Progressives Are Pushing Economic Democracy. Democrats Need to Listen

The U.S. doesn’t have a problem of economic scarcity. The problem is unequal power.

"On Tuesday night, the Democrats scored electoral victories by taking advantage of the energy behind the growing progressive movement. At the state level, Democrats elected seven new state governors and flipped six state legislatures. At the federal level, Democrats retook the House and elected the most progressive group of politicians in a generation—seven candidates endorsed by Justice Democrats, an electoral advocacy group focused on finding progressive alternatives to corporate Democrats, were elected to the House, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley. Moving forward, the progressive movement has the opportunity to organize both inside and outside of the Democratic Party at the city, state and federal levels to continue building a vision for a transformed society.

Democrats have the opportunity to advance this vision by bringing attention and resources to powerful local organizing throughout the country and by advancing legislation that can move the party and the political mainstream to the left. The newly elected progressive House Democrats have a chance to greatly affect national political narratives by creating a left caucus or a Democratic Socialist caucus.

The progressive agenda must include displacing the corporate economy and creating a democratic political economy in which everyone together controls the systems that provide the things we need to live meaningful and joyous lives—our workplaces, schools at all levels, our systems for health care, housing, energy, food, and so on. As progressives build this vision, we should look to the movements in the U.S. and around the world that are already building economic democracy through solidarity economy institutions. These movements include Cooperation Jackson and the New Economy Coalition in the U.S., the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement in Brazil, the Kurds in Rojava in Northern Syria and the municipalist movement in Spain.

Solidarity economies are rooted in direct democracy, community power and local control of institutions that affect people’s lives; they include and build upon many of the policies that are included in the Movement for Black Lives policy platform and the Black Youth Project 100’s Agenda to Build Black Futures. Solidarity economies bring democracy to the workplace in the form of worker cooperatives, to land ownership and use through community land trusts and land banks, to the financial system through city-owned banks, and to the more traditional public sector with participatory budgeting and municipal ownership of vital infrastructure, including energy, transportation and internet infrastructure.

Why do we need the solidarity economy?

In 2015, the U.S. economy produced the equivalent of $223,639 for every family of four in the country, illustrating that we don’t have a problem of economic scarcity; we have a problem of unequal power. Despite the immense wealth in the U.S., more than half the people living here possess zero net wealth, and many people struggle to meet their basic needs for housing, food, health care and education. While the popular press and politicians from both parties claim that the economy is strong, this argument is based on misleading statistics. It matters very little to most people that the stock market is up, as about 10 percent of the U.S. population owns more than 80 percent of all publicly traded corporate stock. Nor is the employment rate a very useful stat, because it excludes many discouraged people who have given up looking for work and does not account for the fact that many employed people have low-wage jobs that don’t allow them to meet their basic needs. The focus on economic growth is also misleading, because growth does not trickle down. Whether people get access to the wealth we need in order to survive is a function of power...

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