A vision of a community-led “solidarity economy” is capturing the attention of a new generation of progressive New Yorkers. Seeking to address the ecological, economic, and political crises of our time, local groups are reinvigorating cooperative economic models and inventing new ones, putting into action a vision for an economic system that is based on values of social and racial justice, ecological sustainability, cooperation, mutualism, and democracy. They are creating and sustaining worker cooperatives, community development credit unions, community land trusts, low-income housing and food co-ops, and community gardens — strengthening neighborhoods, making them more resilient, and meeting community needs.
Together these efforts offer a pragmatic vision for grassroots, community-led economic development that benefits all New Yorkers. Through democratically-structured local institutions, marginalized New Yorkers, in particular, including low-income immigrants, women, and people of color, are gaining control over their workplace, housing, finance, land use, and food. They are also building a movement, as new leaders develop democratic decision-making skills needed to challenge systemic poverty and oppression.
Leaders from five organizations last year formed the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City (CEANYC). Between October 2013 and January 2014, CEANYC held a series of in-depth focus groups with a range of actors within the solidarity economy. The purpose of the focus groups was to gauge interest in forming a city-wide, cross-sectoral organization that could support and strengthen the solidarity economy in New York City.
Key Findings & Recommendations
- No solidarity economy has ever grown to substantial scale or strength without an effective umbrella organization, and New York is no exception. CEANYC should engage allies and other stakeholders in creating a strong hub organization dedicated to building the solidarity economy in New York City.
- Focus group participants expressed a common set of pressing needs, across all sectors interviewed. A city-wide organization is needed for external purposes to: (1) raise public awareness about the role and value of cooperatives and the solidarity economy; (2) engage in effective policy advocacy and coalition-organizing; and (3) research and disseminate best practices in the field. The hub organization could meet groups’ internal needs by providing: (1) technical assistance to support management and operation of community-led cooperatives; (2) leadership development and political education; (3) communications and marketing support; and (4) access to office and meeting space.
- Many of the groups interviewed, notably worker co-ops, food co-ops, and community development financial institutions, have their own sectoral networks and trade associations. They were generally unaware of organizations and activities in sectors outside their own. A hub organization would allow groups to tap into cooperative economy work across sectors, connect with one another, and place their work within a broader vision and context.
- The recent political sea change in New York City provides a vital new opportunity to incorporate cooperative economic strategies into the city’s community economic development policies and vision. It will be critical to bring activities within the solidarity economy to scale.