Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is

In late May, seventy-five people from twelve different states gathered in Seattle for the inaugural two-day symposium of the Institute for Pragmatic Practice (IPP): “Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is: Building State Budgets that Reflect Our Values.”

The vision of IPP, a new project of the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations, is to bring together key creative thinkers from community groups, faith, academia, labor, policymaking bodies, and other areas to engage in provocative conversations about paths to economic and racial justice.

a photo of attendees sitting at round table

Stephen Lerner of SEIU opened the conference with a talk titled “The Big Bank Job: What the Banks Have Gotten Away With and Why We Should Take Them On,” which set the tone for the event. (For specific ideas how to make banks pay their fair share, see this list of nine ways that were discussed at IPP.) LeeAnn Hall followed with a presentation on “What Makes a Good Bank?” Banks played a central role in all the topics covered at IPP: the economic collapse, state fiscal crises, and the profits being made off of the precarious financial situations in which states and individuals find themselves.

The second day of IPP opened with two panels, Tax Revenues as Resources for Our Future and Holding Banks Accountable, both of which featured a mix of elected officials, community organizers, labor representatives, and policy researchers. In the afternoon, three workshops were held: Developing Action Plans to Make Banks Accountable, Fighting for Equitable Taxation, and Advancing Racial Justice in Budget Fights (click here for a more in-depth look at race and financial crisis). IPP’s final panel, Messaging from Our Values, was lively and popular, giving participants the opportunity to take all the ideas and energy of the last two days and think about practical ways to apply them. The symposium concluded with “Love and Taxes,” a talk by Kim Klein.

photo of the presenter at the workshop, Advancing Racial Justice in Budget Fight

The goal of IPP was to put people with shared values –people who are on the same page, but might never actually cross paths–in the same room together: At it simplest, the idea was to throw a bunch of experts together, shake things up, then see what happened. The hope was that in this environment, like-minded thoughts, shared through meaningful conversation, could transform into new ideas for direct action and progressive change.

This is exactly what happened at “Building Budgets that Reflect Our Values.” Organizers from Washington State who are currently working on a tax fairness campaign heard from people in Oregon, who recently won a major tax fairness victory. Labor union representatives heard the inside take from a New Mexico state senator about the challenges of passing a progressive budget, even with a Democratic majority. Small business owners from Maine heard about a new Los Angeles program that holds banks accountable by mandating that they maintain foreclosed properties or be fined. Policy researchers from Minnesota and Illinois were inspired by the direct actions taken by victims of foreclosure in the lobby of a Bank of America’s downtown St. Louis headquarters.

Through panels, workshops, and lectures, attendees at IPP learned about successful tactics for reshaping approaches to current budget fights, different strategies to increase revenues, and ways to go after banks directly for their misdeeds. Participants also made valuable connections with other people across the country who can help them implement these ideas. And they will get another opportunity to learn and build relationships in the fall of 2010 when the next Institute for Pragmatic Practice explores what the broader social justice movement can learn from LGBTQ movement.

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