Black Communities Leading the Movement for Economic Democracy

By Rebecca Lurie

Black History Month is here — and we must declare Black Lives Matter well beyond any one month.

Dr. Phil Thompson shares some important facts and insights in a recent article in the New Labor Forum, “The Future of Urban Populism: Will Cities Turn the Political Tide? He clearly lays out that the generations of inequality and disparate opportunities between the races stems from capitalism and its use of race as a tool to create and maintain the underclass, slavery, disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, poverty, low mortality rates and economic injustice.

Thompson identifies all the challenges for a new progressivism, and yet notes that, “…change is very possible. There are already hundreds, if not thousands, of small initiatives underway in cities to disrupt or reverse these dominant negative trends.” He then challenges us to make a movement of these efforts.

On the afternoon of Friday, February 24th, we will host a discussion that lays out the hope and possibilities that spring forth from struggle. At From Economic Crisis to Economic Democracy: Lessons and Strategies from Black Communities, we will hear how past experiences and current actions show how to create economic alternatives in the face of challenges — and how Black communities have forged solutions that are founded in economic democracy, where ownership and management belong to the workers and communities from which they spring.

Roger Green will speak on the movement being built in Central Brooklyn to forge a new economy. Jessica Gordon Nembhard will speak of the rich history and broad advances from African-American communities. Naceo Giles will speak as a Black worker-owner about his real-time experience on the ground in building his business. Dario Azzelini will bring forth stories from around the globe.

This month, five CUNY students graduated from Green Worker Academy, a 5-month community-based, black-led training program in the Bronx  for teams that want to start a coop with a vision that embeds collaboration and shared wealth building into the strategy for good work. The students are forming the CUNY Co-op Project to create CUNY student-led businesses that can benefit their livelihood and the campus life where they exist. The first project they hope to achieve is a cafe — putting into practice solutions that grow from the crisis of need: need for good work, need for community solutions, need for collective engagement, need for collaborative experiences.

In honor of Black history and the birthday of WEB Du Bois, which is February 23rd, I turn to a quote by him, written in 1907, in his paper, “Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans:”

“…we believe that every effort ought to be made to foster and emphasize present tendencies among Negroes toward co-operative effort and that the ideal of wide ownership of small capital and small accumulations among the many rather that the great riches among a few, should persistently be held…”

Rebecca Lurie is the Program Director for the Community and Worker Ownership Project at the Murphy Institute.

Photo from Green Worker Academy graduation.