That’s only one of the questions my friend Gar Alperovitz says during a really good interview with Orion Magazine. It’s the kind of issue that we are going to talk about at our Neighborhood Economics conference in Louisville November 12-13 and it’s one we will start getting into at SOCAP14.

treehouseon pond

“The fundamental questions at the heart of our many crises, is, who controls wealth?,”Gar says.

“Throughout history, controlling wealth is a big part of controlling politics and, as a result, making decisions about the future. And the richest four hundred people in America have more wealth than the bottom 180 million. So the efforts in cities like Cleveland to change patterns of wealth ownership at small and medium scales, local and regional scales, are very important in terms of building political power. They’re doing it at the neighborhood scale, through cooperative forms, and within an ecologically intelligent context.

“In contrast to corporations, which have every interest in cutting costs wherever possible, locally rooted cooperative institutions are inherently responsible to people and place. They give local people a stake in the enterprise, which means that the health of the community comes first. Local people have good jobs, and the land, air, and water are treated with care.

He concludes with this:
What I’m talking about is the reconstruction of a culture of community in this country. Neither simple reform of old institutions nor “revolution.” And that’s a project that depends not only on local-level work, but also on institution building and long-term cultural change. It’s not just about climate change or any other issue; it’s about re-conceiving ourselves as people who care about the country and want to move it in a different direction. I think younger people get that and understand it instinctively.

Through all of this, we should remember to think of ourselves as historical actors. We are facing systemic problems, like climate change, that are historic in scale. And you don’t change systems without thinking in terms of decades. Remember, big shifts happen all the time in world history: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, even the modern environmental movement. But all of these things were thirty or forty years in development before they exploded. That’s true of the civil rights movement: there were people in the 1930s and ’40s whose names we’ve never heard of who were developing a long-term vision that made possible what happened in the 1960s. Without that kind of a vision, there is no base for a larger change.

Developing a democratically oriented alternative to capitalism can’t be done overnight. This work requires a different sense of time and a deep sense of commitment—the bargaining chips are decades of our lives. But the shifts are already happening in places like Cleveland and Boulder. What we’re seeing is the prehistory, possibly, of the next great change, in which a movement is built from the grassroots that becomes the foundation of a new era.”