“Moving beyond capitalism” conference opens

By Cliff DuRand and Bob Stone

Cynthia Kaufman

Move beyond capitalism?  Is that even possible?  Like it or not, aren’t we all locked into an actually existing capitalist system?

Next week over 75 speakers are coming to San Miguel for a six day conference who think it IS possible.  And not only possible, but they are actually doing it.  They are organizers and activists who are building alternative institutions in their communities, institutions that point in a different direction away from capitalism.

They are coming from Cuba, Venezuela, Israel, Switzerland, even China, as well as the U.S. and Mexico The bi-lingual conference will be a dialog between the global South and the global North as they exchange ideas and experiences.

One of them is Cynthia Kaufman.  She says that “the idea that challenging capitalism is wildly unrealistic” is being replaced by “a freshness and excitement” that another world is indeed possible. Kaufman says capitalism is not a “system” running all society but a set of changeable “practices.” She points out over 50% of the US economy is non-capitalist.

And in the midst of continuing deep economic problems, many are saying it is not only possible but necessary to build the non-capitalist sector of our societies, sometimes called ‘the commons.’  Many of the people building it piece by piece will be at the “Moving Beyond Capitalism” conference.

There will be five daily themes:  July 30: Democratizing Capital (public banks, local currencies, credit unions, etc), July 31: 21st Century Socialism (Cuba, Venezuela), August 1: Zapatismo, August 3: Cooperatives, and ending August 4 with a plenary discussion of “Building a New Democratic Economy.”  You can see the entire program at www.globaljusticecenter.org.

Organizers of public banks will discuss how these institutions strengthen communities by freeing people from dependency on the big private banks that crashed the economy six years ago.  Members of worker owned cooperatives will tell how they are empowered by democratic decision making with their fellow workers, freed from bosses.  Educators will talk about how they are creating schools that liberate students rather than just train them for slots in the status quo.  Speakers from Chiapas will talk about the Zapatista caracoles, Cubans will talk about the new cooperatives forming there to strengthen socialism, and a speaker from Venezuela will talk about their communal councils.

The “Moving Beyond Capitalism” conference is sponsored by the Center for Global Justice in celebration of its 10th anniversary.  All events will be held at Hotel Mision Molino on Salida Queretaro at the top of the hill.  The conference will open with an art exhibition and registration at 5:00pm Tuesday July 29.  Complete registration for the entire six days costs US$250 (3,200 pesos).  Tickets for single days are also available for US$50 (640 pesos).  Sessions will run from 9:00am to 6:00pm from Wednesday, July 30 through Monday August 4.

There will be a reception for the opening of the “Art as Catalyst” exhibition at 5:00pm Tuesday July 29th. The art will be on display throughout the conference. A presentation by seven artists on art as a catalyst for social change will be one of the sessions on Friday.

This conference comes at a time when an increasing number of people feel capitalism is failing them.  Long term joblessness mortgage, and foreclosures, poverty, drugs, crime and political paralysis, afflict too many in society while the 1% get richer and richer.  “This leads to a sense of despair,” says conference organizer Betsy Bowman.  “People need to regain a sense of agency by engaging in local projects that are making a difference and become empowered thereby.”

Among the featured conference speakers will be well known Mexican intellectual Gustavo Esteva.  He is the founder of the Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca and has been an advisor to the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.  On Friday he will be joined by Gustavo Castro of the Universidad de la Tierra in Chiapas to discuss Zapatismo and its approach to community development.  A number of other activists and educators will discuss their work in cooperatives elsewhere in Mexico.

The cooperative experiences in Cuba and Venezuela are unique as an explicit feature of a socialist project.  Camila Piñeiro Harnecker is a leading advocate of cooperatives in Cuba, a country that is now poised to be the first in the world to have cooperatives make up a major sector of its economy.  On Thursday she will discuss this year-old experiment as an alternative to a state controlled economy.  She will be joined by Ana Maldonado, former vice minister of Venezuela’s communal economy who will talk about their experience with communal councils as an effort to build an alternative participatory state from the ground up.

On Wednesday U.S. philosopher David Schweickart will explain his vision for an economic democracy based on worker owned cooperatives and socially directed investment.  His ideas have been widely discussed as the most thoroughly developed model of such an alternative to capitalism.  See his article on this in the July 11 issue of Atencion.

An alternative to the private banking system will be discussed by Ellen Brown.  She is the leading advocate of public banks in the U.S. and head of the Public Banking Institute.  She will explain how private banks create money for their own profit and how public banks can be a better tool for community development.  Such banks are common in Latin America, but in the U.S. there is only one: the Bank of North Dakota.

On Saturday there will be a field trip to the annual Fair in Dolores Hildago hosted by CEDESA to observe the use of an alternative local currency.  Those who want to join this visit can buy a seat on the conference bus.

Throughout these five days there will be numerous sessions discussing how elements of an alternative society are being built “in the nooks and crannies of present societies,” as conference organizer Cliff DuRand puts it.  “Basic changes in a society don’t come all at once, but incrementally step by step, until one day we realize we are now in a different world.  We want to make sure it is a world that fosters human flourishing rather than corporate profits.”

Mexican community organizers will describe their work empowering ordinary people,  while transforming their consciousness.  Union activists from the U.S. will talk about their struggles in Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Occupy Wall Street activists Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese will lead discussions of how to apply the lessons from these experiences to building a social movement for change.  Throughout the conference activists in social movements in the South and North will exchange their experiences.  Many social movements are questioning the dominant ideas of capitalist development.  Development of economies to benefit transnational corporations or to benefit the people, they ask?  Rebecca Hollender, who has worked for the Evo Morales government in Bolivia, will talk about alternative ideas in Latin America such as buen vivir, post-extractivism, and zero growth.

The work on protecting or recovering the commons by Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis has been widely discussed in Latin America.  Commons are those spaces, resources, ideas, etc. that belong to nobody and thus are available to everybody.  They are beyond the market and its private property as well as beyond the state.  Commons simply belong to the people to use in support of their lives.  Capitalism has appropriated much of the wealth of the commons, as when it turns traditional natural medicines into patented drugs for sale as commodities or when corporations rape the earth for its resources.  With climate change we can see how unbridled growth is destroying the common conditions for human habitation of the planet.

The conference will wrap up on Monday with a discussion of the new democratic economy in the making.  A New Economy movement is growing in the U.S. and converges in many ways with the goals of 21st century socialism in Latin America.  Both are based on values of local empowerment, democracy, cooperation and popular participation.  Both point away from a failing capitalism toward a more humane world.

The public is invited to join this stimulating dialog on how to move beyond capitalism.  You can register for the entire conference or for specific days. There will be simultaneous Spanish-English translation of all sessions.  For more information write admin@globaljusticecenter.org or call 415-150-0025.


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