  It focuses my efforts properly, allowing me far greater reach.  It renews my compassion, my love for humanity constantly and gives me understanding, tolerance, patience, and love for those at every stage of personal development and awareness.

Understanding and direct action allows me to realize my immense power as human being.

We ALL crave truth, justice and love. Armed with this true understanding of reality, those willing to undergo honest introspection will inevitably come to this same place, IN SOLIDARITY.  I will meet you there.

 

Ghostofzigz

OccuWorld.org

 

Sharing our stories say something about what it means to be human. We want to hear yours.

Who best to fight against our day to day struggles than us.

During the recent floods in Sierra Leone lots of groups got together to support flood victims. This coalition was the brain child of The Survival Dream Project and Friends Of Educational Salone

 

Moiyattu Banya the cofounder of Girls Empowerment Summit Sierra Leone contacted me via Twitter, she then told me about her great project and asked me to get involved and join their annual summit. We realized we were like minded.

On the first day of the summit…I realized that I finally found in Sierra Leone something for me. That was when I met the girls for the first time and the amazing female mentors who were from the diaspora. It was good to have a release working with and supporting girls away from my day to day corporate work.

 

 

Moiyattu and I agreed on a lot of issues and we especially realized we were both angry and passionate about the same issues. We both saw the injustice and lack of opportunities

She had made the steps to creating a nurturing arena and I was just proud to be another cog in her wheel to help her make that happen.

Moiyattu and I are both feminists and proud of it 😊. We both believe our religion shouldn’t be used as a method of oppression rather a tool for liberation. We both want to dedicate our lives to creating a better future & more opportunities for our girls.

Moiyattu is only one of the great African women I had the pleasure to work with @stephaniefilo and @AmarieRhoyale too.

 

I want a better world for my children and my grandchildren!

 

Sierra Leone is my home now and seeing it’s people prosper is a must. Also any women that doesn’t care about girls or women and their status fails in my opinion.

We face challenges in terms of funds like most grassroots organisations face. But the challenge that pains me the most is women who stifle others…even as a minority their existence is distasteful.

In my opinion, who best to fight against our day to day struggles than us. Our weapon is in our unity & solidarity.

 

Sharing our stories say something about what it means to be human. We want to hear yours.

We can’t just try and free one oppressed ‘minority’ group

 

Khaleesi: I m just another leftist on the internet trying to remind people that for your politics to be truly “inter-sectional” you must also include that which does not immediately apply to you.

 

 

Im in favor of focusing within ur own community to put into effect changes that will immediately benefit them, but dont stop there

We cant just try and free one oppressed ‘minority’ group, u *have* to be inter-sectional. There is no full scale revolution if u dont.

Ex: dont get mad at #blacklivesmatter or #translivesmatter for focusing on their own specific communities

An act of aggression against one, is an act of aggression against us all.

You cannot uplift one community while actively ignoring the oppression of the others.

One last thought

Help each other. Find strength in one another, and never stop fighting the good fight.

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Sharing our stories say something about what it means to be human. We want to hear yours.

An open letter to the 99 percent

WE WILL TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER AND THIS IS HOW

For the past few years we have been constantly concerned with the social inequality we all suffer from, with poor access to education, health care, and other human necessities

We believe that every single person on this planet should have access to enough resources to live a dignified life, to have enough access to education and health care, and to live in freedom from want and freedom from fear. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.

We live in a world where most people don’t have access to their basic human needs, mostly because of money. The absence of money can stop students from pursuing their educational dreams or others from getting the healthcare they deserve, etc.

I would bet that everyone reading this text including you knows a story of someone –or even himself- that at some point in  life was in need of financial support …but couldn’t get it.

Do you know what makes it even worse? Money is out there!Going through the process of applying and receiving financial aid is a long and hectic one. Moreover money and time in many cases are unwisely invested, due to rigid frameworks, harsh bureaucratic procedure or even because of politics.

The World We Live in

We live in a world were 12,000 children die every day from preventable diseases, more than half of the population of this planet lives on less than $10, a day and the global annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at $105 billion, that means $12 million an hour!

The world we live in

 

Eventually something is very wrong here BUT we are crazy enough to challenge the status quo and bring enough money under the control and decision of the people. We want to bring billions of dollars every month to the hands of the people who want to financially support their beloved family, friends, community, their cause or even themselves.

We want to give people billions of dollars every month to spend  on education, health care, community projects…etc

For this, we are currently building “Aazer”  the first online cooperative platform that brings people globally in solidarity with each other. Uniquely Aazer will generate a sustainable budget every month that is accessible to the members of the Aazer platform so that they can financially support their causes, beloved family members, friends, community or even themselves.

The Aazer platform will also facilitate a democratic decision making process among the members to collectively decide on how to distribute every month’s budget.

WHAT TO DO NOW!

When we stand together, we will transform not only our lives but also the lives of the people we care about, and we are starting NOW. We are currently bringing people together and building our members database:

  1. Write your info in the “COUNT ME IN” form: We are eager to get your thoughts on Aazer and get in touch with you personally to tell you other details about our next big step. Don’t worry; we won’t shower you with unnecessarily emails. Our updates will be short and very specific. You will receive 1 or 2 emails from Aazer every month.

  2. When we speak together we can make change happen. You can join Aazer’s online flash mob campaigns and together we will blast Aazer’s message online all at the same time.  We are reaching out to you and another 149 supporters. To give Aazer a voice check on “I want to join the online flash mob team”

If you think the idea can make a difference, join us and share the post among your friends. If you have any questions or thoughts,  don’t hesitate to share it with us. Post them down or simply Contact us. We will be glad to get in touch with you.