Last day to raise $5,995

Hi friend,

Today I turn 48. I have been reflecting on my age in the past two weeks: the 40s are the best so far. If you’re not there yet, you have your 40s to look forward to. If you’ve passed it, let me know what I can expect in my 50s, 60s, and beyond. My 40s have been pretty stellar. I am truly comfortable in my skin, cozy with who I am, in the words of Queen Bey.

We rocked and rolled in celebration yesterday dressed in attire from the decade of my birth or as aspirational alien superstars.

I started this birthday fundraiser a week ago sharing about Solidarity Research Center’s work on radical municipalism in our project, the Municipalism Learning Series. My understanding of radical municipalism is informed by many traditions, including the work of Murray Bookchin and Erik Olin Wright. The learning series emerged from my inability to locate tools for building a framework and movement in the context of Los Angeles, an absurd city rife with contradictions. I established the series with the goal of introducing the concept and its application to a broad audience in North America.

The experiment to build a municipalist movement in Los Angeles has been underway since the beginning of 2022. I approached the question of whether Los Angeles was ready for municipalism as an organizer and a researcher, and based on three assumptions: first, that movements are cyclical and go through ebbs and flows; second, based on research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan that only 3.5% of a population needs to engage in a movement in order for substantive change to occur — that’s 140,000 people in Los Angeles across 114 neighborhoods or approximately 1,200 per neighborhood; last, movements since the Battle of Seattle and Occupy Wall Street have morphed into decentralized networks.

The first phase of the project was to gather autonomous social movement actors across the city into a decentralized network, which we named Los Angeles for All. Our network represented the spectrum of the left in our city: from groups that are building alternatives, such as worker cooperatives and community land trusts, to those providing mutual aid to unhoused neighbors, and to those reimagining and municipalizing public institutions such as establishing a public bank.

We also took advantage of the movement moment in October 2022, when tapes were leaked of a private conversation between three city council members and a local labor leader that revealed an anti-Black agenda and backroom deals on redistricting. We helped to facilitate a Los Angeles Peoples Movement Assembly process, starting in the east side, and invited other researchers to collaborate on mapping and interviewing movement leaders.

Unfortunately, the research collective struggled with accountability and did not produce a movement map nor summarize their conversations with leaders. We have, however, facilitated over six Peoples Movement Assemblies, convening on average 50+ people together from across the spectrum of the left. We hosted learning sessions between Los Angeles activists and their peers with the Southern Peoples Movement Assembly, Cooperation Jackson, and Chicago Community Councils. We have a database of 30+ interviews, 200+ social movements, and 500+ individuals that we can activate.

Our next phase is to organize beyond the left, using a combination of Marshall Ganz’s snowflake model of neighborhood organizing and Steve Deline’s method of deep canvassing, to catalyze convenings of neighborhood assemblies. We have also been learning about the theory and practice of intercommunalism by philosopher and Black Panther Huey P. Newton. The theory was Newton’s attempt to lay out an analysis of the historical conjuncture in 1970, as well as formulate a political strategy for the Black Panther Party given his read of the moment.

The idea in a nutshell was that global capital has superseded the authority of the nation-state. The world was instead a collection of local communities under the spell of empire. The role of the revolutionary was not to gain national sovereignty or independence, according to Newton, but to liberate territories within the larger empire. To seize the means of production in the local terrain and build cooperative networks with other liberated zones.

We are in the midst of a nine-session study group where we start with the thinkers that inspired Dr. Newton, such as Descartes and Kant, to reading unpublished speeches and writings by Dr. Newton that Delio Vasquez has generously shared with us. Kazembe Balagun is our Intercommunalism Research Fellow and is working on a longform article with his reflections on the framework, a public panel scheduled for February 14, 2024, and a research report reviewing the theory and offering historical and contemporary case studies.

We need your support to ensure that this work and other projects such as Los Angeles for All can continue. We raised $17,444 — which is 75% of our budget — but we still need $5,955 or else Solidarity Research Center will end this year in the red.

Please support our work as a birthday gift for me, for the liberation of our communities, and the realization of cooperative networks between liberated zones.

Last day to raise $5,955!

In deep appreciation,

Two more days to raise $7,262

Hi friend,

I co-founded Solidarity Research Center in 2014 along with two colleagues from the IWW Survey and Research Committee. We didn’t just share the acronym from our old namesake, we also continued the ethic of solidarity research — we consider lived experience to be a form of knowledge. We blur the line between subject and object; we are not neutral. Anyone who professes to be objective is just shilling for the status quo.

We conduct research with the intent of challenging the normative social order and creating a new sense of who we are as individuals, with each other, and as a collective. We don’t hide our intentions — it’s pretty obvious from our website — and we are rigorous, meticulous, and careful in our research so fault cannot be found in our methods.

In movements, we follow the leadership of frontline actors, be they contingent workers, labor excluded from protection, bodies considered disposable within racialized and gendered capitalism, or life that continues despite a world that denies their being.

We also hoped from the bottom of our hearts to separate from the atomized existence under late capitalism. Instead, we wanted unity in our political aspirations and how we made our livelihoods. This is why in 2015 we established ourselves formally both as a nonprofit as well as a worker cooperative. We experimented with horizontal structures, flat wages, and replacing management with mentorship. We made mistakes along the way and learned lessons.

We were fortunate that we had nascent community. In 2015, we joined two national networks: the US Solidarity Economy Network and the New Economy Coalition. We proposed to develop a new website for USSEN late that year, and unveiled a new version in early 2016. The design and layout is essentially still used today.

In the middle of 2016, we partnered with the New Economy Coalition to complete the analysis of the membership survey conducted to inform narrative and story-based strategy. We were the primary author of a report released in November of that year, on new economy messaging, that informed the New Economies Reporting Project and the Movement Voices Fellowship.

2017 was the year that SRC imploded. The pressures of building a worker cooperative that was fully remote (before Zoom was commonplace) along with unacknowledged tensions around race, class, and gender came to a fore. We dissolved the worker cooperative, two co-founders left to start a new entity Research Action Cooperative. I stayed with the nonprofit and committed to an explicit focus on racial justice and the Third World in our work.

We launched two new projects that year: one was a partnership with the Dine Policy Institute to support their land reform study and to explore what solidarity economies looked like in the context of the Navajo Nation. The other was a project inspired by the work of my mentor Jessica Gordon-Nembhard and searched for the historical and cultural roots of solidarity economies in Asian American diasporic communities.

We facilitated a three-day workshop on research justice, participatory research methods, solidarity economies, data analysis, and GIS mapping and visualization for staff researchers and interns at the Dine Policy Institute. SRC board member and longtime friend Andrew Curley served as the interim research director for the institute based at the tribal college. You can read a summary of our training written by two Dine Policy Institute interns Ashley Claw and Ricki Draper.

The training was in support of a Navajo Nation land reform study, which returned to the community Shonto near the Black Mesa interviewed by ethnographers in the 1950s and then the 1970s. The study wanted to document the change in livelihoods and Navajo economies over time, and how land is used for both purposes.

In 2018, we facilitated a panel at the Red Nation conference that attempted to draw connections between land, liberty, and autonomous communities in the Navajo Nation, East Los Angeles, and Jackson, Mississippi. You can view a recording here.

I was also awarded the activist-in-residence fellowship that year by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. I used the opportunity and resources to build on a network we created with National CAPACD of Asian American immigrant and refugee organizations who incubated worker cooperatives for their members. With my colleague and friend Parag Khandhar, we facilitated a five-part webinar series, introducing solidarity and cooperative economics targeted towards the needs of Asian American communities. The recordings are archived here.

I summarized the historical and archival research I conducted through my fellowship at UCLA in this article for Yes magazine. I found that economic cooperation was how Asian American immigrants survived in this country hostile to their race. Cooperative labor and land ownership were ways that Asian Americans could get around exclusionary laws, initially passed to restrict Chinese workers but which later grew to apply to all Asians.

Reliance on solidarity and mutual aid isn’t limited to Asian Americans. This past year, my colleague Matthew Slaats and I conducted a global solidarity economy listening project where we interviewed over 40 leaders in 20+ countries to ascertain:

1. What is the alternative to capitalism they are developing?
2. What frameworks are they using?
3. What power and scale do their movements have?

Again and again, from Latin America to the former Soviet bloc countries, we found alternatives flourished within frontline communities who were excluded from the mainstream economy because they were indigenous, women, poor, low caste, informal workers, or lived in rural poverty. They survived by cooperating with each other and building relationships outside of wage labor and market transactions.

The frameworks were less important than their embodiment of values core to solidarity economies, including:

1. Solidarity
2. Equity in all dimensions
3. Primacy of social welfare over profits and the unfettered rule of the market
4. Sustainability
5. Democracy
6. Pluralism

The results of our listening project are forthcoming, and we need your support to ensure that this work and other projects such as the Municipalism Learning Series can continue. We raised $16,137 — which is 69% of our budget — but we still need $7,262 or else Solidarity Research Center will end this year in the red.

Please support our work as a birthday gift for me, for those excluded from power and resources, and for the alternatives being conceived.

Two more days to raise $7,262!

In deep appreciation,

Four more days to raise $8,262

Hi friend,

I first became a proud red card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World in 2007. I was employed by a large healthcare workers union in New York City. This was my first job out of graduate school, which I fondly think of as Marxist finishing school and where I studied with superstars such as Neil Smith and David Harvey. Fresh from taking Harvey’s Reading Capital class (which I repeated four times), I was confused by the dissonance at my place of employment.

My employer, ostensibly a labor union, reprimanded us for starting a Marxist reading group among staff and member leaders. We got in trouble, again, when we criticized the union’s decision to hold a banquet for members at a restaurant where the workers were on strike. Other issues unsettled me: the union buzzed internally about plans to replace shop stewards with a 1-800 customer service number, where a worker could phone in with questions about their pension plan or file a grievance. Rumors whispered in the break room hinted at sweetheart deals brokered by the union with management, without input from members.

Disillusioned and heartbroken, I searched for other models of union organizing. I didn’t have to look far: Daniel Gross led an effort to bring Starbucks baristas into the fold of the One Big Union beginning in 2003 at a store on Madison Avenue and 36th Street. By 2007, similar campaigns by the Wobblies had emerged in 20 cities across North America. I believe it was the IWW that paved the way for 8,000 workers at 360 Starbucks stores in 40 states to vote to unionize two decades later.

Although I joined the union in 2007, I didn’t become active until six years later. I along with two other researchers were recruited to join the IWW Survey and Research Committee. Our task was to survey the membership biannually to help the union better understand the needs of its members. We expanded the scope to include strategic campaign research training for members wanting to organize in their workplace, as well as research assistance for existing campaigns. We also spearheaded efforts to understand key industries. Many of us read Forces of Labor by Beverly Silver and were inspired to focus our efforts at the chokepoints of global capital.

A 2014 document we drafted titled “Global Supply Chains: An IWW Project Proposal” starts with a provocation: “Everything in this world that is bought and sold starts at one point in this world. Sugar, steel, and oil from one place get sent to another place where they are pummeled and processed into commodities. Then, shrink-wrapped and packaged, products make their way by ship, train, or automobile to warehouses, to be distributed to retail stores. Where the end consumer buys it. But, what if the workers that pick the fruit or sew the garments unite with the dockworkers that unload the cargo, to stop their labor, to halt the flow of goods? What then?”

There are two campaigns that I am particularly proud of during our tenure: the first is for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, the industrial unit for incarcerated workers within the IWW, and the second for Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, a nascent farmworker union in the Pacific Northwest.

In March 2014, we the SRC received an email from an IWW leader inquiring into prison labor in Alabama and Georgia: What is the profit made from the labor of inmates, and where are the profits going? An incarcerated worker at a maximum security facility reached out to the union suspecting that the chemicals processed by workers behind bars were later sold and packaged as cleaning products by a big box retail store. While we were never able to conclusively establish this supply chain link, we did estimate the financial impact of a prison strike in California in 2016. A later report released by colleagues from the research committee documented endemic issues with food and healthcare in prisons in 2018.

We partnered with a food justice organization, Community to Community, based in Bellingham, Washington in 2015. Farmworkers at a family-owned berry farm were not getting paid the full wages for their harvest labor. We helped to research the supply chain of the berry farm, finding that it led back to a multinational produce distributor. This led to a boycott of the distributor, as well as a global ice cream brand that used the berries, in solidarity with the farmworkers. The workers prevailed: in 2016 the farmworkers voted to join an independent union Familias Unidas Por La Justicia. A year later, the union signed a collective bargaining agreement with the berry farm.

During the boycott, supporters regularly asked workers where they could buy berries grown without exploitation. The idea of forming a cooperative was thus seeded. In 2017, four farmworkers who led the struggle for union recognition launched Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad/Land and Liberation Cooperative. The farmworker-owned cooperative grows food using cultural practices of organic farming and teaches the next generation agroecological practices.

It’s the fifth day of my one-week birthday fundraiser. I have been derelict in my earlier promise to share daily vignettes about Solidarity Research Center’s work over the course of our almost decade-long history. You my friends have not let me down: 27 have donated over $1,700 to Solidarity Research Center.

Your kindness and generosity brings us closer to meeting our budget: We have raised $15,137 — which is 65% of our budget — but we still need $8,262 or else Solidarity Research Center will end this year in the red.

Please support our work as a birthday gift for me and so we can continue to support (and win) struggles to create a new world in the shell of the old. Another labor movement is possible!

Four more days to raise $8,262!

In deep appreciation,