Banco Palmas, Brazil - What Role can Community Organizing Play against Structural Violence?
Banco Palmas and Instituto Palmas grew out of community organizing in the seventies where poor, neglected favelas mobilized hundreds of local volunteers and lobbied all levels of government. This early neighbourhood association was able to establish community centres, irrigation, basic utilities and infrastructure. Their analysis of the local situation and economy led them to create community banks and a social currency. Both models have spread throughout the country.
The approach they took using "Solidarity Economy" builds on the idea that economies should be place-based focused on local economies and local relations of trust and accountability. In practice, this means building individual and collective capacity to continually analyze the current reality. It means building formal and informal networks to encourage people to buy and produce locally, to address other community issues of safety and identity through dialogue. The community oversight and accountability is key and a distinguishing factor in how most economic models are designed. Both locally and nationally, networks were created to ensure that broader community issues of relevance are addressed and not narrowly financial or economic concerns.
However, current crises in Brazil have clawed back some of these gains and called into question the notion that small and localized is beautiful. BP played a tremendous role historically and continues to play an important role in the community and national dialogue. Community organizing was effective when poverty was visible and tangible.
In today’s climate of a political and economic crisis nationally, structural violence such as trafficking, poverty is not tangible, visible nor locally confined to the outskirt communities, even to the borders of Brazil. The urgent questions today relate to how far community mobilization and building civic capacities can go in the face of hidden powers such as organized crime and trafficking or rooted problems of gender-based violence?
Community and networked responses have never been more critical. What kind of collective and community analysis is needed today? What shape does organizing have to take in a globalized world where structural violence exists? What does the Banco Palmas story ask of us?
For some reason, I've been giving this a lot of thought lately.
I like Adrienne Rich's answer to a similar question, "Can poetry affect social change?":
"Yes, where poetry is liberative language, connecting the fragments within us, connecting us to others like and unlike ourselves, replenishing our desire. . . . In poetry words can say more than they mean and mean more than they say. In a time of frontal assaults both on language and on human solidarity, poetry can remind us of all we are in danger of losing—disturb us, embolden us out of resignation."
Also Seamus Heaney crediting poetry with offering:
"a less binary and altogether less binding vocabulary"
The arresting and nuanced challenge positivist normative ways of thinking and moving in the world. Food for and voice of our authentic selves. What is more political than being completely in our skins?
Jean Baker Miller:
"Authenticity and subjugation are incompatible."
Feminist Arts Conference, Toronto
Had a lot of fun facilitating at the Feminist Arts Conference in Toronto. Inspiring and provocative discussions, art work, initiatives. Queer dance collective that has revived and subverted burlesque, what they call Unapologetic Burlesque. A print collective that used street signs to campaign and raise awareness around street harassment, the Street Talk Project.
Fran Rawlings and I facilitated a session on Claiming space: navigating gender and power. We adapted the flower power exercise (inter-sectionality) and did some human sculptures and dialogue around power analysis and strategies for change. Some great discussions about how we have agency in some areas and not in others, our negotiability. How we open spaces of power in these small ways as well as the ways that we challenge, hold accountable and organize. The general use of the flower power I find much too binary a treatment of oppression.
I was really moved by the work of Karen Miranda Augustine- Painted Love: Requiems for Salacious Sex Queens. Funeral wreaths for women involved in the sex industry with re-used or discarded tires, hair, nail polish. She led a fascinating discussion on eulogy. Click on the link below to go to her site.
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Strengthening Local Economies
Facilitated Strengthening Local Economies with Yogesh Ghore these past two weeks at the Coady Institute. We start with a critical look at globalization and its effects on local communities- economic, ecological, rights. We explore local responses. A local oyster fisherman, Philipp of Shan Daph Oysters captured it well. "Ecological sustainability, social sustainability. Only then can you sustain the economic." His business is completely off the grid and he keeps it small intentionally. He talked about sitting at lots of kitchen tables.
Local craft production. Processing and purchasing locally. Social bartering systems. Fair and organic trade. These are all part of the solution but Philip captures the most important element. Relationships.
This is really the only way economic models have ever been part of real and lasting change. They are embedded in and built on relationships. Networks and alliances that have the power of both organizing locally and holding policies and processes accountable. We review over 30 case studies from around the world from Aravind Eye Care that offers 2/3 of their eye services in India free to food systems in Vermont. Through their organizing they managed not only to strengthen the local and state economies and impact health, agriculture, transportation. They were also the first State to win in the federal courts against Monsanto and others demanding that GMO foods be labelled.
Community Bank in Brazil that works with Social Currency and Neighbourhood Associations
A lot of my work has been looking at the connections between economic and political in community and member-owned economic models such as savings groups and cooperatives.
Went to Fortaleza Brazil, on behalf of the Coady Institute, to work with the Innovation team there at Banco Las Palmas. They are a Community Bank that grew out of a neighbourhood association that led to remarkable political organizing in the 70s and 80s. Displaced when coastal development was occurring these residents organized and built over 600 homes, 2 daycare, set up a sewage system, a community centre, church, lobbied all levels of government successfully. Since then, they have not only created this Community Bank but also a local exchange/social currency (LETS) based on barter to keep money in the local economy. This approach has been replicated in hundreds of towns and cities across Brazil.
While BP still plays a key role in the local and national dialogue in support of a "solidarity economy," the situation in Brazil has changed quite dramatically. Two things stood out that seemed to be echoed in the other case studies in India, Indonesia and Ethiopia:
- How increasingly restrictive states have frustrated citizen analysis and action in terms of accountability and transparency. Critically, not only states require the vertical accountability but also other forms of visible and hidden power- the market, organized crime, for example. In a globalized world where the boundaries of state are contentious, hidden power becomes both more important to address and more challenging.
- The limitations of associational life in these circumstances. What does this mean for analysis and practice? And yet, what can they achieve? What conditions, what capacities strengthen their influence? Cultural dance and singing groups, interestingly, were critical glue for belonging and organizing locally. Underestimated in these discussions of political and economic and yet, potentially the building blocks for them.
More on Banco Las Palmas.
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