Susan Sakash: Cultivating a Solidarity Economy Within the New Orleans Local Food Systems

9636672209_d5b859de9f_zI came to Goddard knowing that I wanted to study alternative economies. After a decade working in non-profit fund development, I wanted to figure out how to shift these skills and tools towards developing democratic strategies for building community wealth that challenge, rather than reinforce, the inequities of a capitalist system. Though my studies have taken many paths, the overarching drive behind my Goddard studies is to step up my commitment to doing whatever I can, on a individual and community level, to put pressure on the fissures opening within the decaying system of neo-liberal capitalism by lifting up and making visible post-capitalist relationships and exchanges that are happening everywhere, in both highly visible and less noticed ways. A tall order for sure, but one which Goddard has encouraged, challenged and helped me focus!

This semester I am diving deep into new territories even as I also round out some of the alternative economies research I started in G2. Specifically this semester I have been immersing myself in the writings of popular educators, critical pedagogues, and participatory action researchers to understand how these liberatory practices have spurred and activated social change and community self-determination particularly within marginalized communities in the U.S. South.  By tracing the ways that the roots of institutionalized racism are intertwined with inequity in our schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces, these practices empower people to create community-based solutions and advocate for change.

The tools and strategies of critical pedagogy and popular education models speak to me as a kind of community-envisioned and enacted social innovation and one which I believe can be employed to move forward developments within what is being called the solidarity economy, particularly as it plays out in the local food system here in New Orleans. Inclusivity and attention to race and class-based inequity are essential to creating a truly just and sustainable local food system in this city AND to ensuring that the new New Orleans is one that all New Orleans has had a hand in making.

Towards that end, I am particularly interested in the role of youth, and particularly young people of color, in defining what the solidarity economy looks like here in New Orleans. Do young people resonate with the language that has been developed by proponents of the solidarity economy framework as it currently exists in the U.S.?  If not, what are the words, phrases and images they would use to describe the kind of economic future they envision as workers and leaders?  What does meaningful work look like here in New Orleans and how does the local food sector (and the New Orleans food and culture tourist economy as a whole) need to shift to ensure young people have a place at the table?

Towards that end, part of my thesis will be a toolkit of workshop modules and strategies 7938512512_cd14f3909a_zfor young people and their mentors to use as they develop their economic identities within, and visions for, a local food system reoriented towards principles and practices that value people and our planet over profit.  This semester I am collaborating with the Grow Dat Youth Farm, a four-year old organization that nurtures young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food on a four acre urban farm in New Orleans’ City Park ( Part of our collaboration entails the creation and facilitation of a series of workshops for their leadership program and staff professional development.  And as important, these workshops will advance the organization’s goals of deepening young peoples’ knowledge of personal financial literacy, the history of cooperativism and mutual aid as a form of community resistance and self-determination in the South, and access to employment and leadership opportunities in the growing local food movement in New Orleans.

As a newcomer to New Orleans, I am continually blown away by the long and rich legacy of community efforts to build and rebuild the parts of this city that are broken thanks to the equally long legacy of institutionalized racism.  Every day I read or hear of how people have come together through story circles, street performance, alternative economic exchange, and creative protest to share knowledge, resist oppression, and offer scaled solutions.  Every day I feel motivated to seek out these moments and instances of hope and add my efforts to the mix to counter the steady stream of social entrepreneurial (yet ultimately still capitalist) rhetoric and urban redevelopment planning papers that threaten to widen the gap of haves and havenots all in the name of progress and rebuilding. These simultaneous, contradictory messages are maddening as much as they are motivating; I can’t help but use these on-the- ground, daily lessons to inform my perspectives on social innovation and sustainability.

susan2008Being in the inaugural class of the MA Social Innovation and Sustainability program gives me the opportunity to help shape the framework and definitions that will define the kinds of students and studies in years to come. At the same time, being in residency with folks from Health Arts and Sciences, Transformative language Arts and Consciousness Studies, allows my thinking to be pushed even further as I strive to incorporate embodiment and performance studies, as well as community trauma recovery, into my understanding of economics and system change. For every moment that I wish I was being given more outside direction, there is a companion moment in which I deeply appreciate the freedom I have been given to explore the totality of the pressing issues that we face as a society.

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