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About the Report

This report was commissioned by the Massachusetts-based Solidarity Economy Initiative (SEI), which was convened in 2015 to support grassroots organizations to lead a movement for a solidarity economy. SEI was developed by Access Strategies Fund, Boston Impact Initiative, Center for Economic Democracy, and Solidago Foundation. It organizes resources, technical assistance, and infrastructure for frontline organizations to develop movement-building strategies to transform American capitalism as a root cause of social and ecological injustice.

SEI’s community partners include Alternatives for Community & Environment, Black Economic Justice Institute, Boston Workers Alliance, Brazilian Women’s Group, Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity, Centro Presente, Chelsea Collaborative, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life Vida Urbana, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, Matahari Women Workers Center, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, and New England United for Justice.

This report shows how a movement for solidarity economy is emerging among lower-income communities and communities of color in Massachusetts. It depicts the diverse pathways towards transformation that are arising out of community survival needs and the struggles against the inequalities and exploitation produced by current political and economic systems. We hope that these visions, strategies, and practices can inform and inspire those who share aspirations for a more just, sustainable, and democratic economy and politics.

Goals

Our first goal is to make visible the diverse ways that solidarity economy is being conceived of, pursued, and practiced by lower-income communities and communities of color in Massachusetts. Our communities are leading the way and innovating out of necessity. What we are already doing can be the building blocks of transformation.

A second goal is to view solidarity economy holistically, as a movement for political, economic, and cultural transformation. Often times, when the term economy is invoked, we only think about businesses and markets. But economy includes all the ways that we meet our needs and care for each other. Economy is shaped by politics, governments, and social movements.

Finally, we hope that by seeing what is already happening and understanding the emerging visions and strategies, this report will inform further development of solidarity economy movements. We believe that grassroots organizations, funders, government, businesses, and other stakeholders all have important roles to play in a solidarity economy movement.

This report is guided by a solidarity economy framework that has emerged from practice. The Solidarity Economy Initiative (SEI) was formed out of dialogue with leaders and practitioners among community-based social justice organizations in Massachusetts over the past several years. We see ourselves as fighting bravely, but still losing ground. We identified six themes to help build a more transformative approach to change:

  1. Long Term Vision for Alternatives to Capitalism. This vision is necessary, because “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

  2. Cooperative Economic Development. A growing number of groups are experimenting with worker cooperatives, community land trusts and democratic financing models to express a more expansive approach to building local control, wealth and power. We can build on these already existing elements of solidarity economy.

  3. Multisectoral Organizing. While Massachusetts’ organizing sector engages hundreds of thousands of residents as voters, workers, and residents, there is an opportunity to build broader coalitions capable of challenging consolidated corporate power. These include alliances with the small business sector, progressive capital and finance providers, and the progressive faith community.

  4. Political Power-Building Innovation. We need political tools that move beyond voter engagement to build independent political power towards a vision of self governance.

  5. Healing and Transformative Leadership. A transformative movement must also help our communities heal from the trauma of institutional and cultural persecution. This is inextricably linked to our ability to fight for our collective freedom.

  6. Organizational Capacity Building. Member-led, nonprofit base-building organizations are essential to a transformative movement, but too many of our groups are barely hanging on. We need to fortify the infrastructure for more stable and sustainable organizations.

This report begins by laying out our evolving framework for understanding solidarity economy as a transformative movement. This framework was informed by our dialogue within SEI, as well as previous research into solidarity economies (and diverse community economies) by both practitioners and academics. In developing the framework, we also consulted with those associated with a number of solidarity economy mapping initiatives around the country, most affiliated with the US Solidarity Economy Network.

Our framework is then applied to tell the stories of eight cases across Massachusetts. Interviews were conducted with key contacts for each case and supplemented by other published materials. Several of these initiatives are ones with which the authors have been directly involved so the report includes our own experiential knowledge and observations.

SEI’s community partners include Alternatives for Community & Environment, Black Economic Justice Institute, Boston Workers Alliance, Brazilian Women’s Group, Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity, Centro Presente, Chelsea Collaborative, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life Vida Urbana, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, Matahari Women Workers Center, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, and New England United for Justice.

This report shows how a movement for solidarity economy is emerging among lower-income communities and communities of color in Massachusetts. It depicts the diverse pathways towards transformation that are arising out of community survival needs and the struggles against the inequalities and exploitation produced by current political and economic systems. We hope that these visions, strategies, and practices can inform and inspire those who share aspirations for a more just, sustainable, and democratic economy and politics.