August 14, 2001
I just read your latest work on your web page at the suggestion of Richard Perl and really enjoyed it. The Empire to Community concept rings true to me. The Empire Era created a them/us mentality, that justified exploitation, slavery, and genocide, and glorified domination over other peoples and nature. I agree with you that the Civil Rights Movement was a time of Awakening for our society. I would add to that the Vietnam War which exposed to many of us the colonialist basis of US capitalism, and its characteristics of greed, racism, domination and violence. The Era of Community is the opposite of the them/us mentality of the Empire Era, with qualities of oneness, sharing, caring, and non-violence – what Martin Luther King called “the Beloved Community.” Creating an economic system, which models these qualities, a “Living Economy,” that will provide an alternative to the Suicide Economy of the Empire Era is a challenge for today’s entrepreneurs. I am proposing a Local Network Initiative to address this challenge. [Subsequently established as the Business Alliance for Living Economies (BALLE)].
The movement for socially responsible business is changing. Many, if not most, of our model companies who began the movement and taught us so much, have been or are being sold to large businesses which continue to grow larger and larger. The increasing concentration of capital and power is accelerating both the wealth gap and the environmental crisis, in opposition to the mission of Social Venture Network to build a socially just and environmentally sustainable world through business. It’s time for a new vision, and new models.
From the old, a new movement is growing, one based on creating and connecting community-based businesses. The new movement is not about maximizing profits, but about maximizing relationships. Rather than striving for continuous growth, national branding and centralized control, new models are scaled to build authentic and meaningful relationships which add to the quality of life in our local communities and natural environment.
Building on the premise that a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable global economy begins with sustainable local economies, a group of SVN members organized around the Local Network Initiative. By growing local networks, our intention is to help build sustainable economies in our own regions identifying, financing, promoting, supporting and connecting community-based businesses. Our vision is that an alliance of local networks will eventually facilitate information sharing, collective action, and community-based sourcing. By linking nationally and internationally, businesses could source supplies not available locally in a way that supports the local communities from which they come.
I feel great urgency about advancing this movement and have chosen to turn my full attention to co-chairing the Local Network Initiative nationally as well as focusing on my own community of Philadelphia to build a sustainable model. We are well underway in the food area in Philly. The White Dog Cafe has long purchased produce from local organic family farms in season and over the last few years have converted to purchasing only humanely raised meat and poultry products year round. What I soon realized was that I didn’t want to stop with this being our market niche, and now have started a project to help our competitors do the same.
Through the White Dog Cafe Foundation with a grant from a customer, we started the Philly Fair Food Project, which is focusing on improving the local distribution system. I asked one of the farmers, who delivers humanely raised meats from several farms to the Cafe, if he wanted to expand his business. He said yes. I asked what was holding him back. He said he needed a larger truck. We loaned him $30,000 at 5% interest and he now delivers to many more restaurants. The Fair Food Project helps him find new customers. Along with the Pa. Assn. for Sustainable Agriculture, we also published a directory listing local farms and restaurants interested in buying locally to facilitate local sourcing.
This season the Fair Food Project started a CSA out of the White Dog for our employees and customers, and we hope to recruit other businesses to do the same for next season. We hope to include humanely raised meats in CSA’s next. Humanely raised animal products are the main focus of the project, since its available year round and because factory farming is such a catastrophic violation of nature. As part of this project, we are looking to find uses for all the parts of the animal. The prime cuts are easier because they go to high-end restaurants, and some meat can be used for sausage, but we are working with ethnic restaurants which use small pieces to find markets for the cheaper cuts. We are also looking into the possibility of starting a dog food company featuring organic, humanely raised meat, using parts which cant be sold to restaurants.
What I want to work on next in Philly is clothing – starting with simple things like T-shirts and uniforms which we already buy. There is a young entrepreneur working out of a minority enterprise center our local network is partnering with who has started a T-shirt company. Our foundation is interested in making him a low interest loan. Then our restaurant and store would eventually buy our T-shirts from him and help him expand his market to other local businesses. We are also looking at the idea of a local uniform company to make restaurant uniforms and perhaps hospitals gowns since there are so many in the Philly area.
As we make progress in building a “living economy,” I will keep you informed because I think practical examples are very important to share. These are small steps, but I believe this is the nature of this movement. It<s a slow process with lots of little steps by lots of people. We are in the process of updating the Local Network Initiative proposal, including a strategic plan for creating a national alliance of local networks. We will put it on the SVN site and let you know so it can be linked. I will talk to our Local Network group about changing the name of our initiative to the “Living Economies Initiative,” so that we have more synergy around this concept and work.
Thanks for your inspiration.
Your friend in “living the future into being,”
Dave – I just realized another link to the civil rights movement – What you call “succession” is like Gandhi and King’s tactic of non-cooperation. King said, “In order to be true to one’s conscience and true to God, a righteous man has no alternative but to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.” Non-cooperation with evil was the moral basis of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I believe that’s where we’re headed.
Of course, King learned this from Gandhi. In refusing to cooperate with the institutions of the British government in India, Gandhi said “Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.” Gandhi believed that injustice can not exist if people refuse to cooperate with it. Once the exploited refuse the relationship, refuse to cooperate, then they are free. All of us are cooperating and being exploited by the economic system in many different ways. By refusing to cooperate, we force the system to begin to change.
The college students are doing this with the sweatshop movement – holding sit-ins to force universities to buy college t-shirts and sweatshirts from non-exploitive manufacturers.
Noncooperation began for me, by refusing to be a part of the factory farm system – refusing to buy the meat of factory farmed animals. This motivated me to create an alternative system for purchasing humanely raised meats. What came first though was the morale obligation to non-cooperate with a system I saw as evil. I’m planning to use this in my presentation at SVN conference to explain what my first steps were in beginning to create an alternative enterprise system.
Just some thoughts. Judy
White Dog Cafe
Philadelphia, PA 19104
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Second posting September 4, 2001. First posted August 15, 2001