AJS convened our fourth Institute for Pragmatic Practice (IPP) Symposium in Los Angeles on September 6 and 7. IPP strives to create space for organizers, policy makers, community leaders and academics to come together and think through innovative strategy and approaches to current issue. Participants came from all across the country: Washington DC, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Washington and Oregon. The topic of last week’s IPP was Our Economy: Envisioning and Organizing for Economic Justice Beyond Capitalism..
The failure of our current economy has had devastating effects: the collapse of the housing market, the jobs crisis, rising student and household debt, and the deepening race and gender disparities. The concentration of wealth has grown to unprecedented levels. We face a world economy in its deepest crisis in 70 years, and progressives here in the US have struggled to articulate and implement a new, shared vision of economic life beyond capitalism. It is truly one of the biggest challenges we face at this moment in our history. In Los Angeles, we explored how we might reframe our existing campaign fights to push an alternative economic viewpoint, and how progressives might move beyond issue campaigns to reform our existing economic system and put forward a real alternative to capitalism.
Michael Guerrero (above), the former National Coordinator for Grassroots Alliance for Global Justice, kicked off the symposium with his keynote address Structural Adjustment in Latin America: Fighting Back and Moving Forward. Guerrero spoke about how Latin American countries have allied to resist domination by the IMF, the World Bank and multinational corporations, and then led a group discussion about what their experience could teach us here in the United States.
Throughout the two day seminar, AJS brought together some of the best and brightest for a series of engaging and thoughtful panel discussions. Some highlights:
- Ahjamu Umi, Chair of Occupy Northeast and Organizer for All African People’s Revolutionary Party hosted a panel discussion about Food, Finances, and Local Economies. Panelists included Joann Lo, Executive Director of Food Chain Workers Alliance, Liz Ryan Murray, Policy Director for National Peoples Action, and Ed Whitfield, Executive Director of The Fund for Democratic Communities.
- (Pictured below from L to R) Jill Reese, Associate Director of AJS, led a panel discussion on how we might put forward an alternative world view that included presentations by Charlene Sinclair of Union Theological Seminary, Will Pittz, Executive Director of Washington Community Action Network, and Francis Calpotura, Executive Director of The Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action.
- (Pictured below from L to R): Tammy Bang Liu, Associate Director, Labor/Community Strategy Center, Steve Williams, Co-Director of POWER, and Dylan Rodriguez, Professor from University of California, Riverside talk during a panel discussion about transformative campaigns.
We ended our symposium with four afternoon workshops:
- Fighting the Banks: Taking Back our Homes. Amy Schur, Founder and Executive Director of Californians for Community Empowerment, shared innovative models for building power and fighting back – occupying homes and bank lobbies to fight for both individual homeowners and their families facing foreclosure and for broad policy changes.
- State Banks: A Starting Point for Reorganization of State and Public Money. Jared Gardner of Alliance for a Just Society, and Ron Williams, Executive Director of Oregon Action looked at how Oregonians are working to take back public money from the big banks and put it into a state-based financial institution committed to helping homeowners, farmers, and small businesses.
- We Have a Right to the City. The allied organizations that have formed the Right to the City Alliance are working to build a municipal united front in their cities to confront gentrification and prevent displacement of working class people and communities of color. The Alliance works to help member groups develop transformative demands that build the public good through actions that confront capitalism and fundamentally change lives. Rachel LaForest, Executive Director of RTTC shared the RTTC model, discussed their links with organizations outside the USA, and talked about the challenges of building unity across sectors in urban areas.
- The Fair Share Economy. Maine’s campaign for jobs, health care and education as human rights is putting forward a practical vision about making state economic policies that are fairer and put people first: guaranteeing universal education, the right to a good job and health care as a human right. Jesse Graham, Executive Director of Maine People’s Alliance, and Maine small business owner Alex Jackimovicz discussed the work MPA and the Maine Small Business Coaltion is doing to build statewide power and structural reforms’