Plans are afoot for a grand reawakening at Occupy Wall Street and with that comes a return to the main project. While confrontations with police have grabbed the media’s eye (there was another big police bust-up this weekend), for many, the encampments have always been as much about possibility as they are about protest.
In that spirit, and in the sprit of the conversation begun here last month about a possible worker co-op at the old Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, I’m posting the transcript of an interview I conducted last November with members of what was then a loosely defined group at Occupy Wall St who were studying “solidarity economics.”
In part two of this interview, you’ll hear from Mike Johnson of Solidarity NYC, who’s been deeply involved in cooperative live and work projects in the city since the 1970s. Part one features Jen Abrams and Caroline Woolard, co-founders of OurGoods.org, in a conversation about value, markets and surviving the money economy.
I want to hear from you. Post your comments and tales of alternative models you have been part of in the comments section below and keep your e-mails coming.
At a time when so many are so clear that the current system is not working—what might? Is it already happening? There’s more information about OurGoods.org at their website and you don’t have to be officially ordained as an “artist” to join it.
Let’s start with some introductions:
I’m Jen Abrams, I’m a choreographer and a co-founder of OurGoods .org. We are a barter network for creative people…
Which means what, exactly?
Caroline Woolard: Our Goods is a barter network for creative people that connects artists and designers and craftspeople and activists with each other so they can trade skills and spaces to get independent projects done.
What gave rise to OurGoods?
CW: We are all artists and designers as cofounders, and we’ve experienced forever that there’s’ no clear market value for what we do. Still, we want to continue to do it. We’re motivated by something other than profit. What we do feels valuable to us as a community, so we’ve always gotten things done by trading with other people whose projects we value. That reciprocal exchange feels satisfying; it also helps to get the project done, and we thought—why not make a larger network so more of us can connect across disciplines?
JA: Put another way, the market value (within the capitalist valuation system) for what we do is very low, but the market value for what we do within our circles, within the circles of people who appreciate art, is very different…
CW: it’s an alternative market.
How do you demonstrate value?
JA: In my case, people come see the work and most times they’ll have a lot to say afterwards, about their experience. They’ll have had thoughts, their own sense of their humanity, their connection to others may have changed; their perceptions may have been shifted in a particular way. All those are innate goods in the human experience, yet they are externalities in the capitalist market system. They are things that must happen for us to be fully human, but there isn’t a money market for these experiences. So [our question was] how can we create other kinds of valuation systems that support those things happening?