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THEORY &

GROUNDING PRINCIPLES

SEI emerged from a collective design process that identified six grounding principles for the program (see bottom of this page). These six principles provided guidance to the founding funders and grassroots cohort members during the first learning phase of the program. As SEI shifted from a learning phase into a more active leadership phase, members of the collective struggled to identify a coherent theory of change that fit into traditional linear forms (e.g. Logic Model). 

The group was introduce to the Chaordic Principles framework, which allows an initiative to sit at the intersection of order and chaos, and assumes a more iterative and evolving approach. This framework allowed us to express the full purpose and theory of the Solidarity Economy Initiative. For reference on Chaordic Principles, see “The Chaordic Stepping Stones: Planning just the right amount of form for invitation, gathering, harvest and wise action

Chaordic Principles for the Solidarity Economy Initiative

 
Need: the compelling reason for doing anything 
  • Capitalism is imploding; 

  • oppression is rampant; 

  • our planet is dying; 

  • economic inequality is growing; 

  • our ways of working aren’t working (not loving and supportive)

 

Purpose: meeting the needs outlined above
  • SEI will provide resources and infrastructure to enable people experiencing oppression to act in solidarity to build economic, political, and cultural power; 

  • transform capitalism / build alternatives to capitalism; 

  • people with wealth and power learning the value in shifting their wealth and power; 

  • working toward healing ourselves, the planet, and our communities 

 

Principles: crisp statements of how we agree to operate together so that over the long term we can sustain the relationships that make this work possible
  • We will embody the new world we want to live in, a world of connection, belonging, love, generosity, abundance, and healing;

  • engage in multi-sectoral, intersectional organizing to create cultural, political, and economic change 

  • design emergent, place-based strategies that will require customized, localized iterations across the globe to meet the unique needs of differing communities

 

People: those involved in the work
  • Massachusetts grassroots groups led by people who have been marginalized by systems of oppression lead the work

  • funders serve as accomplices in support of movement leaders 

  • multi-sectoral partners provide additional additional support for change, including elected officials, the general public, worker cooperatives, and social justice enterprises

 

Concept: a high level look at the shape of our endeavor
  • Shift power;

  • mobilize and collectivize resources;

  • learn and do in communities of practice;

  • build deep relationships; 

  • training and capacity building; 

  • participatory grant-making

Limiting Belief: how do we question unquestioned models of behavior.

 we will challenge the following notions:

  • "there are no alternatives to capitalism” 

  • “capitalism is too big and entrenched to be subverted” 

  • “power dynamics between funders and grassroots groups cannot be shifted”

  • “punitive measures are needed for success” 

  • “people cannot make decisions (we can’t trust poor people) for themselves because we need experts and politicians”

  • “there are not enough resources for everybody"

  • “connecting and loving are inefficient ways of getting work done”

  • “all value lies in productivity” 

 

Structure: mechanism of allocating group resources such as money, energy, commitment, and attention
  • the steering committee is the central organization which channels money from funders to grassroots leaders 

 

Practice: working with one another in alignment with the designs we have created. 
  • SEI engages regularly in meetings and learning circles

  • space is created for caring, different ways of learning, ritual, healing,  as well as heart and soul-centered practices (including art, music, movement)

  • physical space is created as a container for envisioning

  • the grassroots leadership leads their own practices beyond SEI 

  • funders lead their own practices, while also being held accountable to grassroots groups via participatory grantmaking; 

  • SEI is challenging and shifting away from practices of dominance and supremacy (including white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and more)

  • we are loving and restorative ways of accountability to one another 

 

Harvest: making meaning of our work, telling the story and feeding forward our results so that they have the desired impacts in the world
  • relationships and shared political analysis will be built to further political processes

  • we will benefit greatly from the learning cycle in which organizations and funders are positioned to do work and take on field leadership, engaging annually in accountability and learning efforts organized by the steering committee 

  • ultimately wealth decolonization and redistribution is the desired harvest

SEI DESIGN PROCESS 

The SEI Design Process engaged leaders in the exploration of six major themes that were collectively determined as barriers to building more transformative, long term organizing strategies. Each theme was synthesized through a listening process that generated a range of everyday challenges faced by grassroots organizations rooted in low-income communities of color across the state.

 

The SEI Design Team identified the barriers and opportunities relating to each theme, and developed and prioritized learning and programmatic interventions to overcome these challenges. Through this exploration, SEI groups came to understand that the most transformative interpersonal and “new economy” strategies are in fact not new, but have roots in a history of collective struggle and creation. Low-income communities of color, in particular, have long been engaged in mutual aid, cooperatives of various kinds and efforts to reclaim land through a framework of self sufficiency, mutual care and solidarity. The seeds and sprouts of a new economy became an asset to build on, and groups contextualized their existing work within this broader frame of solidarity economy.

 

While we celebrate essential economic justice strategies like raising the minimum wage, a Solidarity Economy also emphasizes dimensions of democratic control and ownership and promotes the myriad of ways that our communities meet our material needs to survive. Building the potential of Solidarity Economy starts by building a grassroots vision through education and dialogue. Grassroots leaders cited the need for more training, resources and support to engage members in these questions and evolve strategies for a more coordinated, long term transformational political project.

 

CORE THEMES THAT EMERGED FROM DESIGN PROCESS

 

Theme 1: Long Term Vision for Alternatives to Capitalism

 

The refrain is guiding, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”  Generative and broad based social movements require at their core both a galvanizing critique and intuitive, transformative solutions. Investigating the possibility of a broad economic justice movement, organizers and funders named an omission in naming modern capitalism as an underlying cause of poverty, ecological damage and political dysfunction. Explaining the avoidance, organizers cited the fear of alienating funders and appearing “too radical,” even at the expense of their personal beliefs. More pragmatic, as frontline organizations face persistent funding and capacity challenges, engaging members around long-term alternatives to capitalism feels like a luxury when more urgent issues demand attention. The design process revealed the need for resources and support for grassroots leaders to engage in new learning opportunities to cultivate and grapple with visions for long term economic alternatives that would also guide our short and medium term strategies.

 

Theme 2: Cooperative Economic Development

 

Most organizing nonprofits center their programs on leadership development, civic engagement and issue campaigns. However, 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 and wealth. Business and finance fall beyond the expertise of most organizations, requiring training, funding and technical assistance to embed successful new economy projects within a movement building infrastructure. At the same time, opportunities to identify new policy paradigms that foster the growth of cooperative economic developed emerged as a complementary opportunity for organizations to help scale core components of a solidarity economy.

 

Theme 3: Multisectoral Organizing

 

While Massachusetts’ organizing sector engages hundreds of thousands of residents as voters, workers and residents, there is a lack of strategic engagement with aligned private sector leaders who play critical roles in the economy. Worker justice campaigns rarely intersect with small business organizing. Big bank protests are often siloed from community finance efforts. A multisectoral framework locates opportunities for grassroots organizing within broader social movement strategies that seek scale and resonance across the American economy. Organizations require resources and support to reassess strategy, forge new relationships and build broader, more diverse coalitions capable of challenging consolidated corporate power. Core sectors identified as priorities through the design process included the small business sector, progressive capital and finance providers, and the progressive faith community.

 

Theme 4: Political Power Building Innovations

 

In the last decade, the grassroots organizing sector has become increasingly sophisticated with its use of voter engagement strategies to build community power. Coordinated voter tables, integrating issue campaigns into GOTV and employing ballot measures to advance a progressive agenda are increasingly popular approaches. Groups seek technical assistance to understand and engage the evolving landscape of political tools that move beyond voter engagement, including 501c4 structures, independent expenditures, superPACs and Independent Political Organizations (IPO). The design process helped clarify the successes of local political and civic engagement strategies to date, and identified opportunities for evolving political power building strategies for the future.   

 

Theme 5: Healing and Transformative Leadership

 

Our communities carry generational trauma from a history of institutional and cultural persecution. Many of our grassroots leaders experience regular harm from the police, employers, peers, and even family. The trauma rampant in our communities is both a human rights crisis and an obstacle to successful organizing. The grassroots sector requires training, methods and referral partnerships to more explicitly integrate personal, family and collective healing into the domain of community engagement. Grounding prospects for a solidarity economy in the health and resilience of our communities, SEI groups identified the integration of transformative leadership development work into their organizations as a necessary expansion of our conception of what it means to be a community organizer.

 

Theme 6: Organizational Capacity Building  

 

While sector leaders invited new theories and approaches to organizing, there was also a recognition that most of our non-profits are barely holding on. Before considering innovations, leaders emphasized the need to help stabilize small, underfunded non-profit organizations. Executive Directors juggle an impossible set of responsibilities and under resourced groups necessarily cut corners to keep their programs running and relevant. This leaves systems for member and donor tracking, online communications, or internal human resources left underdeveloped and even ignored. The grassroots sector is in dire need of individualized consulting and collective resources to fortify infrastructure and build more stable and sustainable organizations. The design process revealed opportunities for applying cooperative principles to nonprofit organizations to share costs, improve efficiencies and grow the collective capacity of the field.