Saturday, November 5, 2011

Laying the Foundations for a People's Economy

By Jason Scarecrow

In these past couple weeks, we have seen the Occupy Movement grow, evolve and spread quickly across this country and around the world. One of the most exciting aspects has been a unification of many different sectors demanding either a new or reformed economic system. Some mistake this shared call for altering our current economic model, in part or entirely, and see it as disparate groups urging different kinds of reforms. In truth, it merely sounds different depending on the specific symptom being focused on: appropriate taxation for corporations and the wealthiest one percent, predatory lending policies by banks, austerity measures that strip social programs, government collusion with corporate interests that endanger people and the environment, and the process of deciding governmental budgetary allocations.

In the passionate arguments for free cooperative healthcare, food systems, and accessible education for all, we see the articulation of many of the component pieces required in moving beyond simple policy debate towards creating a new economic model -- a People’s Economy.

In working towards either an entirely recreated economic model or to steer our current system toward increased protection and care for the citizenry and the environment, there are certain tactics that will increase our numbers and momentum. Some that are already being used widely and effectively in the Occupy Movement are direct democracy decision making, gaining and holding common space, and temporary interruptions of business-as-usual for certain targets that pose the greatest dangers to the common good or that serve as powerful symbols of the most exploitive forms of capitalism.

One next step is to engage and develop local, community-based systems to provide for all of our basic human needs. While many of us continue to be dis-engaged by the currency-based job market, we maintain the skills developed over recent years and the passion for service that motivated our vocational pursuits. Working through the Occupation Movement allows people with practical, human-scale skills (such as construction, sanitation, food production and preparation, healthcare, education, and permaculture) to contribute to the community and receive the intrinsic rewards of appreciation and recognition. This allows more people to be a part of the movement while also increasing the strength and resilience of the Occupations as a whole.

The piece that we here in the Bay Area are perhaps best suited to take the lead on is Food Sovereignty. There is some energy and infrastructure for this already, although it would need to be increased if we want to develop true autonomy for local Occupations. Residential food producing landscapes, urban farms, and mass chicken coop construction for residential settings could be cooperatively developed and installed. In doing so, we would vastly increase our capacity for local self-sufficiency on a wider scale. Some food would need to come from outside of the city, but much of the meat, vegetables, herbal medicines and cooking spices could be produced within the city itself.

Sanitation is another critical matter that the Occupation Movement must resolve in order to be sustainable. At this point many Occupations have porta-toilets on-site, which are generally serviced by local businesses. There are definitely some good things about this situation -- for example, law enforcement often reacts violently when suspecting untraditional sanitation and feces in Occupation spaces (it is shocking how often public safety and sanitation are used as excuses for chemical and other physical attacks on occupiers). However, composting toilets, perhaps retrofitted into porta-toilet shells, are often more sanitary, smell less, and can be easier to clean without equipment, and have the overwhelming benefit of keeping necessary nutrients and minerals from being flushed downstream.

Most of the shelters that people stay in while Occupying are tents that are not produced locally, but imported. This is okay as an immediate, short-term situation. However, most Occupiers in the global north are facing a long, uncomfortably cold winter, because many of us are not used to living outdoors (although its getting warmer each year!). Unfortunately, there is no assurance that increased housing infrastructure at the Occupation spaces will be safe from police destruction and theft. Mass squats and shelters built with natural materials in and around the Occupations are another option that would be warmer, more secure, and harder to steal. In terms of movement-building, living collectively is tremendously important, and the reality of winter weather necessitates improved quarters for the coming months. Many in the building industry and permaculture community have knowledge and skill instrumental to creating solutions to these issues.

As demonstrated during the American Civil Rights campaign of the 1960s and the South African Anti-Apartheid struggle, divesting in the dominant economy is a hugely effective way for those who are disenfranchised by the current system to gain power. As we transition away from our dependence on destructive distribution and processing systems to meet our basic needs, we can go beyond merely denouncing the current economic model and prove that WE DO NOT NEED their system. Another world is possible, and being actualized through the place-based autonomous zones now occupying many major cities. The more we can provide for the social services and basic human needs of those in the Occupied spaces without supporting or depending upon governments and mass distribution systems, the more we can accurately declare we are living a viable alternative.

With Respect and Solidarity,
Jason Scarecrow

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