Economies as cycles

economic-cyclesLast summer, as we were embarking on the second phase of the Live Arts Media Project, we held a training to prepare old LAMP youth to lead a summer program for new participants.  In 2006, we had made this amazing CD about the drop-out crisis in Detroit.  The 2008 summer program was focused on creating videos to accompany the CD, exploring some of the major themes in greater depth, offering more concrete solutions to the problems identified through the CD.

The three main themes on which we focused the videos were:  alternatives to criminalization, respect, and cooperative economics.  We arrived at these topics after a two-year-long participatory research project, in which the youth who created the CD led workshops in Detroit Public Schools, generating discussion about possible solutions to the drop-out crisis.

It was essential that the 2008 summer program be led by youth who participated in the 2006 program.  So we held this 3 day intensive training, where we thought through a long-term strategy for how these videos could be used to transform the education system in Detroit and then prepared the 3 youth leaders to engage new people in that process.  Jon, Andrea and Starlet were each drawn to one of the subject areas (respect, alternatives to criminalization and cooperative economics respectively).  Each of them designed a workshop to break down their issue for the new participants through popular education techniques.

Starlet, whose topic was cooperative economics, broke it down like this: “economy means cycle.  So when you have an unhealthy economy, where there are no jobs, and no support systems, it creates a cycle where schools are bad, and people use drugs, and children have no future.”  Alternatively, when you have a healthy economy, it supports the health of the community in all those different ways.  But a healthy economy doesn’t have to start with jobs.  It can start with the ingenuity of young people, and it can be fostered through a better system of education.

At the time I remember thinking– “economy doesn’t actually mean cycle.  It means the system of production, distribution and consumption that dictates our lives.”  But why should we accept that definition? The more I think about the whole “media-based economy for Detroit’s future” argument, the more  I realize that we have to embrace a new meaning of economy altogether.  It should be viewed as a cycle. As organizers working for justice and transformation, in our lives and our communities, we have to begin thinking in terms of creating new economies (which is cyclical), rather than simply “movement-building” (which is linear).

We can create economies of information, creativity, resource-generation and sharing.  At the heart of an economy is an exchange– the recognition that you have something to gain and something to offer.  Too often the idea of movement-building relies on an assumption of everything to give and nothing to gain.  We become obsessed with having the perfect analysis, and we isolate ourselves among increasingly narrow communities of people who affirm that analysis.  But in an economy of information, we are constantly giving and receiving.  We wrestle with contradictions and move ideas to their next level, only to uncover new contradictions.  I had this realization today, when chatting with BFP about her new project.

I told her that I was inspired by the conversation taking place on her blog, between her and Jess Hoffman of Make/Shift Magazine. They’ve been developing this concept of “movement-making” as opposed to “building THE movement.”  Where as “movement-building” implies that we just need to organize all the masses of bricks and 2x4s into the right design, towards an end-point of “justice–The End,” movement-making is about a much more ongoing, experimental, horizontal approach to transformation.  It accepts that we are never “done,” but rather, constantly in the process of making and remaking.  After I told her that her writing had inspired the vision for the 2009 AMC,  she said “I’m so humbled.  Because I was inspired by YALL.” To me this represents the best-case scenario.  Where our actions, our anlaysis and our new ideas create a constant feedback loop throughout our community.

But to create that kind of shift in consciousness- from linear thinking to cyclical thinking, from answer-giving to question-asking, we need radical new forms of education. There was an exciting conversation on the topic of transformative education tonight at the Boggs Center.  Bill Ayers and Berndaine Dohrn were visiting, talking about their new book, Race Course Against White Supremacy. The phrase that stuck out in my mind from the conversation was, “there is an incalculable value in every single human being.”  Our education systems can either maximize or destroy that potential.

I’m interested in the idea of an economy that cycles through everything– from the way we learn to the way we solve problems, to the way we sustain ourselves and generate wealth.  And when I say wealth, i mean it in the economic, cultural, environmental, intellectual, and spiritual sense.


4 Responses to “Economies as cycles”

  1. 1 Mike March 1, 2009 at 3:30 pm

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