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Worcester Activists Reinventing Local Economy

Monday, October 15, 2012


The Worcester Solidarity and Green Economy (SAGE) Alliance is working with community organizations, researchers and citizen volunteers to transform the area's businesses for the community-based economy of the future.

The group held its second annual conference, titled "Another World is Possible," Saturday at Clark University, with roughly 100 activists, organizers, community leaders, entrepreneurs, academics and other individuals and organizations coming together to share ideas and plan ways to create more equal and sustainable communities.

"We're really trying to build a broader membership," said Asa Needle, outreach and education coordinator at the Worcester Roots Project and member of the Stone Soup Community Center.

"It's all about connecting people who normally wouldn't have met and getting them collaborating on things."

A Green, Solidarity Economy

Needle was one of the conference's plenary speakers, and he was joined by Tufts University Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning professor Penn Loh, Emily Kawano, the director of the Center for Popular Economics and the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, and Tim Fisk, executive director of the Alliance to Develop Power.

One of the highlights of the conference was a talk given via Skype by Brazilian professor Daniel Tygel, who has worked extensively in his country to get solidarity economy enterprises off the ground.

"The plenary speakers really gave a very powerful framing of the concept of the solidarity economy and how that idea might be put to work," said Stephen Healy, a Geography professor at Worcester State University who attended the SAGE conference as a citizen volunteer.

"What was great about this conference compared to last year was we really gave people a clear understanding about what the solidarity economy is."

The solidarity economy movement centers around using economic activity as a means of promoting equality and focusing on the benefit to the community and stakeholders over profit.

Workshops were held at the conference with topics ranging from urban farming and permaculture to community solar projects and democratizing education.

"We're interested in gathering together more people who are interested in starting worker-owned enterprises," said Healy, pointing to the enterprises in Brazil and North Dakota's public bank as examples to learn from.

Needle said Worcester SAGE is working on connecting more with local co-operatives, starting training programs and even a co-operative academy for individuals looking to form their own organizations for their mutual social and economic benefit.

New Ways of Working in Worcester

Founded in 2001, the Worcester Roots Project has spent the past 11 years promoting and cultivating youth leadership in environmental, social and economic justice organizing in New England's second-largest city.

Since then, the group has spawned Toxic Soil Busters to help with soil safety efforts throughout the city, Youth in Charge to take on community issues in Worcester's Bell Hill and Lower Lincoln neighborhoods, and Worcester Energy Barnraisers to promote environmental sustainability and increased home energy-efficiency projects.

Officials from the Worcester Energy Program and Workforce Central Career Center were in attendance for Saturday's conference, as well as representatives from area businesses, who engaged in what Healy characterized as a difficult but important conversation about how traditional enterprises relate to the solidarity economy.

"I don't think we came to any kind of conclusion, but the important thing was that nobody backed away from the conversation and I don't think anybody felt excluded either," he said. "Differences were aired, but we had a real conversation."

Healy, who is also a member of the Community Economies Collective dedicated to taking new visions of the economy from theory to practice, began working with Worcester SAGE as a citizen after moving to the city in 2009.

"For me, getting involved in something like this was sort of a natural outgrowth of my academic inclinations," he said, noting that the country's economy and ecology are increasingly at risk and a different way of doing business is necessary in order to move forward.

To keep the conversation going about just what that new way of doing business might look like, Worcester SAGE outlined a number of events in the coming months for people to learn more about the solidarity and green economy movement or start on their own projects.

The group is currently assembling a loan fund generated by donations at the conference to give out micro-loans to help individuals or groups start up new ventures. Worcester SAGE Alliance's next meeting is Thursday, October 18, at 5:30p.m. at the Worcester Youth Center on Chandler Street, and a screening of the worker co-operative documentary "Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work" followed by a discussion with the filmmakers is scheduled for Tuesday, October 23, at 7:00p.m. in Clark's Johnson Auditorium.


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