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Fight and build: solidarity economy as ontological politics

Fight and build: solidarity economy as ontological politics This essay explores the potential of solidarity economy (SE) as theory, practice, and movement, to engender an ontologi- cal politics to create and sustain other worlds that can resolve the existential crises of ecological destruction and historic inequalities. We argue that such a politics is necessary to go beyond the world as it is and exceed the dictates of a domi- nant modernity—capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy—that positions itself as the only singular reality—or One World World (Law J (2011) What’s Wrong with a One World World. Heterogeneities. http://www .he terog eneities. ne t/publi catio ns/ Law2011Wha tsW rongW ithA OneW orldW orld.pdf ). What is needed are alternatives to development in contrast to alternative developments. Over the past decade, the SE movement in Massachusetts has advanced a fight and build approach, which has reframed economy as a matter of concern, as something that communities can, and already do, shape themselves—and that powerfully disrupts the reality of a singular capitalist economy. At the same time, the heterogeneous elements of SE are caught up in and assembling political projects with multiple orientations: modernist, social justice, and ontological (Escobar, Pluriversal politics: the real and the possible, Duke University Press, Durham, 2020). SE movement can remain stuck in a modernist politics of growing and scaling businesses and jobs. Even though a social justice approach attends to power and is more amenable to a relational view of reality where things only exist in interconnection, it too can remain mired in One World World liberal politics of redistribution and market ‘solutions’. How SE movement might actualize an ontological politics is a matter of care, an attunement to how relational worlds are coming into being and maintained. As an ontological politics, SE is not about economy qua economy at all, but about creating and sustaining worlds, pluriversal realities where we can be in solidarity with other people, beings, and planetary life systems. Keywords Solidarity economy · Ontological politics · Pluriverse · Fight and build · Social justice · Massachusetts Fight and build more deeply with solidarity economy ideas and practices, learning and organizing together as part of the Solidarity In the Spring of 2018, we participated in an event on build- Economy Initiative (SEI). The day began with workshops ing solidarity economy in a local union hall in downtown on worker cooperatives, collective healing and well-being, Boston. It was hosted by the newly formed Center for Eco- divestment (from extractive economies) and reinvestment (in nomic Democracy (CED) and allied community-based communities), and alternative housing and land. The lively organizations who, over the past few years, were engaging workshops were filled with well over a hundred racially diverse participants, including long-time organizers, mem- bers of community groups, educators, and students. Some Handled by Bengi Akbulut, Concorida University, Canada. were familiar with solidarity economy, and some were learn- ing for the first time. The promise of an economy ripe with * Boone W. Shear bshear@umass.edu values and practices that could put ‘people and planet over profit’ was palpable. Penn Loh Penn.Loh@tufts.edu As a board member of CED and advisor to SEI, Penn helped to organize the day, and led one of the workshops. Tufts University, Medford, USA Boone had brought a group of college students to the event University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, USA Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 1208 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 who had been engaging with SEI leaders and other soli- Solidarity economy (SE) is most plainly associated with darity economy organizations that spring. Two days earlier, ethical and cooperative economic practices, like local cur- both of us—along with about 50 organizers, activists, and rencies, land trusts, community gardens, fair trade, and educators—were 90 miles west, in Springfield, Massachu- cooperatives of all sorts. These SE practices and their asso- setts, having initial conversations about developing a state- ciated values—cooperation, sustainability, justice, interde- wide solidarity economy network. Both of these events—as pendence, autonomy—open the possibility of a more trans- well as two others in Amherst and Worcester—prominently formative vision. The very nature of economy shifts from the involved Kali Akuno, a prominent movement leader, intel- largely taken-for-granted ‘reality’ of a singular exploitive, lectual, and co-founder of the renowned Cooperation Jack- extractive, and unsustainable capitalist economy in which son in Mississippi, who had been brought to Massachusetts individuals compete over scarce resources towards build- to engage with the growing numbers of people and organiza- ing and inhabiting relationships, practices, and values that tions involved in solidarity economy activity. reveal and embrace, rather than conceal and reject, interde- A buffet dinner followed the workshops, and the hall pendence. As SE practitioner and scholar Emily Kawano began to fill with hundreds of community members. A post- argues, SE can be understood as a transformation towards dinner panel featured community leaders from working a post-capitalist system (Kawano 2016: 8). From our per- class communities of color who discussed how solidarity spective, unraveling and detaching from dominant ways of economy connected with organizing political campaigns, knowing/being/doing and orienting towards what might yet fighting against gentrification and for affordable housing, be requires letting go of singular visions of what the world and empowering communities. Akuno presented last, bring- (or economy) should look like. SE invites, but does not guar- ing forward ideas and learnings from Cooperation Jackson. antee, a politics of becoming towards other economies, other Towards the end of the evening, Akuno asked, “do you have selves, and other worlds (Shear 2020a, b). a shared analysis…of where you want to go and a shared program and strategy of how you are going to get there?” In social justice movement spaces in the United States, Overview analysis typically refers to a type of ‘power analysis’ that assesses the relations of power among decision makers, local In this essay, we explore the potential of SE as theory, practice, institutions, community members, and perhaps flows of capi - and movement, to engender an ontological politics—a politics tal. It is a type of analysis that community organizing groups that seeks to uncover and/or advance ways of being that are in Massachusetts have been quite adept at (e.g., Loh and unrecognized or actively suppressed by the dominant reality Erlich 2021; Pastor et al. 2010), gaining significant victories (Lyon-Callo and Shear 2019). We are particularly interested by confronting the state through campaigns to redistribute in a politics, in line with Escobar (2018, 2020) and others, that resources, create more equitable opportunities, and fight advances the conditions from which deep relationality and environmental and social injustices. This kind of analysis interdependence might be imagined, desired, and practiced and politics, oppositional and largely aimed at incremen- (Akuno 2017; de la Cadena and Blaser 2018; Gibson-Graham tal policy reforms, emerges from a mode of opposition and et al. 2014; Miller 2019; Roelvink et al. 2015). We argue that resistance to the features and impacts of systemic and struc- what is needed in the current conjuncture is a politics that, tural violence. What James Ferguson (2009a, b) refers to as following Escobar, operates as an alternative to development a politics of the “antis” (e.g., anti-capitalism, anti-racism, (in contrast to alternative development), that rejects the onto- anti-gentrification) can often remain wedded to and, thus, logical dictates of the dominant reality of modernity—white naturalize the very projects it seeks to oppose. supremacy, patriarchy, the imagined inevitability of growth, Akuno and Cooperation Jackson brought an example of hierarchy, individualism, progress, development, etc. As part how this type of fight in the world as it is, could be stra- of this special issue “Pluriverse in Practice” (Akbulut et al. tegically joined with building transformative, solidarity 2022), we are interested in the potential for SE to enable and economies that could as Akuno explained, help to move us assist communities to fight for, organize around, and assemble beyond “the protest model that we had been invested in for the past 30 years.” Indeed, from our perspective, Akuno’s provocation involves a more fundamental analysis, one that is not only about political strategy in the world as it is, but By relationality we mean the condition that beings do not exist an attunement to and political orientation towards worlds independently of other beings. When referring to relational practices that might yet be—a politics attentive towards other worlds or ways of being, we mean to indicate a recognition of and efforts to already in the making. How this type of ontological politics embrace this condition of interdependence. is emerging, and how it might be deepened and advanced, is 2 We are not suggesting rejecting the possibility of any of these fea- precisely what we are concerned with in this essay. tures, only rejecting the inevitable reality of them. 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1209 autonomous relational worlds, which we will discuss later as Assembling research and politics ‘fight and build’. We begin by clarifying what is at stake in this work and To ground the discussion, we want to briefly situate our - why an ontological politics, from our perspective, is of existen- selves and our work. We have been involved in SE organ- tial importance. While much of life is under ‘ontological occu- izing and broader movement politics in Massachusetts for pation’ by a dominant reality—what John Law theorizes as the almost four decades combined. Penn’s networks emanate One World World (Law 2011), it is full of slippages, ruptures, from the Boston area with social, economic, racial, and envi- and unravelings. The colonial project of modernity is always ronmental justice groups. Boone’s relations are the thickest re-articulating and re-assembling itself, even as it expands. in western and central Massachusetts, working with commu- And, perhaps, it is now, more than ever, losing its coherence. nity organizing groups, activist organizations, and commu- We then turn to SE, sketching out some of the history and nity development nonprofits. Both of us have taught about, meanings ascribed to the movement. Drawing on over a dec- connected students and resources to, written for, and been ade of engaged research in Massachusetts, we show SE func- researchers of and for the organizations where we also serve tioning in multiple registers. We pay particular attention to the on boards, committees, and the like. We are interested in emergence and instantiation of SE with social justice efforts advancing the work in all these spaces. in base-building community organizing groups, particularly More formally, we find methodological resonance with among Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and the approach of activist anthropology (Hale 2001; Lyon- front-line communities. We show that SE has helped to expose Callo and Hyatt 2003). We align ourselves in social and economy as a “matter of concern” (Latour 2004), something symbolic space with the communities and organizations that is assembled and in the making, rather than an essential that we research. And, as members of these organizations, entity or force that exists prior to relations. Making visible and we treat our own experiences, emotions, and understandings opening possibilities for SE helps to create conditions for, but as research, along with that of our “subjects”—friends, col- does not guarantee, a form of politics that escapes the taken laborators, colleagues, comrades. Through this dynamic, we for granted, hegemonic sensibilities of the One World World engage in a dialogical politics at multiple levels, intended (OWW). to open up space for conversation, transformation, and As Audre Lorde (1984) famously said, “the master’s tools becoming. will never dismantle the master’s house.” However, we also Perhaps, a more direct way to describe our engaged find synergy with Walsh and Mignolo (2018) who suggest approach is that our research is not at all sacrosanct or sepa- that transcending, in addition to dismantling, is an important rate from our teaching, writing, learning, organizing, and stance to take. In the case of SE organizing, some of the “mas- activist activities. Instead, these are all overlapping strate- ter’s tools”—e.g., state policies, philanthropic funds—can be gies—subsumed within a broader politics—intended to help used and assembled in place to build the conditions and spaces defend, support, and advance more egalitarian and sustain- for communities to collectively make and remake themselves able worlds. In the case of solidarity economies, we aim to beyond OWW, in ways that embrace and cultivate solidar- help advance conditions from which ways of being beyond ity and interdependence rather than deny them or enact sepa- the dominant reality might emerge and flourish. We under - rations through violence and domination. Approaching this stand our efforts as a “methods assemblage” (Law 2004; and assembling in a pluriversal way is, as we will posit, a matter see Shear 2019) intended to locate and amplify other worlds. of care, an attunement to how worlds are coming into being and maintained (also see Akbulut et al. 2022). As Blaser and de la Cadena (2018: 5) put it, “the pluriverse is not a matter The limits of ontological occupation of fact or a matter of concern but rather an opening toward a possibility that needs care—a matter of care as conceptualized Much of life on earth is operating under ontological occu- by Maria Puig de la Bella Casa.” As an ontological politics, SE pation (Escobar 2020; Blaser and de la Cadena 2018). The is not about economy qua economy at all, but about imagin- One World World (OWW) claims itself as the only, singular ing, building, fighting for, and defending the conditions from reality—the objective world out there that pre-exists inter- which we can realize and embrace our interdependence with relations, which can be discovered through science. Instead other people, beings, and planetary life systems. of realities being produced through constitutive relations between things, OWW ontology is comprised of the famil- iar western dualisms that create separation and dominance between subject and object, people and nature, us and them, and many more. Bodies and minds, practices and relations, are subjected by and assembled into an onto-epistemic order 1 3 1210 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 that shapes what is desirable, actionable, and possible, form- in indigenous struggles to protect sacred relations from ing the terrain on and limits through which social change enclosures and extractions (Whyte 2017); the calls by cli- takes place. Sustainability projects, such as scaling up solar mate justice activists to ‘change everything’ (Klein 2014); energy, can stay enmeshed in relations of capital accumula- the ongoing cooperative survival practices and liberation tion and overconsumption, rather than do away with extrac- strategies (Nembhard 2014)—the freedom dreaming (Kelley tivist visions altogether. 2002; Love 2019)—of front-line communities; the efforts Moreover, the existential crises of ecological destruction of community organizers to invoke relational and emergent and historic inequalities upon us (shared, but divergently practices (Brown 2017; Sandler 2019); and the abolitionist produced and experienced) goes well beyond moral failings, intersectional struggles for Black lives (Gilmore 2021). They government inaction, lack of knowledge, or the interests of are brought into being through powerful social ruptures, the elite. Woven through the fabric of reality itself are cen- such as the explosion of mutual aid in the COVID-19 pan- turies of colonial violence, capital accumulation, patriarchy, demic. They emerge in relation to the increasing number of and white supremacy, leading to the epochal destruction of depressed young people, whose alienated bodies are reject- the Anthropocene/Capitalocene/Plantationocene (Haraway ing the narratives and promises of the OWW (Lyon-Callo 2015; Moore 2016; Tsing 2015). We cannot simply grow and Shear 2019; Shear 2017, 2019). And they are growing or develop our way out of these crises (no matter how “sus- through the proliferation of transition discourses (Escobar tainable” this development might be). Indeed, the coloniz- 2018; and see Lang 2022) and movements for autonomy ing power of modernity is conducted not only through the (Piccardi et al. 2022; Maldonaldo-Villalpando et al. 2022). brutal destruction and re-assembling of worlds into a sin- As the Zapatistas have expressed it, these desires for more gular movement of progress, growth, and development. It autonomous and relational ways of being are a desire for also relegates different ways of being/knowing/doing that “a world in which many worlds fit.” Instead of a singular resist incorporation—that fall outside the dominant order— OWW, there are multiple worlds that make up a pluriverse. to mere beliefs, to be either dismissed or tolerated. Breaking As we will discuss, SE can begin to orient away from the out of the OWW is not an easy proposition as it involves ontological occupation of the OWW and operate as an alter- more than a shift in belief or subjectivity and something native to development . But it can also remain tethered to the deeper than an ideological struggle. It involves rejecting and OWW, as an alternative development that ostensibly seeks to breaking free of the ontological features that set the terms redress the impacts. Whether and how SE movements might of struggle. orient towards and practice pluriversal politics is a primary Just as importantly, however, by understanding and question we explore. Here, we find helpful Escobar’s heu- reframing modernity as a historicized, collective experi- ristic distinguishing among modernist, social justice, and ment (Kimmerer 2020), rather than the given reality, we ontological politics. Modernist politics can be found in strat- can understand it clearly as an imposed fiction. Though egies that embrace growth and capital accumulation as paths it appears and seeks to provisionally “fix” reality (Miller towards well-being, such as enterprise zones designed to 2019), it is simply one possible way to organize and practice attract investment and create jobs. Social justice politics rec- relations, one possible mode of life (way of being/doing/ ognizes and attempts to address the negative consequences thinking). It is becoming increasingly clear that this mode of modernist projects, often aiming for more equality and of life cannot go on. Progress has “stopped making sense” inclusion, for example hiring preferences for underrepre- (Tsing 2015: 25) for many people in many ways, even in sented “minorities” or inclusionary development policies thickly assembled centers of modernity, like the United that require affordable housing. Social justice politics often States. As Blaser and de la Cadena put it, “the world of align with modernist projects, as in the above example, and the powerful is now sensitive to the plausibility of its own remain tethered to the OWW, but because of a recognition destruction in a way that may compare, in at least some of the violences of modernity, a social justice politics can ways, with the threat imposed on worlds sentenced to dis- create openings for ontological politics. Ontological politics appearance in the name of the common goods of progress, involve projects that avoid, unsettle, or reject the constitutive civilization, development, and liberal inclusion” (2018: 3). foundations and features of modernity (growth, individu- As the OWW loses its coherence, the edges and foun- alism, capitalist development, and so on). They are alter- dations of other worlds—already here or still on the hori- natives to development. They seek to engender conditions zon—are becoming more visible. Imaginings and desires for more relational ways of being—both big and small, fractured and coherent, and at the level of the individual See Franzen 2022, Naylor 2022, Kasi and  Saha 2022, and and community—are continually escaping, evading, and Schöneberg et al. 2022 for illuminating explorations of the complex, constructing other worlds even as the OWW seeks to fold contradictory ways that development and post-development ideology in, exclude, or eradicate. In the US, they can be clearly seen are organized around and through. 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1211 from which communities are able to truly imagine and desire and recognized by the state but in others also points to civil ways of being/knowing/doing and begin to make themselves society and informal practices. Common to all SE efforts is beyond the discursive limits and constraints of modernity a politics that engages with economic difference and pos - including realizations of radical interdependence. According sibility, as a means to advance relations, institutions, and to Escobar, a pluriversal politics would engage “all forms of practices that embody rationalities and values that put people politics in the same, though diverse, movement for civiliza- and planet over profit—“things like cooperatives… com- tional transition” (Escobar 2020: xvi). munity land trusts, alternative currencies, time banks, and SE operates in and through each of these three political so on—that privilege cooperative rather than competitive, orientations, often bringing them into tension and some- behaviors, that are democratic rather than hierarchical, that times contradiction. SE proponents sometimes evaluate or seek to bring together rather than individualize, and that promote their success in terms of growth or number of jobs reveal rather than conceal sociality and interdependence” created (a modernist politics). Sometimes, SE is situated (Shear 2019). For example, in contrast to exploitation intrin- as an alternative development project that aims for more sic to capitalist enterprises, in worker-owned cooperatives’ equitable development (as in our 2015 essay). And at other decisions, workers collectively appropriate and decide what times, SE is directed towards the possibility of organizing to do with the surplus value they produce. around and advancing other worlds, where becoming other SE movements have a much shorter history in the United in relation to each other becomes a driving orientation. How States and in Massachusetts, which has now become a hub SE projects might operate as a vehicle for an ontological of SE activity. Prior to the 2008 economic crisis, SE as a politics that relativizes and aims beyond the OWW, as we theory or discourse was largely absent from community contend below, is a matter of care. Before laying out how SE development, organizing, and activist circles. However, in can operate as both a matter of concern and matter of care response to deepening inequalities, the urgencies of eco- with multiple political orientations, we review SE’s recent logical destruction, and a recognition of the limits of liberal history to show its heterogenous elements and meanings. and progressive politics—in response to an unraveling of the OWW—SE has exploded over the past decade along with cognate projects: new economy, community economies, A brief overview of solidarity economy cooperative economy, economic democracy, just transition, movement regenerative economies, and so on . Formal, self-identified SE movements are active in diverse locations like Humboldt Contemporary SE theories and movements are often California, Jackson Mississippi, New York City, and Chi- traced to Latin America (Allard et al. 2008; Miller 2006) cago , to name a few. and Europe (Laville 2010), where communities struggling The 2007 US Social Forum marked an important event against the impacts of capital accumulation and neoliberal in the history of SE in the United States, bringing together restructurings organized forms of exchange and production engaged academics and activists, resulting in the formation to survive and build collective power—bartering and gift- of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (USSEN). USSEN ing, alternative currencies, cooperatives, and commoning has held space for SE imaginings, pushed forward SE epis- practices. Though SE as a named movement might be rela- temology and theory, convened discussions with academics tively new, marginalized and oppressed communities have and activists, helped to forge relationships across geogra- long organized survival strategies and liberation struggles phies and communities, and has linked SE in the United through cooperative and diverse economic practices (Bled- States to international efforts through the International Net- soe et al. 2019; Nembhard 2014). Today, SE projects, institu- work for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIP- tions, and movements flourish across the globe. At its center, PESS). Along with USSEN, the New Economy Coalition SE is an effort to privilege the needs of people and planet emerged in 2012 and has built a national SE network of over over profit. Beyond this premise, there are a range of views, 200 organizations. projects, interests, and understandings that are projected In the early 2010s, SE activity began to pop, spread, and onto SE (Akuno 2017; Borowiak et al. 2018; Matthaei 2018; thicken in different ways across Massachusetts (see Loh and Miller 2006; Safri 2015; Satgar 2014; Shear 2020b), which serves as a sort of “boundary object” (Star and Griesemer 1989) for non-, anti-, and post-capitalist imaginaries. For example, see https:// newec onomy. net/, https:// www. commu nitye conom ies. org/, https:// www. uswor ker. coop/ home/, https:// www. SE can describe a coherent alternative economic system econo micde mocra cy. us/, https:// clima tejus ticea llian ce. org/ just- trans that would replace capitalism or refer to cooperative eco- ition/, https:// peopl esact ion. org/ regen erati ve- econo my/. nomic practices that already and always have existed. For For example, see https:// coope ratio nhumb oldt. com/, https:// coope some it indicates economic reform and for others radical ratio njack son. org/, http:// solid arity nyc. org/, https:// www. woods fund. transformation. SE in some locations is institutionalized org/ news/ the- movem ent- build ing- for- racial- justi ce- fund. 1 3 1212 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 Shear 2015). In Worcester, MA, a network of community 2022), does to de-center and de-naturalize capitalism and groups, students, academics, and activists organized state- open up desires for non-capitalist alternatives, including SE. wide conferences around SE that brought together people In OWW, ‘the economy’ is something real and essentially from across the state, many of whom remain active or have capitalist, submerging actually existing heterogeneous econ- become leaders in SE movements. Local groups identify- omies. But for Gibson-Graham, a diverse economy is not ing with/as SE have formed in western, central, and east- any more real than a capitalist one. Rather, recognizing eco- ern Massachusetts. And conferences, workshops, working nomic difference all around us exposes possibilities. Unset- groups, and formal and informal relationships with SE tled from a singular all consuming, taken-for-granted capi- efforts across the country and internationally have brought talist economy, individuals, organizations, and communities further conversation, and deepened and entangled relation- are better positioned to see, desire, and involve themselves ships amongst SE activists and practitioners. Most signifi- in the making of economy, and thus making themselves. cantly, and as described in the introduction, SE has been Invoking diverse economies weakens the discursive brought into social justice movement spaces, centering the control of capitalism and reveals economy as a matter of needs, desires, and epistemologies of front-line communi- concern. These moves within the first register are impor - ties. Through all this activity, numerous SE enterprises and tant and necessary, but insufficient for SE movement to ori- efforts have emerged, existing efforts have begun to identify ent towards an ontological politics. There are a variety of with SE, and a statewide SE network has formed with the ways that SE can remain bound by OWW. One is an over- intention of advancing the movement. emphasis on SE economic enterprises that practice alterna- There is much at stake in how this movement assembles tive modes of production, exchange, ownership, and finance. and advances. What and who does it include or exclude? These institutions, such as worker-owned cooperatives, have How and by whom are decisions being made? These ques- received a lot of attention because they are presumed to tions of politics are bound up in ontologies that can go embody SE values and principles. And, indeed, non-capi- beyond and/or remain bounded by the OWW. talist institutions and relations can privilege, invite, and ena- ble different logics, principles, and rationalities more than capitalist ones (Byrne and Healy 2006; Cabana and Linares From a matter of concern to a matter of care 2022; Cornwell 2011; Ferguson 2009a, b; Graeber 2010; Mauss 1990; Morris 2022). However, solidarity around and To explore how SE movement might move towards an onto- through relationships of cooperation and interdependence logical politics, we find it useful to see how it is manifesting do not automatically happen in cooperatives or other SE in two registers. First, SE exposes the (presumed capital- institutions but must be worked on and continually made. As ist) economy as a matter of concern (Latour 2004). In this we have argued elsewhere, participation in cooperatives does register, SE works as a difference attractor, making visible not necessarily lead to any particular identification with or diverse economies and possibilities, in variant ways, to dif- desires for particular values, ethics, or political orientation ferently positioned individuals and communities. However, (Shear 2020a engaging with Mulder 2015). SE’s actual practices and how it makes relations are left In a recent essay discussing the responses to the COVID open, operating in and through multiple political orienta- pandemic of a well-known food cooperative in New York tions. In this first register, SE can remain trapped in OWW, City, Hudson (2020) shows how the actualization of SE articulating into and advancing either modernist or a delim- values can be neglected. Park Slope Co-op, in complying ited social justice politics. In a second register, SE becomes with pandemic distancing rules, suspended members from a matter of care (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017), attending to working in the store and hired employees instead, reducing how relations and values are enacted and maintained. In this one of the ways that mutuality and solidarity are practiced register, SE can orient towards an ontological politics, in and shifting its large and economically diverse membership which the goal of building a particular ‘economy’ is sub- base more into the role of a consumer. Recent critiques of merged within a more fundamental effort of organizing the community land trust (CLT) movement portray how around and assembling the conditions from which commu- some have become more of a tool for individualist home nities can enact well-being through solidarity, autonomy, and ownership and affordable housing production, than building relations of interdependence. community and changing relations between people and land In the first register, SE transforms economy from a mat- (DeFilippis et al. 2019, 2018). ter of fact—an object with a particular, concrete essence— Another way that SE can stay within the grips of a mod- to a matter of concern (Latour 2004), a thing is actively ernist politics is by over-focusing on growing, connect- made in and through difference. This shift is precisely what ing, and scaling up of SE institutions and value chains. As Gibson-Graham’s diverse economy framework (Gibson- Hudson (2020: 172) writes, “today, much of SE organiz- Graham 2006; Gibson-Graham et al. 2014; and see Naylor ing is focused on building long-term and ‘scalable’ formal 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1213 institutions (Casper-Futterman 2019). However, often over- We begin with the story of how economy became a matter looked in this process is building the actually existing soli- of concern during a statewide green jobs campaign, reveal- darity between practitioners that can fortify that infrastruc- ing possibilities for building cooperative and alternative ture.” Indeed, scale and growth, within a modernist politics, green enterprises and relations. This was the beginning of a is about neglecting actual relationships and practices. As fight and build approach, which has garnered much traction Tsing describes, “scalability requires that project elements in US SE movements. Fight and build can suggest a dual be oblivious to the indeterminacies of encounter; that’s how orientation towards two worlding projects: attending to the they allow smooth expansion” (2015: 38). Pursuing scale, world as it is (the OWW) and an ontological politics towards perhaps at the expense of enacting SE values and relations, relational worlds in the making. Importantly, a discourse of can also leave the SE movement vulnerable to being coopted fight and build has centered the needs, interests, and knowl- by the state (Sutton 2019) or even multi-national corpora- edge of front-line communities, bringing a social justice tions (RIPESS 2015). politics to the SE. However, it by no means guarantees an Avoiding these pitfalls, then, brings us to the register in ontological politics. We are not suggesting a neat binary which SE can be approached and embraced as a “matter that separates and maps “the fight” onto a politics in the of care.” While thinking of things as matters of concern world as it is, on the one hand, and “the build” onto worlds exposes them as heterogeneous assemblages that are in the in the making, on the other. Building collective power (the making, how things come into being and how they maintain fight) and SE initiatives and relations (the build) can both themselves or change, is a “matter of care” (Puig de la Bel- be contained within the OWW (modernist or social justice lacasa 2017). Care involves an attention to an arrangement variants), without attention to and care for both fighting for and doing of all the things necessary to maintain, transform, and crafting relational worlds. or cultivate particular worlds. Thus, an ontological politics We then describe the emergence of the Solidarity Econ- might ask, what worlds are being cared for and cultivated omy Initiative (SEI) in Boston, bringing social justice base- through solidarity economy politics and practices, and what building groups and funders together to develop vision and might yet be cared for? And what are the politics necessary strategies around SE. SEI has opened up space for engaging to enable and enact this care? These questions, along with in SE as a matter of care, advancing conditions for, embrac- the extent to which subjective and relational transformations ing, and enacting solidarity and interdependent relations. We are occurring in different places, cannot be evaluated in the show how participants are actively rejecting the dictates and abstract, but have to be understood, negotiated, and prac- coordinates of OWW, while also experiencing its tensions ticed in concrete circumstances where multiple and entan- and contradictions. gled political projects and histories are encountered. We now We conclude with the Boston Ujima Project, which was return to our SE movement experiences in Massachusetts, launched by SEI participants to build a local SE ecosys- where we are seeing a move from SE as a matter of concern tem, including a democratically controlled investment fund. to a matter of care. In this project, we see an intention of being other, while also mobilizing and incorporating elements of the ‘master’s tools’—such as philanthropic and private capital—into dif- Fight and build: solidarity economy ferent ways of being/doing/knowing that transgress and help movement in Massachusetts move beyond the OWW. Our SE research and practice is located in Massachusetts, a Green Justice Coalition wealthy state with some of the highest levels of inequality and racial segregation in the US. The efforts we are involved We trace the emergence of SE movement in Massachusetts in have strong bases in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, to the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), which was convened the three largest cities in the state. Each has neighborhoods in 2009 and through which the authors first met. Over sev - with high concentrations of people of color and immigrants, eral years, this statewide alliance of community, labor, and with much higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Bos- environmental organizations fought for and won state poli- ton considers itself a world class city and hub of innovation cies and public investment in energy efficiency and green and knowledge creation and has a dense network of non- jobs. At the time, Penn was director of an environmental profits, funders, community groups, and social movement justice group in Boston (Alternatives for Community and infrastructure. Worcester and Springfield are, to varying Environment—ACE) that had helped launch the coalition. degrees, post-industrial cities that have been struggling with He and others brought a social justice politics to the coali- conventional economic development and have relatively less tion, wanting to ensure that new jobs generated by the policy extensive networks of nonprofits and movement infrastruc- wins would pay living wages and be accessible to com- ture than Boston. munity residents. Shear was working as an organizer with 1 3 1214 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 and learning from the Alliance to Develop Power (ADP), worker cooperatives. During the initial GJC organizing, he a coalition member based in Springfield that had gained would laugh off the role that cooperatives could play, sar - tenant ownership of several housing developments. ADP’s castically deriding them as “so revolutionary.” A little over solution to local hiring and livable wages was to create its a year later, he understood cooperatives to play a significant own jobs through worker and community-owned construc- role in building power in movement politics, attributing this tion and landscaping businesses. ADP had already formed shift to conversations with divergent activists and organ- such a venture to meet the maintenance needs of its housing izers. Aaron Tanaka, who at the time of the GJC was the developments. The idea of building community-controlled director of an unemployed workers organization in Boston, businesses to do the work resulting from winning demands understands SE as a vehicle for the movement to intervene from the state was a revelation for Penn and other coalition directly in economic development. Prior to the emergence members, who dedicated most of their eo ff rts to policy cam - of SE activity, communities, Tanaka relates, had been very paigns. ADP served as a model for fight and build, framing adept at redistributing wealth through policy campaigns, but their efforts as building community economy (Graham and SE and worker cooperatives enable communities to build Cornwell 2009). Economy opened up as a matter of concern, power through ownership. as something that could be made and an arena for imagina- Similarly, for another organizer, SE has shown how to tion and action. bring together movement politics and economic develop- As the coalition waged the policy campaign, ACE con- ment through a fight and build approach. Amethyst Carey, vened a series of workshops with community partners to while serving as Co-Op Organizer with the Center for Eco- learn about cooperative green enterprises. Penn remembers nomic Democracy, had seen the fight as separate and discon- the excitement of many younger participants in hearing nected from the build. As she described, “I was involved about these ideas for the first time, as well that of a veteran with co-ops, and I was involved in movement work. I expe- activist who said it was about time that these strategies they rienced very little connection between the two until I learned had pursued in the 1960s and 70s were finally coming back about Cooperation Jackson and the solidarity economy to the fore. Out of these workshops, ACE and two other movement. As someone who experienced a lot of burn out in community partners set out to develop their own community my organizing work, the idea of uniting our resistance work and worker-owned energy efficiency company (see Center with building alternatives to the systems and structures that for Social Inclusion 2012). Though the effort stalled after a aren't working for us was so exciting—and just made sense.” couple years at the stage of raising startup capital, the vision In these early years of SE movement in Massachusetts, a of creating jobs and our own green economy persisted. social justice politics, which had mostly been in fight mode, Prior to these efforts and events, the economic devel- became inspired by economic possibilities. Seeing economy opment arena had been heavily critiqued by social justice as a matter of concern and learning about diverse economic base-building organizations as reformist and ineffective and practices in other places propelled us to begin fighting for something to oppose, but largely ceded to private sector and building them. businesses and to a neoliberalized community development sector. Seeing economy as a matter of concern generated Solidarity Economy Initiative new learning initiatives, relationships, and desires. Over the next several years, both of us worked with practitioners, Key SE leaders and projects in Massachusetts, including the activists, academics, and students to learn about SE theories, Solidarity Economy Initiative (SEI), emerged in the years practices, and movements from across the world. Both were following the green economy efforts, a time which coincided part of separate delegations to visit the Evergreen Coopera- with the Great Recession, the subsequent Occupy move- tives in Cleveland, which was inspired by the Mondragon ment, and the emergence of Black Lives Matter movement. cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. And both were SEI’s experience shows how SE politics have been evolv- involved with a series of annual statewide conferences in ing from a framework that exposes economy as comprised Worcester held by a newly formed Solidarity and Green of difference, including values and principles beyond the Economy Initiative (Worcester SAGE) that brought together market that can be matched onto cooperative and alternative SE activists and practitioners throughout the state to deepen economic institutions, and towards an ontological politics connections, showcase what existed, and plan, critique and of care, of recognizing and attending to all of the relations, navigate SE efforts. practices, and forces that produce and reproduce worlds. SEI SE opened up green economy and economic discourse began as a deliberate effort to join the fight with the build to new understandings and possibilities for transformation. into a SE movement. In late 2014, eight community base- For example, a labor organizer with the Green Justice Coali- building organizations in Massachusetts (mostly in Boston) tion (GJC) radically changed his beliefs and feelings about came together with several progressive funders to envision 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1215 and develop strategies towards SE. Over a year-long learn- to advance SE, how to assemble in ways that would not be ing and design process, the cohort held quarterly half-day bound by OWW. sessions to build “shared analysis around the need to drive SEI was deliberately set up as a learning space, prompted political, economic and cultural transformation in tandem, by recognition, on one hand, that grassroots organizing strat- in order to move towards a shared vision for an equitable egies for policy change, were limited in achieving significant and abundant future that does not replicate capitalism, patri- transformations. On the other, there was acknowledgement archy, and white supremacy.” Over the past five years, the that if SE was intended to create relational, autonomous grassroots cohort has grown to nearly a dozen, and the quar- communities, SE could not be only about growing or build- terly sessions continue. SEI member groups have launched ing cooperative or alternative economic institutions. As various SE projects, including the Boston Ujima Project, as CED Executive Director and SEI co-founder Aaron Tanaka well as the Chinatown Community Land Trust, the Greater has often stated, “we can’t coop our way out of capitalism.” Boston Community Land Trust Network (GBCLTN), and Just building cooperative businesses is not enough to trans- the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity form the conditions subjugating working class communities (CCDS) supporting Latinx immigrant-led cooperatives in of color. Jeff Rosen of the Solidago Foundation, a funder East Boston. In 2019, SEI also convened a learning group member of SEI, goes a step further by rejecting develop- of nine funders who desire to transform their practices to ment altogether and emphasizing the importance of work- support SE movements. ing towards community autonomy: “we’re not interested in SEI has an explicit social justice politics, in contrast to economic development at Solidago. We’re not interested in some SE formations that lack a justice orientation and/or job creation. We’re interested in that being a tool for build- depoliticize their efforts. It is grounded in social justice ing power… How does having more independent economic movements with roots in liberatory traditions of the US and power give you more independent political power?” beyond. For SEI, the fight for equal access and opportunity Luz Zambrano, one of the founders of CCDS (an SEI and redistributing wealth is a moral and material necessity. member), draws a distinction between coops and their desire But SEI’s social justice politics includes a desire for a nego- for cooperativism: “To us, cooperativism has always been tiated collective care, for a relationality that exceeds the lib- beyond the business. We want what emerges from that eco- eral individualism at the heart of capitalist modernity. SEI nomic piece, but it’s the development of our community and understands its change work in three dimensions: shifting the social and cultural aspect. That’s why the work is much consciousness, building power, and creating economic alter- slower.” This more relational approach to cooperative ways natives (Loh and Jimenez 2017; Loh and Agyeman 2019). of being and creating the conditions and spaces for solidarity As we discuss in more detail elsewhere (Shear 2019), these beyond economy qua economy has emerged as a theme not three dimensions are intended to work together to “carve out just for SEI projects but as a central purpose for SEI itself. ideological [and material] space for negotiated community The grassroots cohort members, many of whom spend a lot control and determination”. of time with one another in other coalitions and alliances, SEI’s experience shows how a social justice politics can value the opportunity to deepen their relationships and be assembled into and help advance an ontological politics. care for one another in SEI. Monique Tú Nguyen, Execu- The first step has been to understand economy as diverse, tive Director of Matahari Women’s Worker Center (an SEI changeable, and in the making, which for SEI meant being member), says that my “personal relationships with other explicit about talking about capitalism and alternatives. Lisa leaders have deepened, even though that’s not explicit. It’s Owens, Executive Director of City Life Vida Urbana (an SEI like I see you and see what your aim and intention is to cre- member) describes how SEI participants first had to confront ate a different world. That’s a different level of respect and their fears of talking about economy. Too many leaders had care beyond just the transactional coalition spaces.” the attitude that “you leave that to the experts. You leave This move towards accounting for and attending to the that to those people out there who know more than me. This relational conditions and practices that we are embedded has nothing to do with me.” But through dialog and learn- in—has been explicit and taken several forms. Healing and ing together, “we have moved beyond the place where we’re transformational leadership have been an integral part of afraid to think about the economy. We know that it’s okay for SEI’s work from its inception, seen as a necessary compo- us to do that. And that it’s right for us to do that now.” Then, nent to address the historical violence and trauma inflicted the challenge becomes how to “confront a pessimism about on communities of color. For example, SEI supported what is actually possible,” says Owens. This unmasking of its members to attend annual healing retreats for women economy then led to further learning and inquiry into how of color. Healing and relational practices have also been infused into SEI spaces. Each quarterly cohort meeting starts with a circle check-in around an altar, where participants are invited to share objects that hold personal and spiritual From website: https:// www. solid arity mass. com/. 1 3 1216 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 significance. These opening sessions can often take an hour organic.” She goes on to say that from this mask order, “the or more of the half-day sessions as participants make them- idea was created that they [the sewing coop] could do some- selves vulnerable to each other, sharing troubles, feelings, thing bigger,” and they have now legally incorporated as and desires, and practicing (and creating) relations of trust a worker cooperative called Puntada (“stitch” in Spanish). and openness. At the same time, an emphasis on relational practices has The practices that embrace relationality and center rela- come into tension with a growth mindset of producing SE tionships are opening space in SEI for ontological politics, projects. SEI was initially conceived as a 3 year incuba- helping members transgress the individualism and growth tion process, where the first phase was a learning process imperatives of capitalist logics and white supremacist cul- designed by the grassroots cohort and the second phase ture that SEI organizations are subjected to and navigate. As was developing SE projects. The third phase would then be described by Matahari’s Nguyen, “SEI helped us think about investments to ‘scale up’ the projects. Alexie Torres, Execu- the whole overall, to build an alternative ecosystem. When tive Director of Access Strategies Fund, a co-founder of the we joined, it was just about the childcare coop” that they SEI, says that some SEI funders are still asking “where are were supporting their members to form. She explains that the coops.” Jasmine Gomez of Access Strategies frames the “before, we were beholden to the people who make deci- challenge as “what does it mean to actually lean into new sions… SEI helped me deepen my belief and commitment ways of being, and not just orienting towards new and dif- to alternatives. Even when we lost funding, since we decided ferent kinds of goals and what are we producing or creating, not to be part of a campaign on our legislators, I’ve been but the process in which we engage it.” pushing the childcare cooperative and alternative forms of Another challenge for SEI is the struggle of their organi- childcare.” Liliana Avendaño of CCDS describes how SEI zations and people to survive, as they resist threats from is a space in which they can say that cooperativism “exists political regimes and economic forces of the OWW which and [they can] defend it as real.” are trying to enclose their very existence. SEI groups are This space of deep relationship and radical imagination simultaneously involved in resistance and reform efforts as in support of world building can be simultaneously thrilling, well as imagining, fighting for, and building solidarity econ- unsettling, and challenging. Nguyen describes how SEI is omies. They are fighting for immigrant and workers rights, filling the “heart space” and “practicing patience and com- while supporting members to form worker coops. They are munity.” But she also thinks that “SEI needs to figure out fighting for more affordable housing and against gentrifying how to get out of posturing ourselves when we are going developments, while building community land trusts, which around in circle, instead of being real. Posturing is what take land out of the market and open other possibilities for we do all the time as nonprofits with our funders.” One SEI collective use and re-envisioning relations. They are operat- funder cohort member believes that “we cannot be wed- ing in the OWW to reform capitalism, while at the same time ded to these past constructs” but that moving into new ones working to birth and sustain other worlds. can feel like “you're barreling down the highway with no For SEI groups, which are all nonprofits, using the mas- guardrails.” ter’s tools means navigating the nonprofit industrial com- The COVID pandemic has shown how the deepening plex (Incite! Women of Color Against Violence 2007), in relationships and shared values that have been cultivated in which they are tethered to and potentially constrained by SEI can create conditions for new projects that do not feel their funding sources. Their efforts to birth cooperative busi- as enclosed by the OWW. Owens of CLVU says that “some- nesses face the same exigencies of all small businesses in times it [our SE work] can feel amorphous. It may take a capitalist markets to compete and be efficient. Yet, winning long time to come together. And then something like COVID incremental reforms can create resources for further building happens, and things explode.” With emergency aid from the SE worlds beyond OWW, what we might describe as “non- City of Boston Resiliency Fund, six SEI members (along reformist reforms”, reforms that create spaces of different with three other community partners) formed a consortium logics and rationalities than those of the dominant formation to assemble wellness kits for families with COVID-positive (Akuno 2017, citing Gorz). For example, the GBCLTN is members across Boston. This mutual aid project took shape leveraging the political pressure generated by anti-displace- quickly, as groups mobilized to respond to immediate needs. ment organizing into more public resources and preferences When they wanted to obtain 2500 masks for the kits, the for CLT land acquisition. This political strategy was, in fact, consortium looked to the sewing cooperative that CCDS how Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (an SEI member) had been supporting in East Boston. Consortium members first won control over land in the 1980s and established its helped to source donated materials for the masks and paid CLT, which now owns 30 + acres (Medoff and Sklar 1994). the sewing cooperative for their labor. Even though Zam- SEI has been sustaining spaces for collective reflection brano had known some of the other leaders of this effort and dialog about how to join up fight and build in ways to for years, she says that “this connection was so natural and assemble other worlds that can transcend the master’s house. 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1217 SEI is approaching and embodying solidarity economy as check-off-the-box community engagement.” For her, the a matter of care. Summit was an example of Ujima’s transformative approach to “just be differently with each other, and with that being, Boston Ujima Project offer an invitation for others to be differently as well.” In the five years since that Summit, Ujima has reached its Perhaps, the clearest example of pluriversal politics to goal of amassing an investment fund of $4.5 million and has emerge in Massachusetts is the Ujima Project. Led by and a full time staff of six and more than 700 members and 280 for working class and front-line communities of color in investors. Currently housed at CED, it intends to become Boston, Ujima is an effort to assemble a local SE ecosys- its own independent organization. Ujima is building what it tem centered around a democratically controlled investment calls an “ecosystem of innovative strategies for change” that fund. Ujima—a Kwanzaa principle meaning collective work includes the fund, a good business alliance, a time bank, and and responsibility—is assembling an array of enterprises, arts and culture-based organizing. Ujima says it is “challeng- democratic decision-making, philanthropic resources, cul- ing poverty and developing our communities by organizing tural and education efforts, and relational practices to enact our savings, businesses and customers to grow local wealth SE. Ujima is attending to creating other realities while also and meet our own needs” and that “another Boston is pos- incorporating elements of the OWW. sible.” Ujima’s founders describe it as “robustly grounded Ujima’s first large public event was held on a Saturday in a reparations frame” and a “collective experiment” (Tan- in August 2016, where more than 150 people gathered for a aka et al. 2021: 444). day-long Solidarity Summit. These participants were among The Boston Ujima Project appeals for varying reasons to the 185 people who had contributed to a pool of $10,000, different sectors. The capital fund attracts those interested along with $10,000 in matching funds from several insti- in ethical investing. The democratic process speaks to those tutional funders, to invest in Black and immigrant-owned interested in building collective control and power. The good community businesses. Participants heard pitches from five business alliance and opportunity to access the capital fund local businesses in the morning and then voted at the end of brings together locally owned businesses and entrepreneurs the day for those they wanted to provide loans to. Over lunch of color. catered by a local business and in various small groups and Ujima’s decision-making and governance structure are a tabling sessions throughout the day, people were encouraged critical part of how it is trying to assemble another world. to get to know one another, engage with local businesses While the capital sources include impact investors, phil- (including ones that were not pitching), get involved with anthropic investments, and individual solidarity investors, community projects, and discuss standards they would like these providers do not make decisions for Ujima. Rather, to see community businesses meet. A live text voting ses- governance of the fund and Ujima itself is reserved for sion resulted in all five businesses being granted their loan members that self-identify as being from working class requests. The day closed with a group song. neighborhoods of color in Boston (Roxbury, Dorchester, Ujima’s founding members included a diverse array of and Mattapan). In-person assemblies and smart-phone vot- individuals and organizations with various ideological lean- ing campaigns allow these members to make shared, ethical ings. They included City Life/Vida Urbana, a housing justice decisions around an expanded economic imaginary. They organizing group with an explicit anti-capitalist stance; Bos- have developed and ratified a set of 36 community standards ton Impact Initiative, a local impact investor; CERO, a Black for local businesses and nominated 140 businesses to apply and Latinx worker cooperative that came out of the green to Ujima’s business alliance and become eligible to receive jobs campaign; and NAACP Boston, which was established loans and investments from the capital fund. in 1911 as the first chartered branch of this national racial Ujima is attentive to how relationships are being built and equity organization. deepened amongst its members in all of its work. According Nia Evans, now the Ujima Director, was serving as the to Evans, “we're not going to just recruit members just to say volunteer chair of the NAACP branch’s economic devel- we have a bunch of members… Our focus is on what’s the opment committee when she was first introduced to Ujima most fulfilling experience for members.” One of the ways in 2015. What attracted NAACP Boston to Ujima, accord- Ujima focuses on the member experience is through arts and ing to Evans, was that participants had an opportunity to culture organizing, which Evans explains is meant to “create both invest in a development fund and vote on how it was experiences that tap into all of the different ways we receive allocated. NAACP members had been frustrated with how development decisions were made in Boston, such as around the City’s bid for the 2024 Olympics. Evans said, “com- See https:// www. ujima boston. com/. munities of color were nowhere to be found in these con- See https:// neces sary. syste ms/ possi bility. versations until much after the fact when it's time to do the See https:// www. ujima boston. com/. 1 3 1218 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 information.” She goes on to elaborate that “someone chang- with differing orientations: modernist, social justice, and ing their world view or changing a belief system isn’t going ontological. Understanding economy as diverse and in the to come just because we had a meeting and we talked about making does not guarantee that SE efforts can escape the what it was and it sounds super exciting. It's going to come colonizing power of the OWW. SE movement can remain by people having multiple and die ff rent types of experiences stuck in a modernist politics of growing and scaling busi- with us, so then wanting to continue to be in community nesses, jobs, and supply chains, albeit SE versions. Like- with us.” Evans believes this experience needs to be more wise, a social justice politics can remain mired in making than just about the fight, which can feel “dry and hard all policy demands on the state and in a nonprofit industrial the time.” However, Ujima does encourage members to join complex that produces incrementalist projects. Within the campaigns led by its base-building partners and has its OWW, SE can easily remain an alternative development. own advocacy agenda for supportive government policies The central question for actualizing an ontological and resources. politics, for advancing an alternative to development, is Ujima’s focus on relationship building also helps to how SE elements are brought into being, assembled, and bridge ideological differences amongst its stakeholders. advanced. Addressing this question, we have argued, is a Ujima intentionally offers “a welcome to outsiders,” says matter of care. It requires attention to and care for all the Evans, as part of an effort to articulate, assemble, and orient ways that worlds are being created and in process, as a pol- difference into an ontological politics. An example is where itics of becoming (Biehl and Locke 2017; Gibson-Graham Ujima has cultivated a relationship with a Black developer et al. 2001; Miller 2019; Shear 2019, 2020a), and repro- engaged in conventional economic development. According duced in particular times and places. In Massachusetts, SE to Evans, “we share Blackness … So even if we might look movement is being advanced through social justice politics at economics differently, … that allows for interaction and and practices of care of base-building organizations that that allows him to be exposed to what we're doing.” center the needs and experiences of front-line working Evans describes Ujima explicitly in ontological terms, class communities of color. Following Escobar, we see as a world-creating project. She says Ujima is “what’s next this social justice politics as amenable to an ontological because we’re doing it. We’re trying our best to create the politics, because of its attunement to the contradictions future. What’s next is different and better than what we are and violence of the OWW. Similarly, non-capitalist insti- fighting against right now… It’s a reality in which there’s tutions and practices that are associated with SE have dif- more energy going to carrying out what we want our com- ferent sets of rationalities than capitalist relations. As a munities in our world to be and less energy going towards result, they have the potential to enable and more readily fighting.” The non-capitalist, cooperative, and participatory embrace and activate subjective transformations, relation- institutions that Ujima is advancing address injustice and ality, collective autonomy, and ethics and values beyond embrace interdependence; they enable people to be with market exchange. each other in new ways through economy qua economy. As we have shown, SEI and Ujima are, in their own ways, But for Ujima, attending to the relations and relationships advancing an ontological politics, though not without ten- outside of their spaces is also essential for their ecosystem sions and challenges. It is a tricky matter to use some of the (other world) to become more durable and expand. master’s tools to dismantle and/or transcend the master’s house and assemble worlds in a pluriverse beyond OWW. There is no predetermined route that can guarantee an onto- Concluding thoughts logical politics. How particular values are being actualized and the extent to which subjective and relational transforma- The solidarity economy (SE) movement has rapidly emerged tions are taking place cannot be evaluated in the abstract, but and evolved over the last decade in Massachusetts. This has to be understood, negotiated, and practiced in concrete movement began with a joining of social justice efforts circumstances where multiple and entangled political pro- around green economy with community green businesses. jects and histories are encountered. SE, and the fight and build approach, reframed economy as SEI groups have created spaces for learning about, dis- a matter of concern, as something that communities can, and cussing, and practicing solidarity and advancing SE projects. already are, part of shaping themselves. SE powerfully func- Yet, they are still nonprofit corporations, in part depend- tions to disrupt the reality of a singular capitalist economy. It ent on the grants provided by SEI’s funding partners. They exposes economy as diverse and changeable, an assemblage face immediate threats and battles to meet basic needs in in the making—in which practices, values, relations, and their communities, such as food and housing. Yet, SEI has institutions beyond capitalism might be enacted. helped its participants begin to name and reject some of the At the same time, the heterogeneous elements of SE are ways of being/doing/knowing that are stuck in OWW, such caught up in, and assembling multiple political projects as fighting endless defensive policy battles and adopting 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1219 productivist growth strategies. Their care for each other and References their communities is creating new grounds for assembling Akbulut B, Demaria F, Gerber JF, Kaul S (2022) Alternatives to sus- diverse public, private, nonprofit, and community resources tainable development: what can we learn from the pluriverse in towards meeting needs in the pandemic. Ujima is creat- practice? Sustain Sci (under review) ing spaces and relationships across partners in community Akuno, K (2017) Build and Fight: The Program and Strategy of Coop- organizing, impact investing, and community development. eration Jackson. In Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. Through democratic practices and relationships of care, Edited by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya 2017:3–42. Daraja participants are opening to new desires and ways of being/ Press. doing/knowing. Allard J, Davidson C, Matthaei J (eds) (2008) Solidarity economy: That the OWW is losing coherence and fracturing in dif- building alternatives for people and planet. Papers and reports from the U.S. Social Forum 2007. Change Maker Publications, ferent ways is creating even more attention to and opportu- Chicago, IL, pp 268–276 nities for SE movement. But the grip of the OWW is still Biehl J, Locke P (2017) “Introduction: ethnographic sensorium.” strong. The embrace of pluralism as a principle by SE net- Unfinished: the anthropology of becoming. Edited by Biehl and works (internationally and in the US) shows a desire to not Locke. Duke University Press, Durham and London Blaser M, de la Cadena M (2018) Pluriverse: proposals for a world of have a “one-size fits all approach”. Yet, pluralism, even a many worlds. In: de la Cadena M, Blaser M (eds) A world of many post-capitalist pluralism, is not necessarily pluriversal. A worlds. Duke University Press, Durham pluralism embedded in OWW still allows for the objectifica- Bledsoe A, McCreary T, Willie W (2019) Theorizing diverse econ- tion and abstraction of SE as a singular economy with forms omies in the context of racial capitalism. Geoforum in Press. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1016/j. geofo rum. 2019. 07. 004 and structures that pre-exist relations. Borowiak C, Safri M, Healy S, Pavloskaya M (2018) Navigating the We conclude with a few thoughts on how SE might be fault lines: race and class in Philadelphia’s solidarity economy. approached to evade the dictates of the OWW and enact an Antipode 50(3):577–603 ontological politics to assemble pluriversal worlds. First is Brown AM (2017) Emergent strategy: shaping change. AK Press, Changing Worlds the importance of attending to and caring for actual practices Byrne L, Healy S (2006) Cooperative subjects: towards a post-fan- and relationships in place, in trying to enact and embody tasmatic enjoyment of economy. Rethink Marx 18(2):241–258 values of solidarity and interdependence everywhere, all Casper-Futterman E (2019) We are what comes next: organizing eco- the time. Second is a rejection of rigid OWW separations nomic democracy in the Bronx. Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University. https:// rucore. libra ries. rutge rs. edu/ rutge rs- lib/ 61705. 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Fight and build: solidarity economy as ontological politics

Sustainability Science , Volume 17 (4) – Jun 25, 2022

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Abstract

This essay explores the potential of solidarity economy (SE) as theory, practice, and movement, to engender an ontologi- cal politics to create and sustain other worlds that can resolve the existential crises of ecological destruction and historic inequalities. We argue that such a politics is necessary to go beyond the world as it is and exceed the dictates of a domi- nant modernity—capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy—that positions itself as the only singular reality—or One World World (Law J (2011) What’s Wrong with a One World World. Heterogeneities. http://www .he terog eneities. ne t/publi catio ns/ Law2011Wha tsW rongW ithA OneW orldW orld.pdf ). What is needed are alternatives to development in contrast to alternative developments. Over the past decade, the SE movement in Massachusetts has advanced a fight and build approach, which has reframed economy as a matter of concern, as something that communities can, and already do, shape themselves—and that powerfully disrupts the reality of a singular capitalist economy. At the same time, the heterogeneous elements of SE are caught up in and assembling political projects with multiple orientations: modernist, social justice, and ontological (Escobar, Pluriversal politics: the real and the possible, Duke University Press, Durham, 2020). SE movement can remain stuck in a modernist politics of growing and scaling businesses and jobs. Even though a social justice approach attends to power and is more amenable to a relational view of reality where things only exist in interconnection, it too can remain mired in One World World liberal politics of redistribution and market ‘solutions’. How SE movement might actualize an ontological politics is a matter of care, an attunement to how relational worlds are coming into being and maintained. As an ontological politics, SE is not about economy qua economy at all, but about creating and sustaining worlds, pluriversal realities where we can be in solidarity with other people, beings, and planetary life systems. Keywords Solidarity economy · Ontological politics · Pluriverse · Fight and build · Social justice · Massachusetts Fight and build more deeply with solidarity economy ideas and practices, learning and organizing together as part of the Solidarity In the Spring of 2018, we participated in an event on build- Economy Initiative (SEI). The day began with workshops ing solidarity economy in a local union hall in downtown on worker cooperatives, collective healing and well-being, Boston. It was hosted by the newly formed Center for Eco- divestment (from extractive economies) and reinvestment (in nomic Democracy (CED) and allied community-based communities), and alternative housing and land. The lively organizations who, over the past few years, were engaging workshops were filled with well over a hundred racially diverse participants, including long-time organizers, mem- bers of community groups, educators, and students. Some Handled by Bengi Akbulut, Concorida University, Canada. were familiar with solidarity economy, and some were learn- ing for the first time. The promise of an economy ripe with * Boone W. Shear bshear@umass.edu values and practices that could put ‘people and planet over profit’ was palpable. Penn Loh Penn.Loh@tufts.edu As a board member of CED and advisor to SEI, Penn helped to organize the day, and led one of the workshops. Tufts University, Medford, USA Boone had brought a group of college students to the event University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, USA Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 1208 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 who had been engaging with SEI leaders and other soli- Solidarity economy (SE) is most plainly associated with darity economy organizations that spring. Two days earlier, ethical and cooperative economic practices, like local cur- both of us—along with about 50 organizers, activists, and rencies, land trusts, community gardens, fair trade, and educators—were 90 miles west, in Springfield, Massachu- cooperatives of all sorts. These SE practices and their asso- setts, having initial conversations about developing a state- ciated values—cooperation, sustainability, justice, interde- wide solidarity economy network. Both of these events—as pendence, autonomy—open the possibility of a more trans- well as two others in Amherst and Worcester—prominently formative vision. The very nature of economy shifts from the involved Kali Akuno, a prominent movement leader, intel- largely taken-for-granted ‘reality’ of a singular exploitive, lectual, and co-founder of the renowned Cooperation Jack- extractive, and unsustainable capitalist economy in which son in Mississippi, who had been brought to Massachusetts individuals compete over scarce resources towards build- to engage with the growing numbers of people and organiza- ing and inhabiting relationships, practices, and values that tions involved in solidarity economy activity. reveal and embrace, rather than conceal and reject, interde- A buffet dinner followed the workshops, and the hall pendence. As SE practitioner and scholar Emily Kawano began to fill with hundreds of community members. A post- argues, SE can be understood as a transformation towards dinner panel featured community leaders from working a post-capitalist system (Kawano 2016: 8). From our per- class communities of color who discussed how solidarity spective, unraveling and detaching from dominant ways of economy connected with organizing political campaigns, knowing/being/doing and orienting towards what might yet fighting against gentrification and for affordable housing, be requires letting go of singular visions of what the world and empowering communities. Akuno presented last, bring- (or economy) should look like. SE invites, but does not guar- ing forward ideas and learnings from Cooperation Jackson. antee, a politics of becoming towards other economies, other Towards the end of the evening, Akuno asked, “do you have selves, and other worlds (Shear 2020a, b). a shared analysis…of where you want to go and a shared program and strategy of how you are going to get there?” In social justice movement spaces in the United States, Overview analysis typically refers to a type of ‘power analysis’ that assesses the relations of power among decision makers, local In this essay, we explore the potential of SE as theory, practice, institutions, community members, and perhaps flows of capi - and movement, to engender an ontological politics—a politics tal. It is a type of analysis that community organizing groups that seeks to uncover and/or advance ways of being that are in Massachusetts have been quite adept at (e.g., Loh and unrecognized or actively suppressed by the dominant reality Erlich 2021; Pastor et al. 2010), gaining significant victories (Lyon-Callo and Shear 2019). We are particularly interested by confronting the state through campaigns to redistribute in a politics, in line with Escobar (2018, 2020) and others, that resources, create more equitable opportunities, and fight advances the conditions from which deep relationality and environmental and social injustices. This kind of analysis interdependence might be imagined, desired, and practiced and politics, oppositional and largely aimed at incremen- (Akuno 2017; de la Cadena and Blaser 2018; Gibson-Graham tal policy reforms, emerges from a mode of opposition and et al. 2014; Miller 2019; Roelvink et al. 2015). We argue that resistance to the features and impacts of systemic and struc- what is needed in the current conjuncture is a politics that, tural violence. What James Ferguson (2009a, b) refers to as following Escobar, operates as an alternative to development a politics of the “antis” (e.g., anti-capitalism, anti-racism, (in contrast to alternative development), that rejects the onto- anti-gentrification) can often remain wedded to and, thus, logical dictates of the dominant reality of modernity—white naturalize the very projects it seeks to oppose. supremacy, patriarchy, the imagined inevitability of growth, Akuno and Cooperation Jackson brought an example of hierarchy, individualism, progress, development, etc. As part how this type of fight in the world as it is, could be stra- of this special issue “Pluriverse in Practice” (Akbulut et al. tegically joined with building transformative, solidarity 2022), we are interested in the potential for SE to enable and economies that could as Akuno explained, help to move us assist communities to fight for, organize around, and assemble beyond “the protest model that we had been invested in for the past 30 years.” Indeed, from our perspective, Akuno’s provocation involves a more fundamental analysis, one that is not only about political strategy in the world as it is, but By relationality we mean the condition that beings do not exist an attunement to and political orientation towards worlds independently of other beings. When referring to relational practices that might yet be—a politics attentive towards other worlds or ways of being, we mean to indicate a recognition of and efforts to already in the making. How this type of ontological politics embrace this condition of interdependence. is emerging, and how it might be deepened and advanced, is 2 We are not suggesting rejecting the possibility of any of these fea- precisely what we are concerned with in this essay. tures, only rejecting the inevitable reality of them. 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1209 autonomous relational worlds, which we will discuss later as Assembling research and politics ‘fight and build’. We begin by clarifying what is at stake in this work and To ground the discussion, we want to briefly situate our - why an ontological politics, from our perspective, is of existen- selves and our work. We have been involved in SE organ- tial importance. While much of life is under ‘ontological occu- izing and broader movement politics in Massachusetts for pation’ by a dominant reality—what John Law theorizes as the almost four decades combined. Penn’s networks emanate One World World (Law 2011), it is full of slippages, ruptures, from the Boston area with social, economic, racial, and envi- and unravelings. The colonial project of modernity is always ronmental justice groups. Boone’s relations are the thickest re-articulating and re-assembling itself, even as it expands. in western and central Massachusetts, working with commu- And, perhaps, it is now, more than ever, losing its coherence. nity organizing groups, activist organizations, and commu- We then turn to SE, sketching out some of the history and nity development nonprofits. Both of us have taught about, meanings ascribed to the movement. Drawing on over a dec- connected students and resources to, written for, and been ade of engaged research in Massachusetts, we show SE func- researchers of and for the organizations where we also serve tioning in multiple registers. We pay particular attention to the on boards, committees, and the like. We are interested in emergence and instantiation of SE with social justice efforts advancing the work in all these spaces. in base-building community organizing groups, particularly More formally, we find methodological resonance with among Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and the approach of activist anthropology (Hale 2001; Lyon- front-line communities. We show that SE has helped to expose Callo and Hyatt 2003). We align ourselves in social and economy as a “matter of concern” (Latour 2004), something symbolic space with the communities and organizations that is assembled and in the making, rather than an essential that we research. And, as members of these organizations, entity or force that exists prior to relations. Making visible and we treat our own experiences, emotions, and understandings opening possibilities for SE helps to create conditions for, but as research, along with that of our “subjects”—friends, col- does not guarantee, a form of politics that escapes the taken laborators, colleagues, comrades. Through this dynamic, we for granted, hegemonic sensibilities of the One World World engage in a dialogical politics at multiple levels, intended (OWW). to open up space for conversation, transformation, and As Audre Lorde (1984) famously said, “the master’s tools becoming. will never dismantle the master’s house.” However, we also Perhaps, a more direct way to describe our engaged find synergy with Walsh and Mignolo (2018) who suggest approach is that our research is not at all sacrosanct or sepa- that transcending, in addition to dismantling, is an important rate from our teaching, writing, learning, organizing, and stance to take. In the case of SE organizing, some of the “mas- activist activities. Instead, these are all overlapping strate- ter’s tools”—e.g., state policies, philanthropic funds—can be gies—subsumed within a broader politics—intended to help used and assembled in place to build the conditions and spaces defend, support, and advance more egalitarian and sustain- for communities to collectively make and remake themselves able worlds. In the case of solidarity economies, we aim to beyond OWW, in ways that embrace and cultivate solidar- help advance conditions from which ways of being beyond ity and interdependence rather than deny them or enact sepa- the dominant reality might emerge and flourish. We under - rations through violence and domination. Approaching this stand our efforts as a “methods assemblage” (Law 2004; and assembling in a pluriversal way is, as we will posit, a matter see Shear 2019) intended to locate and amplify other worlds. of care, an attunement to how worlds are coming into being and maintained (also see Akbulut et al. 2022). As Blaser and de la Cadena (2018: 5) put it, “the pluriverse is not a matter The limits of ontological occupation of fact or a matter of concern but rather an opening toward a possibility that needs care—a matter of care as conceptualized Much of life on earth is operating under ontological occu- by Maria Puig de la Bella Casa.” As an ontological politics, SE pation (Escobar 2020; Blaser and de la Cadena 2018). The is not about economy qua economy at all, but about imagin- One World World (OWW) claims itself as the only, singular ing, building, fighting for, and defending the conditions from reality—the objective world out there that pre-exists inter- which we can realize and embrace our interdependence with relations, which can be discovered through science. Instead other people, beings, and planetary life systems. of realities being produced through constitutive relations between things, OWW ontology is comprised of the famil- iar western dualisms that create separation and dominance between subject and object, people and nature, us and them, and many more. Bodies and minds, practices and relations, are subjected by and assembled into an onto-epistemic order 1 3 1210 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 that shapes what is desirable, actionable, and possible, form- in indigenous struggles to protect sacred relations from ing the terrain on and limits through which social change enclosures and extractions (Whyte 2017); the calls by cli- takes place. Sustainability projects, such as scaling up solar mate justice activists to ‘change everything’ (Klein 2014); energy, can stay enmeshed in relations of capital accumula- the ongoing cooperative survival practices and liberation tion and overconsumption, rather than do away with extrac- strategies (Nembhard 2014)—the freedom dreaming (Kelley tivist visions altogether. 2002; Love 2019)—of front-line communities; the efforts Moreover, the existential crises of ecological destruction of community organizers to invoke relational and emergent and historic inequalities upon us (shared, but divergently practices (Brown 2017; Sandler 2019); and the abolitionist produced and experienced) goes well beyond moral failings, intersectional struggles for Black lives (Gilmore 2021). They government inaction, lack of knowledge, or the interests of are brought into being through powerful social ruptures, the elite. Woven through the fabric of reality itself are cen- such as the explosion of mutual aid in the COVID-19 pan- turies of colonial violence, capital accumulation, patriarchy, demic. They emerge in relation to the increasing number of and white supremacy, leading to the epochal destruction of depressed young people, whose alienated bodies are reject- the Anthropocene/Capitalocene/Plantationocene (Haraway ing the narratives and promises of the OWW (Lyon-Callo 2015; Moore 2016; Tsing 2015). We cannot simply grow and Shear 2019; Shear 2017, 2019). And they are growing or develop our way out of these crises (no matter how “sus- through the proliferation of transition discourses (Escobar tainable” this development might be). Indeed, the coloniz- 2018; and see Lang 2022) and movements for autonomy ing power of modernity is conducted not only through the (Piccardi et al. 2022; Maldonaldo-Villalpando et al. 2022). brutal destruction and re-assembling of worlds into a sin- As the Zapatistas have expressed it, these desires for more gular movement of progress, growth, and development. It autonomous and relational ways of being are a desire for also relegates different ways of being/knowing/doing that “a world in which many worlds fit.” Instead of a singular resist incorporation—that fall outside the dominant order— OWW, there are multiple worlds that make up a pluriverse. to mere beliefs, to be either dismissed or tolerated. Breaking As we will discuss, SE can begin to orient away from the out of the OWW is not an easy proposition as it involves ontological occupation of the OWW and operate as an alter- more than a shift in belief or subjectivity and something native to development . But it can also remain tethered to the deeper than an ideological struggle. It involves rejecting and OWW, as an alternative development that ostensibly seeks to breaking free of the ontological features that set the terms redress the impacts. Whether and how SE movements might of struggle. orient towards and practice pluriversal politics is a primary Just as importantly, however, by understanding and question we explore. Here, we find helpful Escobar’s heu- reframing modernity as a historicized, collective experi- ristic distinguishing among modernist, social justice, and ment (Kimmerer 2020), rather than the given reality, we ontological politics. Modernist politics can be found in strat- can understand it clearly as an imposed fiction. Though egies that embrace growth and capital accumulation as paths it appears and seeks to provisionally “fix” reality (Miller towards well-being, such as enterprise zones designed to 2019), it is simply one possible way to organize and practice attract investment and create jobs. Social justice politics rec- relations, one possible mode of life (way of being/doing/ ognizes and attempts to address the negative consequences thinking). It is becoming increasingly clear that this mode of modernist projects, often aiming for more equality and of life cannot go on. Progress has “stopped making sense” inclusion, for example hiring preferences for underrepre- (Tsing 2015: 25) for many people in many ways, even in sented “minorities” or inclusionary development policies thickly assembled centers of modernity, like the United that require affordable housing. Social justice politics often States. As Blaser and de la Cadena put it, “the world of align with modernist projects, as in the above example, and the powerful is now sensitive to the plausibility of its own remain tethered to the OWW, but because of a recognition destruction in a way that may compare, in at least some of the violences of modernity, a social justice politics can ways, with the threat imposed on worlds sentenced to dis- create openings for ontological politics. Ontological politics appearance in the name of the common goods of progress, involve projects that avoid, unsettle, or reject the constitutive civilization, development, and liberal inclusion” (2018: 3). foundations and features of modernity (growth, individu- As the OWW loses its coherence, the edges and foun- alism, capitalist development, and so on). They are alter- dations of other worlds—already here or still on the hori- natives to development. They seek to engender conditions zon—are becoming more visible. Imaginings and desires for more relational ways of being—both big and small, fractured and coherent, and at the level of the individual See Franzen 2022, Naylor 2022, Kasi and  Saha 2022, and and community—are continually escaping, evading, and Schöneberg et al. 2022 for illuminating explorations of the complex, constructing other worlds even as the OWW seeks to fold contradictory ways that development and post-development ideology in, exclude, or eradicate. In the US, they can be clearly seen are organized around and through. 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1211 from which communities are able to truly imagine and desire and recognized by the state but in others also points to civil ways of being/knowing/doing and begin to make themselves society and informal practices. Common to all SE efforts is beyond the discursive limits and constraints of modernity a politics that engages with economic difference and pos - including realizations of radical interdependence. According sibility, as a means to advance relations, institutions, and to Escobar, a pluriversal politics would engage “all forms of practices that embody rationalities and values that put people politics in the same, though diverse, movement for civiliza- and planet over profit—“things like cooperatives… com- tional transition” (Escobar 2020: xvi). munity land trusts, alternative currencies, time banks, and SE operates in and through each of these three political so on—that privilege cooperative rather than competitive, orientations, often bringing them into tension and some- behaviors, that are democratic rather than hierarchical, that times contradiction. SE proponents sometimes evaluate or seek to bring together rather than individualize, and that promote their success in terms of growth or number of jobs reveal rather than conceal sociality and interdependence” created (a modernist politics). Sometimes, SE is situated (Shear 2019). For example, in contrast to exploitation intrin- as an alternative development project that aims for more sic to capitalist enterprises, in worker-owned cooperatives’ equitable development (as in our 2015 essay). And at other decisions, workers collectively appropriate and decide what times, SE is directed towards the possibility of organizing to do with the surplus value they produce. around and advancing other worlds, where becoming other SE movements have a much shorter history in the United in relation to each other becomes a driving orientation. How States and in Massachusetts, which has now become a hub SE projects might operate as a vehicle for an ontological of SE activity. Prior to the 2008 economic crisis, SE as a politics that relativizes and aims beyond the OWW, as we theory or discourse was largely absent from community contend below, is a matter of care. Before laying out how SE development, organizing, and activist circles. However, in can operate as both a matter of concern and matter of care response to deepening inequalities, the urgencies of eco- with multiple political orientations, we review SE’s recent logical destruction, and a recognition of the limits of liberal history to show its heterogenous elements and meanings. and progressive politics—in response to an unraveling of the OWW—SE has exploded over the past decade along with cognate projects: new economy, community economies, A brief overview of solidarity economy cooperative economy, economic democracy, just transition, movement regenerative economies, and so on . Formal, self-identified SE movements are active in diverse locations like Humboldt Contemporary SE theories and movements are often California, Jackson Mississippi, New York City, and Chi- traced to Latin America (Allard et al. 2008; Miller 2006) cago , to name a few. and Europe (Laville 2010), where communities struggling The 2007 US Social Forum marked an important event against the impacts of capital accumulation and neoliberal in the history of SE in the United States, bringing together restructurings organized forms of exchange and production engaged academics and activists, resulting in the formation to survive and build collective power—bartering and gift- of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (USSEN). USSEN ing, alternative currencies, cooperatives, and commoning has held space for SE imaginings, pushed forward SE epis- practices. Though SE as a named movement might be rela- temology and theory, convened discussions with academics tively new, marginalized and oppressed communities have and activists, helped to forge relationships across geogra- long organized survival strategies and liberation struggles phies and communities, and has linked SE in the United through cooperative and diverse economic practices (Bled- States to international efforts through the International Net- soe et al. 2019; Nembhard 2014). Today, SE projects, institu- work for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIP- tions, and movements flourish across the globe. At its center, PESS). Along with USSEN, the New Economy Coalition SE is an effort to privilege the needs of people and planet emerged in 2012 and has built a national SE network of over over profit. Beyond this premise, there are a range of views, 200 organizations. projects, interests, and understandings that are projected In the early 2010s, SE activity began to pop, spread, and onto SE (Akuno 2017; Borowiak et al. 2018; Matthaei 2018; thicken in different ways across Massachusetts (see Loh and Miller 2006; Safri 2015; Satgar 2014; Shear 2020b), which serves as a sort of “boundary object” (Star and Griesemer 1989) for non-, anti-, and post-capitalist imaginaries. For example, see https:// newec onomy. net/, https:// www. commu nitye conom ies. org/, https:// www. uswor ker. coop/ home/, https:// www. SE can describe a coherent alternative economic system econo micde mocra cy. us/, https:// clima tejus ticea llian ce. org/ just- trans that would replace capitalism or refer to cooperative eco- ition/, https:// peopl esact ion. org/ regen erati ve- econo my/. nomic practices that already and always have existed. For For example, see https:// coope ratio nhumb oldt. com/, https:// coope some it indicates economic reform and for others radical ratio njack son. org/, http:// solid arity nyc. org/, https:// www. woods fund. transformation. SE in some locations is institutionalized org/ news/ the- movem ent- build ing- for- racial- justi ce- fund. 1 3 1212 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 Shear 2015). In Worcester, MA, a network of community 2022), does to de-center and de-naturalize capitalism and groups, students, academics, and activists organized state- open up desires for non-capitalist alternatives, including SE. wide conferences around SE that brought together people In OWW, ‘the economy’ is something real and essentially from across the state, many of whom remain active or have capitalist, submerging actually existing heterogeneous econ- become leaders in SE movements. Local groups identify- omies. But for Gibson-Graham, a diverse economy is not ing with/as SE have formed in western, central, and east- any more real than a capitalist one. Rather, recognizing eco- ern Massachusetts. And conferences, workshops, working nomic difference all around us exposes possibilities. Unset- groups, and formal and informal relationships with SE tled from a singular all consuming, taken-for-granted capi- efforts across the country and internationally have brought talist economy, individuals, organizations, and communities further conversation, and deepened and entangled relation- are better positioned to see, desire, and involve themselves ships amongst SE activists and practitioners. Most signifi- in the making of economy, and thus making themselves. cantly, and as described in the introduction, SE has been Invoking diverse economies weakens the discursive brought into social justice movement spaces, centering the control of capitalism and reveals economy as a matter of needs, desires, and epistemologies of front-line communi- concern. These moves within the first register are impor - ties. Through all this activity, numerous SE enterprises and tant and necessary, but insufficient for SE movement to ori- efforts have emerged, existing efforts have begun to identify ent towards an ontological politics. There are a variety of with SE, and a statewide SE network has formed with the ways that SE can remain bound by OWW. One is an over- intention of advancing the movement. emphasis on SE economic enterprises that practice alterna- There is much at stake in how this movement assembles tive modes of production, exchange, ownership, and finance. and advances. What and who does it include or exclude? These institutions, such as worker-owned cooperatives, have How and by whom are decisions being made? These ques- received a lot of attention because they are presumed to tions of politics are bound up in ontologies that can go embody SE values and principles. And, indeed, non-capi- beyond and/or remain bounded by the OWW. talist institutions and relations can privilege, invite, and ena- ble different logics, principles, and rationalities more than capitalist ones (Byrne and Healy 2006; Cabana and Linares From a matter of concern to a matter of care 2022; Cornwell 2011; Ferguson 2009a, b; Graeber 2010; Mauss 1990; Morris 2022). However, solidarity around and To explore how SE movement might move towards an onto- through relationships of cooperation and interdependence logical politics, we find it useful to see how it is manifesting do not automatically happen in cooperatives or other SE in two registers. First, SE exposes the (presumed capital- institutions but must be worked on and continually made. As ist) economy as a matter of concern (Latour 2004). In this we have argued elsewhere, participation in cooperatives does register, SE works as a difference attractor, making visible not necessarily lead to any particular identification with or diverse economies and possibilities, in variant ways, to dif- desires for particular values, ethics, or political orientation ferently positioned individuals and communities. However, (Shear 2020a engaging with Mulder 2015). SE’s actual practices and how it makes relations are left In a recent essay discussing the responses to the COVID open, operating in and through multiple political orienta- pandemic of a well-known food cooperative in New York tions. In this first register, SE can remain trapped in OWW, City, Hudson (2020) shows how the actualization of SE articulating into and advancing either modernist or a delim- values can be neglected. Park Slope Co-op, in complying ited social justice politics. In a second register, SE becomes with pandemic distancing rules, suspended members from a matter of care (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017), attending to working in the store and hired employees instead, reducing how relations and values are enacted and maintained. In this one of the ways that mutuality and solidarity are practiced register, SE can orient towards an ontological politics, in and shifting its large and economically diverse membership which the goal of building a particular ‘economy’ is sub- base more into the role of a consumer. Recent critiques of merged within a more fundamental effort of organizing the community land trust (CLT) movement portray how around and assembling the conditions from which commu- some have become more of a tool for individualist home nities can enact well-being through solidarity, autonomy, and ownership and affordable housing production, than building relations of interdependence. community and changing relations between people and land In the first register, SE transforms economy from a mat- (DeFilippis et al. 2019, 2018). ter of fact—an object with a particular, concrete essence— Another way that SE can stay within the grips of a mod- to a matter of concern (Latour 2004), a thing is actively ernist politics is by over-focusing on growing, connect- made in and through difference. This shift is precisely what ing, and scaling up of SE institutions and value chains. As Gibson-Graham’s diverse economy framework (Gibson- Hudson (2020: 172) writes, “today, much of SE organiz- Graham 2006; Gibson-Graham et al. 2014; and see Naylor ing is focused on building long-term and ‘scalable’ formal 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1213 institutions (Casper-Futterman 2019). However, often over- We begin with the story of how economy became a matter looked in this process is building the actually existing soli- of concern during a statewide green jobs campaign, reveal- darity between practitioners that can fortify that infrastruc- ing possibilities for building cooperative and alternative ture.” Indeed, scale and growth, within a modernist politics, green enterprises and relations. This was the beginning of a is about neglecting actual relationships and practices. As fight and build approach, which has garnered much traction Tsing describes, “scalability requires that project elements in US SE movements. Fight and build can suggest a dual be oblivious to the indeterminacies of encounter; that’s how orientation towards two worlding projects: attending to the they allow smooth expansion” (2015: 38). Pursuing scale, world as it is (the OWW) and an ontological politics towards perhaps at the expense of enacting SE values and relations, relational worlds in the making. Importantly, a discourse of can also leave the SE movement vulnerable to being coopted fight and build has centered the needs, interests, and knowl- by the state (Sutton 2019) or even multi-national corpora- edge of front-line communities, bringing a social justice tions (RIPESS 2015). politics to the SE. However, it by no means guarantees an Avoiding these pitfalls, then, brings us to the register in ontological politics. We are not suggesting a neat binary which SE can be approached and embraced as a “matter that separates and maps “the fight” onto a politics in the of care.” While thinking of things as matters of concern world as it is, on the one hand, and “the build” onto worlds exposes them as heterogeneous assemblages that are in the in the making, on the other. Building collective power (the making, how things come into being and how they maintain fight) and SE initiatives and relations (the build) can both themselves or change, is a “matter of care” (Puig de la Bel- be contained within the OWW (modernist or social justice lacasa 2017). Care involves an attention to an arrangement variants), without attention to and care for both fighting for and doing of all the things necessary to maintain, transform, and crafting relational worlds. or cultivate particular worlds. Thus, an ontological politics We then describe the emergence of the Solidarity Econ- might ask, what worlds are being cared for and cultivated omy Initiative (SEI) in Boston, bringing social justice base- through solidarity economy politics and practices, and what building groups and funders together to develop vision and might yet be cared for? And what are the politics necessary strategies around SE. SEI has opened up space for engaging to enable and enact this care? These questions, along with in SE as a matter of care, advancing conditions for, embrac- the extent to which subjective and relational transformations ing, and enacting solidarity and interdependent relations. We are occurring in different places, cannot be evaluated in the show how participants are actively rejecting the dictates and abstract, but have to be understood, negotiated, and prac- coordinates of OWW, while also experiencing its tensions ticed in concrete circumstances where multiple and entan- and contradictions. gled political projects and histories are encountered. We now We conclude with the Boston Ujima Project, which was return to our SE movement experiences in Massachusetts, launched by SEI participants to build a local SE ecosys- where we are seeing a move from SE as a matter of concern tem, including a democratically controlled investment fund. to a matter of care. In this project, we see an intention of being other, while also mobilizing and incorporating elements of the ‘master’s tools’—such as philanthropic and private capital—into dif- Fight and build: solidarity economy ferent ways of being/doing/knowing that transgress and help movement in Massachusetts move beyond the OWW. Our SE research and practice is located in Massachusetts, a Green Justice Coalition wealthy state with some of the highest levels of inequality and racial segregation in the US. The efforts we are involved We trace the emergence of SE movement in Massachusetts in have strong bases in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, to the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), which was convened the three largest cities in the state. Each has neighborhoods in 2009 and through which the authors first met. Over sev - with high concentrations of people of color and immigrants, eral years, this statewide alliance of community, labor, and with much higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Bos- environmental organizations fought for and won state poli- ton considers itself a world class city and hub of innovation cies and public investment in energy efficiency and green and knowledge creation and has a dense network of non- jobs. At the time, Penn was director of an environmental profits, funders, community groups, and social movement justice group in Boston (Alternatives for Community and infrastructure. Worcester and Springfield are, to varying Environment—ACE) that had helped launch the coalition. degrees, post-industrial cities that have been struggling with He and others brought a social justice politics to the coali- conventional economic development and have relatively less tion, wanting to ensure that new jobs generated by the policy extensive networks of nonprofits and movement infrastruc- wins would pay living wages and be accessible to com- ture than Boston. munity residents. Shear was working as an organizer with 1 3 1214 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 and learning from the Alliance to Develop Power (ADP), worker cooperatives. During the initial GJC organizing, he a coalition member based in Springfield that had gained would laugh off the role that cooperatives could play, sar - tenant ownership of several housing developments. ADP’s castically deriding them as “so revolutionary.” A little over solution to local hiring and livable wages was to create its a year later, he understood cooperatives to play a significant own jobs through worker and community-owned construc- role in building power in movement politics, attributing this tion and landscaping businesses. ADP had already formed shift to conversations with divergent activists and organ- such a venture to meet the maintenance needs of its housing izers. Aaron Tanaka, who at the time of the GJC was the developments. The idea of building community-controlled director of an unemployed workers organization in Boston, businesses to do the work resulting from winning demands understands SE as a vehicle for the movement to intervene from the state was a revelation for Penn and other coalition directly in economic development. Prior to the emergence members, who dedicated most of their eo ff rts to policy cam - of SE activity, communities, Tanaka relates, had been very paigns. ADP served as a model for fight and build, framing adept at redistributing wealth through policy campaigns, but their efforts as building community economy (Graham and SE and worker cooperatives enable communities to build Cornwell 2009). Economy opened up as a matter of concern, power through ownership. as something that could be made and an arena for imagina- Similarly, for another organizer, SE has shown how to tion and action. bring together movement politics and economic develop- As the coalition waged the policy campaign, ACE con- ment through a fight and build approach. Amethyst Carey, vened a series of workshops with community partners to while serving as Co-Op Organizer with the Center for Eco- learn about cooperative green enterprises. Penn remembers nomic Democracy, had seen the fight as separate and discon- the excitement of many younger participants in hearing nected from the build. As she described, “I was involved about these ideas for the first time, as well that of a veteran with co-ops, and I was involved in movement work. I expe- activist who said it was about time that these strategies they rienced very little connection between the two until I learned had pursued in the 1960s and 70s were finally coming back about Cooperation Jackson and the solidarity economy to the fore. Out of these workshops, ACE and two other movement. As someone who experienced a lot of burn out in community partners set out to develop their own community my organizing work, the idea of uniting our resistance work and worker-owned energy efficiency company (see Center with building alternatives to the systems and structures that for Social Inclusion 2012). Though the effort stalled after a aren't working for us was so exciting—and just made sense.” couple years at the stage of raising startup capital, the vision In these early years of SE movement in Massachusetts, a of creating jobs and our own green economy persisted. social justice politics, which had mostly been in fight mode, Prior to these efforts and events, the economic devel- became inspired by economic possibilities. Seeing economy opment arena had been heavily critiqued by social justice as a matter of concern and learning about diverse economic base-building organizations as reformist and ineffective and practices in other places propelled us to begin fighting for something to oppose, but largely ceded to private sector and building them. businesses and to a neoliberalized community development sector. Seeing economy as a matter of concern generated Solidarity Economy Initiative new learning initiatives, relationships, and desires. Over the next several years, both of us worked with practitioners, Key SE leaders and projects in Massachusetts, including the activists, academics, and students to learn about SE theories, Solidarity Economy Initiative (SEI), emerged in the years practices, and movements from across the world. Both were following the green economy efforts, a time which coincided part of separate delegations to visit the Evergreen Coopera- with the Great Recession, the subsequent Occupy move- tives in Cleveland, which was inspired by the Mondragon ment, and the emergence of Black Lives Matter movement. cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. And both were SEI’s experience shows how SE politics have been evolv- involved with a series of annual statewide conferences in ing from a framework that exposes economy as comprised Worcester held by a newly formed Solidarity and Green of difference, including values and principles beyond the Economy Initiative (Worcester SAGE) that brought together market that can be matched onto cooperative and alternative SE activists and practitioners throughout the state to deepen economic institutions, and towards an ontological politics connections, showcase what existed, and plan, critique and of care, of recognizing and attending to all of the relations, navigate SE efforts. practices, and forces that produce and reproduce worlds. SEI SE opened up green economy and economic discourse began as a deliberate effort to join the fight with the build to new understandings and possibilities for transformation. into a SE movement. In late 2014, eight community base- For example, a labor organizer with the Green Justice Coali- building organizations in Massachusetts (mostly in Boston) tion (GJC) radically changed his beliefs and feelings about came together with several progressive funders to envision 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1215 and develop strategies towards SE. Over a year-long learn- to advance SE, how to assemble in ways that would not be ing and design process, the cohort held quarterly half-day bound by OWW. sessions to build “shared analysis around the need to drive SEI was deliberately set up as a learning space, prompted political, economic and cultural transformation in tandem, by recognition, on one hand, that grassroots organizing strat- in order to move towards a shared vision for an equitable egies for policy change, were limited in achieving significant and abundant future that does not replicate capitalism, patri- transformations. On the other, there was acknowledgement archy, and white supremacy.” Over the past five years, the that if SE was intended to create relational, autonomous grassroots cohort has grown to nearly a dozen, and the quar- communities, SE could not be only about growing or build- terly sessions continue. SEI member groups have launched ing cooperative or alternative economic institutions. As various SE projects, including the Boston Ujima Project, as CED Executive Director and SEI co-founder Aaron Tanaka well as the Chinatown Community Land Trust, the Greater has often stated, “we can’t coop our way out of capitalism.” Boston Community Land Trust Network (GBCLTN), and Just building cooperative businesses is not enough to trans- the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity form the conditions subjugating working class communities (CCDS) supporting Latinx immigrant-led cooperatives in of color. Jeff Rosen of the Solidago Foundation, a funder East Boston. In 2019, SEI also convened a learning group member of SEI, goes a step further by rejecting develop- of nine funders who desire to transform their practices to ment altogether and emphasizing the importance of work- support SE movements. ing towards community autonomy: “we’re not interested in SEI has an explicit social justice politics, in contrast to economic development at Solidago. We’re not interested in some SE formations that lack a justice orientation and/or job creation. We’re interested in that being a tool for build- depoliticize their efforts. It is grounded in social justice ing power… How does having more independent economic movements with roots in liberatory traditions of the US and power give you more independent political power?” beyond. For SEI, the fight for equal access and opportunity Luz Zambrano, one of the founders of CCDS (an SEI and redistributing wealth is a moral and material necessity. member), draws a distinction between coops and their desire But SEI’s social justice politics includes a desire for a nego- for cooperativism: “To us, cooperativism has always been tiated collective care, for a relationality that exceeds the lib- beyond the business. We want what emerges from that eco- eral individualism at the heart of capitalist modernity. SEI nomic piece, but it’s the development of our community and understands its change work in three dimensions: shifting the social and cultural aspect. That’s why the work is much consciousness, building power, and creating economic alter- slower.” This more relational approach to cooperative ways natives (Loh and Jimenez 2017; Loh and Agyeman 2019). of being and creating the conditions and spaces for solidarity As we discuss in more detail elsewhere (Shear 2019), these beyond economy qua economy has emerged as a theme not three dimensions are intended to work together to “carve out just for SEI projects but as a central purpose for SEI itself. ideological [and material] space for negotiated community The grassroots cohort members, many of whom spend a lot control and determination”. of time with one another in other coalitions and alliances, SEI’s experience shows how a social justice politics can value the opportunity to deepen their relationships and be assembled into and help advance an ontological politics. care for one another in SEI. Monique Tú Nguyen, Execu- The first step has been to understand economy as diverse, tive Director of Matahari Women’s Worker Center (an SEI changeable, and in the making, which for SEI meant being member), says that my “personal relationships with other explicit about talking about capitalism and alternatives. Lisa leaders have deepened, even though that’s not explicit. It’s Owens, Executive Director of City Life Vida Urbana (an SEI like I see you and see what your aim and intention is to cre- member) describes how SEI participants first had to confront ate a different world. That’s a different level of respect and their fears of talking about economy. Too many leaders had care beyond just the transactional coalition spaces.” the attitude that “you leave that to the experts. You leave This move towards accounting for and attending to the that to those people out there who know more than me. This relational conditions and practices that we are embedded has nothing to do with me.” But through dialog and learn- in—has been explicit and taken several forms. Healing and ing together, “we have moved beyond the place where we’re transformational leadership have been an integral part of afraid to think about the economy. We know that it’s okay for SEI’s work from its inception, seen as a necessary compo- us to do that. And that it’s right for us to do that now.” Then, nent to address the historical violence and trauma inflicted the challenge becomes how to “confront a pessimism about on communities of color. For example, SEI supported what is actually possible,” says Owens. This unmasking of its members to attend annual healing retreats for women economy then led to further learning and inquiry into how of color. Healing and relational practices have also been infused into SEI spaces. Each quarterly cohort meeting starts with a circle check-in around an altar, where participants are invited to share objects that hold personal and spiritual From website: https:// www. solid arity mass. com/. 1 3 1216 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 significance. These opening sessions can often take an hour organic.” She goes on to say that from this mask order, “the or more of the half-day sessions as participants make them- idea was created that they [the sewing coop] could do some- selves vulnerable to each other, sharing troubles, feelings, thing bigger,” and they have now legally incorporated as and desires, and practicing (and creating) relations of trust a worker cooperative called Puntada (“stitch” in Spanish). and openness. At the same time, an emphasis on relational practices has The practices that embrace relationality and center rela- come into tension with a growth mindset of producing SE tionships are opening space in SEI for ontological politics, projects. SEI was initially conceived as a 3 year incuba- helping members transgress the individualism and growth tion process, where the first phase was a learning process imperatives of capitalist logics and white supremacist cul- designed by the grassroots cohort and the second phase ture that SEI organizations are subjected to and navigate. As was developing SE projects. The third phase would then be described by Matahari’s Nguyen, “SEI helped us think about investments to ‘scale up’ the projects. Alexie Torres, Execu- the whole overall, to build an alternative ecosystem. When tive Director of Access Strategies Fund, a co-founder of the we joined, it was just about the childcare coop” that they SEI, says that some SEI funders are still asking “where are were supporting their members to form. She explains that the coops.” Jasmine Gomez of Access Strategies frames the “before, we were beholden to the people who make deci- challenge as “what does it mean to actually lean into new sions… SEI helped me deepen my belief and commitment ways of being, and not just orienting towards new and dif- to alternatives. Even when we lost funding, since we decided ferent kinds of goals and what are we producing or creating, not to be part of a campaign on our legislators, I’ve been but the process in which we engage it.” pushing the childcare cooperative and alternative forms of Another challenge for SEI is the struggle of their organi- childcare.” Liliana Avendaño of CCDS describes how SEI zations and people to survive, as they resist threats from is a space in which they can say that cooperativism “exists political regimes and economic forces of the OWW which and [they can] defend it as real.” are trying to enclose their very existence. SEI groups are This space of deep relationship and radical imagination simultaneously involved in resistance and reform efforts as in support of world building can be simultaneously thrilling, well as imagining, fighting for, and building solidarity econ- unsettling, and challenging. Nguyen describes how SEI is omies. They are fighting for immigrant and workers rights, filling the “heart space” and “practicing patience and com- while supporting members to form worker coops. They are munity.” But she also thinks that “SEI needs to figure out fighting for more affordable housing and against gentrifying how to get out of posturing ourselves when we are going developments, while building community land trusts, which around in circle, instead of being real. Posturing is what take land out of the market and open other possibilities for we do all the time as nonprofits with our funders.” One SEI collective use and re-envisioning relations. They are operat- funder cohort member believes that “we cannot be wed- ing in the OWW to reform capitalism, while at the same time ded to these past constructs” but that moving into new ones working to birth and sustain other worlds. can feel like “you're barreling down the highway with no For SEI groups, which are all nonprofits, using the mas- guardrails.” ter’s tools means navigating the nonprofit industrial com- The COVID pandemic has shown how the deepening plex (Incite! Women of Color Against Violence 2007), in relationships and shared values that have been cultivated in which they are tethered to and potentially constrained by SEI can create conditions for new projects that do not feel their funding sources. Their efforts to birth cooperative busi- as enclosed by the OWW. Owens of CLVU says that “some- nesses face the same exigencies of all small businesses in times it [our SE work] can feel amorphous. It may take a capitalist markets to compete and be efficient. Yet, winning long time to come together. And then something like COVID incremental reforms can create resources for further building happens, and things explode.” With emergency aid from the SE worlds beyond OWW, what we might describe as “non- City of Boston Resiliency Fund, six SEI members (along reformist reforms”, reforms that create spaces of different with three other community partners) formed a consortium logics and rationalities than those of the dominant formation to assemble wellness kits for families with COVID-positive (Akuno 2017, citing Gorz). For example, the GBCLTN is members across Boston. This mutual aid project took shape leveraging the political pressure generated by anti-displace- quickly, as groups mobilized to respond to immediate needs. ment organizing into more public resources and preferences When they wanted to obtain 2500 masks for the kits, the for CLT land acquisition. This political strategy was, in fact, consortium looked to the sewing cooperative that CCDS how Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (an SEI member) had been supporting in East Boston. Consortium members first won control over land in the 1980s and established its helped to source donated materials for the masks and paid CLT, which now owns 30 + acres (Medoff and Sklar 1994). the sewing cooperative for their labor. Even though Zam- SEI has been sustaining spaces for collective reflection brano had known some of the other leaders of this effort and dialog about how to join up fight and build in ways to for years, she says that “this connection was so natural and assemble other worlds that can transcend the master’s house. 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1217 SEI is approaching and embodying solidarity economy as check-off-the-box community engagement.” For her, the a matter of care. Summit was an example of Ujima’s transformative approach to “just be differently with each other, and with that being, Boston Ujima Project offer an invitation for others to be differently as well.” In the five years since that Summit, Ujima has reached its Perhaps, the clearest example of pluriversal politics to goal of amassing an investment fund of $4.5 million and has emerge in Massachusetts is the Ujima Project. Led by and a full time staff of six and more than 700 members and 280 for working class and front-line communities of color in investors. Currently housed at CED, it intends to become Boston, Ujima is an effort to assemble a local SE ecosys- its own independent organization. Ujima is building what it tem centered around a democratically controlled investment calls an “ecosystem of innovative strategies for change” that fund. Ujima—a Kwanzaa principle meaning collective work includes the fund, a good business alliance, a time bank, and and responsibility—is assembling an array of enterprises, arts and culture-based organizing. Ujima says it is “challeng- democratic decision-making, philanthropic resources, cul- ing poverty and developing our communities by organizing tural and education efforts, and relational practices to enact our savings, businesses and customers to grow local wealth SE. Ujima is attending to creating other realities while also and meet our own needs” and that “another Boston is pos- incorporating elements of the OWW. sible.” Ujima’s founders describe it as “robustly grounded Ujima’s first large public event was held on a Saturday in a reparations frame” and a “collective experiment” (Tan- in August 2016, where more than 150 people gathered for a aka et al. 2021: 444). day-long Solidarity Summit. These participants were among The Boston Ujima Project appeals for varying reasons to the 185 people who had contributed to a pool of $10,000, different sectors. The capital fund attracts those interested along with $10,000 in matching funds from several insti- in ethical investing. The democratic process speaks to those tutional funders, to invest in Black and immigrant-owned interested in building collective control and power. The good community businesses. Participants heard pitches from five business alliance and opportunity to access the capital fund local businesses in the morning and then voted at the end of brings together locally owned businesses and entrepreneurs the day for those they wanted to provide loans to. Over lunch of color. catered by a local business and in various small groups and Ujima’s decision-making and governance structure are a tabling sessions throughout the day, people were encouraged critical part of how it is trying to assemble another world. to get to know one another, engage with local businesses While the capital sources include impact investors, phil- (including ones that were not pitching), get involved with anthropic investments, and individual solidarity investors, community projects, and discuss standards they would like these providers do not make decisions for Ujima. Rather, to see community businesses meet. A live text voting ses- governance of the fund and Ujima itself is reserved for sion resulted in all five businesses being granted their loan members that self-identify as being from working class requests. The day closed with a group song. neighborhoods of color in Boston (Roxbury, Dorchester, Ujima’s founding members included a diverse array of and Mattapan). In-person assemblies and smart-phone vot- individuals and organizations with various ideological lean- ing campaigns allow these members to make shared, ethical ings. They included City Life/Vida Urbana, a housing justice decisions around an expanded economic imaginary. They organizing group with an explicit anti-capitalist stance; Bos- have developed and ratified a set of 36 community standards ton Impact Initiative, a local impact investor; CERO, a Black for local businesses and nominated 140 businesses to apply and Latinx worker cooperative that came out of the green to Ujima’s business alliance and become eligible to receive jobs campaign; and NAACP Boston, which was established loans and investments from the capital fund. in 1911 as the first chartered branch of this national racial Ujima is attentive to how relationships are being built and equity organization. deepened amongst its members in all of its work. According Nia Evans, now the Ujima Director, was serving as the to Evans, “we're not going to just recruit members just to say volunteer chair of the NAACP branch’s economic devel- we have a bunch of members… Our focus is on what’s the opment committee when she was first introduced to Ujima most fulfilling experience for members.” One of the ways in 2015. What attracted NAACP Boston to Ujima, accord- Ujima focuses on the member experience is through arts and ing to Evans, was that participants had an opportunity to culture organizing, which Evans explains is meant to “create both invest in a development fund and vote on how it was experiences that tap into all of the different ways we receive allocated. NAACP members had been frustrated with how development decisions were made in Boston, such as around the City’s bid for the 2024 Olympics. Evans said, “com- See https:// www. ujima boston. com/. munities of color were nowhere to be found in these con- See https:// neces sary. syste ms/ possi bility. versations until much after the fact when it's time to do the See https:// www. ujima boston. com/. 1 3 1218 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 information.” She goes on to elaborate that “someone chang- with differing orientations: modernist, social justice, and ing their world view or changing a belief system isn’t going ontological. Understanding economy as diverse and in the to come just because we had a meeting and we talked about making does not guarantee that SE efforts can escape the what it was and it sounds super exciting. It's going to come colonizing power of the OWW. SE movement can remain by people having multiple and die ff rent types of experiences stuck in a modernist politics of growing and scaling busi- with us, so then wanting to continue to be in community nesses, jobs, and supply chains, albeit SE versions. Like- with us.” Evans believes this experience needs to be more wise, a social justice politics can remain mired in making than just about the fight, which can feel “dry and hard all policy demands on the state and in a nonprofit industrial the time.” However, Ujima does encourage members to join complex that produces incrementalist projects. Within the campaigns led by its base-building partners and has its OWW, SE can easily remain an alternative development. own advocacy agenda for supportive government policies The central question for actualizing an ontological and resources. politics, for advancing an alternative to development, is Ujima’s focus on relationship building also helps to how SE elements are brought into being, assembled, and bridge ideological differences amongst its stakeholders. advanced. Addressing this question, we have argued, is a Ujima intentionally offers “a welcome to outsiders,” says matter of care. It requires attention to and care for all the Evans, as part of an effort to articulate, assemble, and orient ways that worlds are being created and in process, as a pol- difference into an ontological politics. An example is where itics of becoming (Biehl and Locke 2017; Gibson-Graham Ujima has cultivated a relationship with a Black developer et al. 2001; Miller 2019; Shear 2019, 2020a), and repro- engaged in conventional economic development. According duced in particular times and places. In Massachusetts, SE to Evans, “we share Blackness … So even if we might look movement is being advanced through social justice politics at economics differently, … that allows for interaction and and practices of care of base-building organizations that that allows him to be exposed to what we're doing.” center the needs and experiences of front-line working Evans describes Ujima explicitly in ontological terms, class communities of color. Following Escobar, we see as a world-creating project. She says Ujima is “what’s next this social justice politics as amenable to an ontological because we’re doing it. We’re trying our best to create the politics, because of its attunement to the contradictions future. What’s next is different and better than what we are and violence of the OWW. Similarly, non-capitalist insti- fighting against right now… It’s a reality in which there’s tutions and practices that are associated with SE have dif- more energy going to carrying out what we want our com- ferent sets of rationalities than capitalist relations. As a munities in our world to be and less energy going towards result, they have the potential to enable and more readily fighting.” The non-capitalist, cooperative, and participatory embrace and activate subjective transformations, relation- institutions that Ujima is advancing address injustice and ality, collective autonomy, and ethics and values beyond embrace interdependence; they enable people to be with market exchange. each other in new ways through economy qua economy. As we have shown, SEI and Ujima are, in their own ways, But for Ujima, attending to the relations and relationships advancing an ontological politics, though not without ten- outside of their spaces is also essential for their ecosystem sions and challenges. It is a tricky matter to use some of the (other world) to become more durable and expand. master’s tools to dismantle and/or transcend the master’s house and assemble worlds in a pluriverse beyond OWW. There is no predetermined route that can guarantee an onto- Concluding thoughts logical politics. How particular values are being actualized and the extent to which subjective and relational transforma- The solidarity economy (SE) movement has rapidly emerged tions are taking place cannot be evaluated in the abstract, but and evolved over the last decade in Massachusetts. This has to be understood, negotiated, and practiced in concrete movement began with a joining of social justice efforts circumstances where multiple and entangled political pro- around green economy with community green businesses. jects and histories are encountered. SE, and the fight and build approach, reframed economy as SEI groups have created spaces for learning about, dis- a matter of concern, as something that communities can, and cussing, and practicing solidarity and advancing SE projects. already are, part of shaping themselves. SE powerfully func- Yet, they are still nonprofit corporations, in part depend- tions to disrupt the reality of a singular capitalist economy. It ent on the grants provided by SEI’s funding partners. They exposes economy as diverse and changeable, an assemblage face immediate threats and battles to meet basic needs in in the making—in which practices, values, relations, and their communities, such as food and housing. Yet, SEI has institutions beyond capitalism might be enacted. helped its participants begin to name and reject some of the At the same time, the heterogeneous elements of SE are ways of being/doing/knowing that are stuck in OWW, such caught up in, and assembling multiple political projects as fighting endless defensive policy battles and adopting 1 3 Sustainability Science (2022) 17:1207–1221 1219 productivist growth strategies. Their care for each other and References their communities is creating new grounds for assembling Akbulut B, Demaria F, Gerber JF, Kaul S (2022) Alternatives to sus- diverse public, private, nonprofit, and community resources tainable development: what can we learn from the pluriverse in towards meeting needs in the pandemic. Ujima is creat- practice? 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Published: Jun 25, 2022

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