Incubating solidarity in East Boston's Latino community to fight gentrification and displacement
The Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity (CCDS) was convened in November 2015 by Latino residents of East Boston concerned about rapid gentrification. It started with a few conversations, first among a group of people displaced from a neighborhood apartment building. Then they connected with two other residents to explore how economic alternatives could help them stay in East Boston. One of those two was working on converting local restaurant La Sanghita Café into a worker cooperative, and the other was a long-time organizer and the co-founder and co-director of the Center to Support Immigrant Organizing.
Within a month, the group of five turned into a meeting of sixteen, and then quickly doubled in size again as interest grew in generating opportunities through economic alternatives. Through many meetings with residents, the idea of establishing a formal organization was generated. CCDS is now led by a provisional board of eight Latino residents of East Boston. They are focusing their efforts to support the Spanish-speaking Latino population in East Boston to pursue cooperative development. Their mission is to “provide technical, educational and organizational support to current and potential members of cooperatives in East Boston. CCDS will help develop through workers owned coops opportunities for decent work with decent pay for minority, immigrants and low-income residents of East Boston thus advancing a sustainable and permanent social and economic justice neighborhood.”
Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity
Three current cooperative-like ventures were the inspiration for forming CCDS. La Sanghita Café opened in 2014 with two co-founders. It employed eight workers until August 2016 and was in process of converting to worker ownership with support of the Boston Center for Community Ownership before it closed due to the multiple challenges it was facing. The Eastie Farm is a one-year old farm established on a vacant lot to grow local food for local people. Established as a nonprofit, the farm is cooperatively run by volunteers and coordinated by La Sanghita. Finally, East Boston Meditation Center, La Sanghita’s “sister organization”, is a space supporting health and healing through meditation and yoga. Its mission is to “make mindful practice and meditation accessible to all.” The Center hosts all CCDS meetings. In addition, some CCDS leaders are also involved in starting a soup kitchen to provide free food for families in need.
CCDS became a member of the Solidarity Economy Initiative in summer 2016. With SEI support, they developed and recently piloted a coop training series in Spanish. Twelve people, mostly women and mostly from East Boston, completed the two-week training, which met four nights a week for four hours each night. The training consisted of four modules (two evenings each): why coops, cooperative structure, business planning, and legal issues. Several resource people helped with the business planning and legal issues, but otherwise the entire curriculum was developed by the leadership team using popular education methods. Three graduates of the program are now continuing on to work together with one of the CCDS leaders to form a childcare cooperative. Two other graduates started a “women’s artisanal co-op” and began offering their products this past December as a pilot project. A few other graduates are in conversations to form a cleaning coop.
The excitement among the founding members of CCDS is palpable. Luz Zambrano, a long-time organizer, East Boston resident, and staff member of the Center to Support Immigrant Organizing, says that “we started talking a year ago and now it seems like everything is aligned for coops… I feel like this moment is so important for our society to really make a change… At the same time it’s a huge challenge, because the ones we want to serve in CCDS have all these obstacles. They are poor, don’t speak the language, they don’t have documents… But I can see how people are getting excited that finally there is a light that they don’t have to be always oppressed. That they can be their own people.”
Courtesy of Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity
This excitement builds on a consciousness and practices that some Latino immigrants have already engaged in. CCDS board member Lilliana Avendaño, who has been in the US for three years, had studied at a cooperative university in Colombia. Another board member Indira Garmendia arrived a year ago from Nicaragua, where she was involved in issues related to inequality, particularly around gender.
Now in the US, they are drawing inspiration from other immigrant experiences with cooperative development. At the New Economy Coalition’s CommonBound conference in summer 2016, Avendaño met members of Si Se Puede (a women’s cleaning cooperative in Brooklyn) who were survivors of domestic violence like herself. CCDS invited Si Se Puede to join their training session via video conference. They also invitied members of Vida Verdhe, a cleaning coop supported by the Brazilian Women’s Group in the Boston area.
CCDS emphasizes the importance of language and culture and the use of popular education methods in engaging their communities around cooperative development. Garmendia says they needed a training conducted in Spanish, so that it could be better tailored to their needs. Avendaño says they use popular education methods so that participants voices are heard and experiences valued. For her, “en CCDS, nadie es experto” [in CCDS, no one is the expert]. Zambrano further explains that popular education was necessary “because we realized that there were so many people with different levels of education and a world of knowledge that we really wanted to create a space where the experience of the people like Lilliana and other people had the same value as other people who maybe had more formal education.”
In their first step of engaging people and raising consciousness, they have found it very important to stress that the reason for coops goes beyond just creating jobs. Garmendia stresses that “it was really important through the training to clarify what is cooperativism, because it’s not just about creating businesses but about developing the community. Everyone who wants to do coops really needs to be aligned with the principles and values.” Avendaño believes “if we are really talking about the solidarity economy, that takes time because we are talking not just about ourselves. We are talking about the community. We are talking about other people. In the case of the childcare, it is not just to have a childcare, but what are we going to teach the children. Among other things, we want them to learn the principles and values of cooperativism as a way for us to help change the world and neighborhood around us.” This emphasis is needed because, as La Sanghita’s Monica Leitner-Laserna says, the “challenge really is this individualistic capitalistic model that we’re used to. Why would you share your resources, why would you live in solidarity?”
Courtesy of Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity
As a very young initiative, CCDS is still building its own capacity, while at the same time supporting coops and other solidarity initiatives. Avendaño is starting a coop daycare with three others who came out of the coop training. They are pursuing their childcare certification now. The new soup kitchen in East Boston came out of a CCDS member who, according to Leitner-Laserna, “saw need for people who were unemployed and hungry.” Leitner-Laserna says “what I find really inspiring and beautiful, is that at the soup kitchen, the volunteers are all low-income people helping people who are even more low income.”
CCDS members have big dreams for their work. For Garmendia, “our goal is one day for CCDS to be sustained by the coops so we don’t have to rely on foundations and other sources so we can do what we want to do.” Zambrano sees that “CCDS is not just a place where we are going to have businesses and people are going to get rich. How I see it is that this is a process of giving space for marginalized people to have their own voices, to develop their skills, find who they are, and contribute to the betterment of their families and schools, which will ultimately give residents of East Boston the opportunity to sit on the neighborhood associations and other places in the city where the decisions are made and to be able with power to say I don’t want this to happen in my neighborhood. Instead we want this or that.”
For Avendaño the vision is a transformation of life and culture. She says “if you have a childcare where you are taking care of the children, a place where people can eat healthy food, and have a cleaning coop that cleans these places, and everybody involved has the same values, that is when we are going to see transformation in individuals, families and our neighborhood. That will help decrease the violence and will give chance for marginalized people to become powerful. That is my dream.”