At Hamtramck Soup Solidarity is the Goal

At a time, when there are crises going on throughout the world a group of people have decided to do something about it.

They understand that they cannot snap their fingers and automatically change the world, but that doesn’t stop them. It is a realisation that every small step together creates a movement greater than oneself and that is how differences are made.

Their efforts start close to home in the neighbourhood where they live but has a ripple effect deeper into the hearts of those who attend their potlucks.

Reminding people of their similarities

Everyone eats, and it often brings people together in a peaceful manner, similar to the first settlers in the United States.

It helps us remember that people are people. By bringing people into a common place where they can meet, friendship blossoms and plans for bettering the community are made.

Through this time of fellowship and warmth, people are encouraged to return on a regular basis to see once strangers who are now friends.
Hamtramck Soup came out of the larger organisation Detroit soup about 3 years ago. Their purpose is to bring the various cultures together for one common goal and that is to make a difference in their community.

They concentrate their efforts on helping small groups and individuals as well as businesses that have a community improvement idea, but lack the resources to bring it to fruition. They have volunteers that sit on the board running a section of the soup.

Because arts and culture bring understanding

The group has a board member that organises this portion. To increase interest, as well as learning, they have someone from the arts perform or display their artwork during the potluck.
This allows for entertainment and culture to collide. It is part of the intrigue that brings community members together. The group has had musicians, artists, and performers who have been a part of it for a long time.

Understanding the arts of other cultures is also a fantastic way to bridge the great divide between nations living together in the same community.

When people have a chance to truly delve into other cultures they can see that they are more similar than unique.

We all have rituals, beliefs and differences, but it is our common threads that hold us together once we are able to meet each other and gain an understanding.

Diversity is at the top of the list

One of the most complicated, yet most important pieces of the soup is diversity. We live in a world where there are people of every race, colour, and creed, to bring them together can be a struggle.

They speak different languages and have different culture norms, but love is what binds us together and why it is a must to unite.

Megan is a board member who has been appointed as diversity chair to bring in everyone not just African American or Caucasian. They have Polish, Asian, Yemenis, and Bosnian that currently attend just to name some.

Everyone is welcome and that is the goal, to bridge the divide and work together. Being the most diverse city neighbourhood it is important.

Because of the differences, it is also one of the biggest challenges according to Megan. It is necessary to be able to translate everything into the different languages so that communication can happen.

She oversees that all of the paperwork is translated and fliers are run in languages like Bengali and Arabic. So that people are able to attend and feel like they are part of something greater than themselves.

Talking to people, in the top offices to see what they can do to help motivate communities to come out of their segregated areas is a huge part of it.

As you can imagine, with all the different cultures it will continue to be a hard thing to accomplish, but the most important one.

Bringing different types of people together is a must. If the cultures of the world were able to interact peacefully, there wouldn’t be the same degree of misunderstanding that there is on this earth today and it starts in your own backyard.

Don’t just read about it get involved

The goal is to raise money so that it can be given back to the community in some respect. There are anywhere from 50 to 100 people that attend each event.

When people attend the dinner not only are they there to listen to music and eat, but to also hear from various individuals, community groups, and even children pitching a community project that needs funding.

Projects must help the community in some way and if they win then they get the money that is donated.

Money is donated when people arrive, and you can only vote on one of the projects if you have made a donation.

Each donation gets a slip. Everyone is allowed to donate at will, meaning some might donate $1 and other may donate $10. It is completely up to the individual making the donation.

That is the money that benefits the winner along with a stipend from the Detroit soup and proceeds from the sale of beverages.

There is no preconceived notion of how much the winner will get prior to the event, but normally the events earn between $500 and $1000.

Then the winner is invited back to the next event. At the next event, they will be presenting how it went to the group in attendance.

This is a great way to increase participation and excite people about the good it is doing in the community. Because the participants each get to pitch their idea at times the people who didn’t win might get lucky.

They say that success is often, right time and place, the soup is no different.

People who pitch might be heard by someone who is interested in helping their project and that is how the waves start rippling through the pond.

One person states an idea and others that agree with it, jump in to assist because they really liked the concept or just plain see a need for it.

Community boards in the back of the room hold questions from both participants and attendees. The events are also a great way for the city to come together and communicate about various projects and needs within the town.

It helps people to stay informed about what is going on in the city of Hamtramck, Michigan. The event is held quarterly in the smaller cities and monthly in the city of Detroit.

Types of community projects that have benefitted from the soup

Because any community group can pitch at the soup often times, kids pitch a need. A traveling soccer team needed to get to and from their matches and had no way of getting back and forth due to lack of resources.

They won and were able to use the funds to help purchase a van. This allowed kids in the community to continue to participate in something that was important to them. Keeping kids off the street is a great benefit for the entire community.

Another local teacher and her class saw a need for a park and used the money they received to better the community that way.

They were able to clean it up and pay to put in equipment. Now it is a place all can go to enjoy. These sort of projects truly enrich the community.

Another time, there was a mechanic named Jeff who had noticed there was no local program giving young men and women the skills they needed to become a mechanic.

He was able to start up a program at the high school level helping teach those interested. His program was even blessed with a car someone donated.

Good things happening all around and they are not all on such large scales even smaller projects happen.

There have been art exhibits funded as well. Soup kitchen’s feeding the needy have been helped as well. You name it if it benefits the community, the group has helped raised the funds to assist.

The soup has served as a place for people to come eat, whether they donate money or not they are never turned away.

In a time when many go without food, this a beautiful sentiment and you never know who they will connect with by being at these events. Perhaps, they too will be helped. It really is all about community.

Volunteers making a difference in their community

Megan is just one of many volunteers working to bring the Hamtramck Soup to the forefront. Like others, she works a full-time job on top of what she does for her community.

There are 12 other soup groups in the area plus the larger one in Detroit proper. The differences they are making in their community are so important. They have done so much more than to assist the select winners.

In addition, they have worked to bring the community as a whole together. They are a prime example of the importance of solidarity in this world.

It is hopeful that more of these will begin to pop up throughout the United States.

Continuing to make a difference by bringing people in the community close to one another binding them for a common cause. In closing, we will leave you with a quote from Megan that is very poignant.

 “The people who live in the community have more interest and say in what happens there, and should not just leave it up to whoever has political power.”

What if we spend 12 million dollars an hour on education, health care and aid instead of this!

It is time for us to reclaim what peace really means. Peace is unsustainable without justice and equality. A sustainable peace is one in which the majority of people on this planet have access to enough resources to live dignified lives, where people have enough access to education and health care, so that they can live in freedom from want and freedom from fear. This is called human security.

Where the money goes?
masspablo (22)

Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$105 billion – or $12 million an hour!– All this money is going to modernize weapons we do not need, that we cannot get rid of in our lifetime unless we take an action to make it happen, unless we really understand the elements that make human security. Security is about having access to medical healthcare, medical equipment, to education, to empower our human values over growth and money, it’s about taking action.

We need to redefine what makes us secure in this world.

insecure15877546244_487ae63b2b_o

It is not arming our country to the teeth. It is not getting other countries to arm themselves to the teeth with the weapons that we produce and we sell them. It is using that money more rationally to make the countries of the world secure, in other words, to make the people of the world secure.

We need to sustainably give people (including us)

13690291295_bd4ec6eb3e_o

access to that amount of money so that they can be able to develop themselves and thrive, instead of living in the illusion of feeling safe because we can crush everyone else on this planet. The good news here is that nowadays we have the technology that can turn such dream into reality. Well, we don’t have to wait for someone else to do it, so we have already started working on it.

That is what we offer through Aazer,

Aezer2t_Finall

A technological solution empowered by a revolutionary model for democratizing money that not only gives people access to resources to help themselves and/or others, but also put them in charge, make their voice heard and count.

I want to leave you with one thought, how many people (including you) can help themselves or others by having access not only to 12 million dollars an hour but also to a supportive community?

GET INVOLVED

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 reaching like minded people like you!

Write your email in the “COUNT ME IN” form: To be informed when Aazer goes LIVE. 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.

COUNT ME IN

No one chooses to be homeless – The story of a Catholic Worker

I believe in human dignity and I believe in justice. Being homeless is not just, nor is it dignifying to the human being. No one chooses to be homeless, it is the result of a racist and corrupt system bent on the destruction of the poor so that others can flourish.

It’s disgusting, and something should be done – this is one of the ways in which I contribute to the fight. We are all connected to each other – by our nature, by biology, and by spirits. Jesus said to love each other as our very own brothers and sisters – this is one of the ways I love my brothers and sisters.

This is how it started

pablo (1)

Initially I became involved in the Catholic Worker at the request of a college professor that was looking for assistance in preparing the Saturday meal. I volunteered, enjoyed my time and continued to come back for the Saturday meal.

About a month into the experience, I had a run in with a woman that was violently mentally ill – no harm came to me, but it intimidated me enough to keep me away from the shelter for nearly a year. After awhile I returned – having learned more about the Catholic Worker movement itself and understanding the ethos behind it – and was accepted as a Catholic Worker.

All of our roles center around servicing the poor.

6986353623_21f8a3903d_o

This involves not only cooking and sheltering (during the months of Oct – Apr) but also providing clothing, sometimes bus tickets, sometimes rental/utility bill assistance, sometimes groceries – the list goes on. If we’re able to help, we do.

I work in an area of the house called Hospitality. It’s the front room where the guests sit and socialize while they’re waiting for lunch to be served. I’m one of the first faces you see when you walk through the door. I assist in getting mail, clothing, food, toiletries, hygiene packs, information regarding services, shower supplies, etc. Mostly what I do is talk with people and listen.

Your heart will break every day, but you have to be able to maintain compassion

9577017895_c4970a846a_o

I think not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the misery that you can see while working in the shelters and soup kitchens is something major to contend with. Your heart will break every day for the people you come to know, but you really have to be able to maintain compassion without allowing it to swallow you whole.

If you do, you’re not helping anyone. Also, dealing with people that have done some pretty awful things and people who you simply don’t like – but still treating these people with genuine respect, kindness and love. Find out more stories here

How I keep going

5844400124_293916cbe3_b

The men I serve motivate me to keep coming back. I want to be one of the people in their lives that they know will not judge them for their actions, but rather loves them in the way that everyone should be loved; unconditionally.

And No, I never thought of leaving the shelter

Why a magic stick is useless to the shelter

Magic can do nothing for the shelter. The shelter isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom. The homeless, the impoverished and the marginalized are the symptoms of a corrupt system. If I had a magic stick to wave, then I’d say that I’d wish for the people in the US to open their eyes to see the system for what it is rather than be misdirected by the latest celebrity scandal.

Honestly, it’s not going to matter how much money I give them unless the system is changed. We have horrible inner city schooling, high dropout rates, poor to little access to health care and when there is that health care is ridiculously high priced.

You have jobs that pay so poorly that people can’t survive on the wages – they have to rely on government programs that, when you look at them closely, are designed not to assist people but to drive them deeper and deeper into poverty.

Until we construct legislation that benefits the lowest rungs in our society, no amount of money will help because they’ll just end up right back at the beginning.

One last thought

Love each other…. then band together so that we can rip down an unjust government. What benefits the lowest rungs of our society, benefits us all. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we will truly be free.

Find out more stories here

Sharing our stories say something about what it means to be human. get in touch and tell us yours.

Support the Grassroots Movement in Jerusalem

Donate here

We are based in Jerusalem, the isolated capital of an occupied country, where disempowerment is used as a tool of displacement. Palestinians here face unlawful arrests, land confiscations and home demolitions while lacking proper economic development, infrastructure building and sufficient education and health systems. It’s all a part of Israel’s plans for Jerusalem: to keep a “demographic balance” of 70% Israeli and 30% Palestinian.

jer_cont_w2tyac

Donate here

At Grassroots Jerusalem, we contribute to the creation of a long-term Palestinian strategy for Jerusalem by amplifying the voices of Palestinian communities so that they set the agenda for the city, not the international community. For the last 5 years, we’ve been providing tools for Jerusalemites to share their vision for Jerusalem. We create maps, give tours, run an online platform, and host events and workshops at our hub: “al-Marsa” (The Harbour).

mission2_sq0abq

Donate here

Until now, Grassroots Jerusalem has received financial support mainly through project based, short-term and top down frameworks (except for our first core-funding grant). No relevant, efficient and lasting work can be concretely implemented with such limitations. Through our work with Palestinian communities and grassroots organisations, we have discovered that they share the same experience with international aid.

Since the Oslo agreement, the world through international aid has supported the imported “peace process.” This international aid primarily designs, coordinates and implements actions as if Palestine was a humanitarian crisis, a 67 year old emergency humanitarian crisis! Most of the civil services are provided by these unrepresentative entities to help the Palestinians merely survive under this occupation. While Palestinians expect the international community to focus on ending the occupation, this approach stifles the genuine grassroots movement organising to resist it.

2qss386

Donate here

Development and advocacy in Jerusalem are dependent on international NGO (INGO) and UN humanitarian support. However, current programmes perpetuate the notion that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a humanitarian disaster. They provide aid which helps Palestinians “survive under occupation,” not end it, which normalises military occupation and economic colonisation. This perception has kept long-term development stifled while granting consecutive Israeli governments carte blanche to develop mass settlements and neglect obligations to international law and occupied Jerusalem residents.

Palestinians expected the international community to support their struggle to end the occupation and ensure freedom and dignity. Instead, short-term projects using top-down frameworks, have prevented Palestinian leadership from strategising in sustainable ways and perpetuated the need for humanitarian aid. This cycle has created an “INGO industrial complex” that has become a rampant problem in the global South. It makes Palestinian civil society and grassroots leadership dependent on short term funding cycles for programmes with no coordinated vision that are authorised by international staff who are neither elected nor permanent residents of the city. The INGOisation of the occupation unintentionally draws the attention away from the real problem (occupation!) with increasingly privatised systems. It should be called what it is in the bigger picture: Benevolent Colonialism.

By implementing project-based, short-term plans and acting without accountability to the local community, the INGO industrial complex disempowers Palestinian leadership and organisations and inhibits the development of grassroots movements, long-term visions, and political change. Beyond the failure of the current model to effect systemic change, this model has spawned the unintended consequence of fostering a widespread, cynical soul and destroying independent initiative. It has cultivated a reliance on and expectation of the perpetuation of this type of outside assistance. In order to sustain our work, we must break from this limiting system of international aid by imagining alternative methods of sustainable funding.

2nuumwh

Donate here

In the past, we have been forced to rely on short-term project-based grants fundamentally inconsistent with the needs of the Palestinian community and our organization’s vision.  If an authentic and sustainable change to the oppressive staus quo is to come, this must change. Your support today will plant the seeds of this future.  We know we can’t rely on you alone for support, but it will enable us to invest in diversified revenue streams that can sustain us into the future and serve as a model to our many grassroots partners.

grafico_ft7k8o

Donate here

The money we raise will be used to publish the second edition of Wujood (our political tourist guide book on Jerusalem), complete our mapping project by publishing a comprehensive Jerusalem atlas, and train more Jerusalemite guides in order to expand our tours.

grafico2_lrnmwg

Donate here

Here’s where you come in. We know you don’t want to give us money and then have us come back around asking for more all the time. That’s why we’re asking you to dig a little deeper just this one time and help us speed toward economic independence.

please_p9ld8c

Grassroots Jerusalem Website

Facebook

Twitter

Indiegogo Campaign

 

Why solidarity matters on a spiritual and practical level

To me, solidarity is the most pressing issue we routinely ignore. Solidarity is the expression of   our unity, the willingness to stand up for our brothers and sisters we have never met, to decry injustice that we have not experienced personally, to feel the pain of people half way around the world.

In our modern society, we are ruled by institutions and systems that are designed to classify and separate people; imaginary nation states, religion, capitalism, politics and “ethnicity” are used to draw lines between “us” and “others”.

This is both a spiritual and a practical problem, and is not the natural state of being.

I believe our natural state is of oneness, that when we free ourselves from these conditioned beliefs we come to recognize our interconnectedness.

Solidarity on a spiritual level

The spiritual element to this is that the imaginary divisions disconnect us not only from each other, but also from our true selves. These institutions make us selfish, only concerned for our own condition. This causes a cognitive and emotional dissonance that is disastrous to people’s psyche. By denying our natural state, we are forced to suppress natural emotions and ignore our surroundings.

Humans are social, empathetic beings, we feel a natural connection to other beings, we can internalize and feel what others are experiencing.  People  are affected by the emotions and feelings of others. Anyone who has been to a concert or sports event knows the feeling of being swept up by a crowd’s energy.

Most of us have experienced our mood change  when we walk into a room filled with people we love. This is not only a localized phenomenon. Love and compassion are the same from one corner of the globe to the other.

A Chinese person loves their children the same as an American. An Arab who looses a brother or sister suffers as much as an African. An Australian seeing a neighbor suffering cares in the same way that a Colombian does. This is the natural state of being. If a woman sees an infant in need, she does not stop to ask what country they were born in,  what religion their parents practice or what political party they may support one day, she just wants to comfort and help it.

Solidarity on a practical level

On a practical level, unity and solidarity is the only way to change the current unhealthy state of existence and stop oppression so many experience. A good example from our recent past,is the demise of South African apartheid, which was the result of people all around the world pressuring their governments and the S.A. govt.

After it fell, people all around the world felt elation and joy for people they never met being freed from an oppression.

Another good example is the surge in donations and volunteerism that happens after a natural disaster. When an earthquake or flood devastates a region, people from all around the world sympathize and pitch in, and people on both sides of the equation, the donors and the recipients, feel better about themselves and the world.

Challenges out there

Systems and governments will not change because of individual voices, they are meta-level controls that require everyone to speak out, to divest of and oppose the wrongs, before change can occur.

The reason solidarity seems so far away at this point in time is because of institutions and systems that are set up to divide us. This is the oldest strategy for controlling people, divide and conquer. These systems are designed to categorize beings, to draw lines between illusory groups, which forces us to see people either as one of “us” or as an “other”.

This inherently dehumanizes the others, which is internalized and allows people to become uncaring or even hostile towards our brothers and sisters who do not resemble or agree with us.

But together we can change this!

 

My experience as the “other” man

For me personally, this started growing up as a white British immigrant to Canada, I had the opportunity to listen to people talking about “immigrants”. By immigrants, they meant Asians, Africans, Arabs, people with accents and different cultures, people who are easily identifiable as “other”.

While they were talking about “others”, in my mind, I could not get over the fact that I was an immigrant, and the only difference between me and them was the color of my skin and my ability to quickly adopt a Canadian accent.

This lead me to gravitate to those “others”, and I always found I had more in common with them than I did with the people talking down to them.

 

I am proud to stand in solidarity with people I have never met, whose countries I may never visit, because I believe that all living beings are interconnected, that unity is the natural state of being. The illusory divisions not only separate us from each other, but disconnect us from our true selves. As whole free beings, we realize the we are one with each other, with animals and with the earth.

These systems are supposed to force us to be concerned only with our own well-being, to ignore the suffering of others, to believe that we are unable to do anything. These are all patently untrue.

My message to people everywhere

aazer.org

especially people suffering from oppression and injustice is simple: There are people all over the world who care, and are actively working to make this a better place for everyone. I am only one of millions and millions. No one is alone, and there is love for everyone.

The reason I feel so passionately about standing in solidarity with people all over the world can be summed up by the famous quote by Ghandi “an injustice to one is an injustice to all”. When people suffer, we all suffer. The pain and negative emotions resonate out and effect the world around it.

This is both an energetic/ spiritual idea, but also a practical one. If we sit idle while people are oppressed in one part of the world, it empowers the systems and institutions to spread, and it will not be long before people in other parts of the world also suffer from that oppression.

The only way to stop these institutions and systems is for everyone to stand up to them in solidarity.

And it is happening more and more. All across the globe, black, white, Asian, Arab, Latino, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Siek, Atheist, rich and poor, people are realizing our oneness and standing up for each other.

 

Obi-Anon

Brother of all people

 

Sharing our stories say something about what it means to be human. get in touch and tell us yours.

 

 

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

ChrisLitherlandBourbonSt

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.

1

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.

2

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.