It’s hard to convey what the sharing movement is about without describing how it looks in practice. No matter how well you lay out its basic principles, you need concrete examples and visual imagery to help people reach that aha moment.
A new publication called “Humans of Solidarity Economy” gets this right. It’s a zine of photographs, interviews, and descriptions of the people behind Solidarity Economy St. Louis, highlighting their work in alternative currencies, food justice, economic empowerment, shared land and housing, and more. It’s made in partnership between the Cowry Collective, Solidarity Economy St. Louis, and Mutual Aid Network.
What is the solidarity economy? The Solidarity Economy St. Louis describes it as an economy based on meeting “human needs through economic activities — like the production and exchange of goods and services — that reinforce the values of social justice, ecological sustainability, cooperation, mutualism, democracy, and innovation.” The group says that “it is dynamic and diverse, including both monetized and non-monetized practices and means of exchange.”
One of the partners behind the zine is the Cowry Collective Timebank, whose name reflects an ancient practice of exchanging cowry shells as currency. The collective was founded by Chinyere E. Oteh. In the zine, she shares some thoughts on the capitalist economy: “Capitalism means compromise to me. Compromising your happiness or your path to self-actualization because you are in survival mode or a survival program.” She goes on to say that in this current system “our dreams and quality of life often come second to surviving. Our thriving comes second to our surviving.”
A timebank is a network of individuals engaged in reciprocal exchange of skills, services, and goods where the currency is time. That means that Person A can provide Person B an hour of service like gardening or guitar instruction. Person A thereby earns a cowry, or one hour of time, to receive a service provided by anyone else in the timebank. Beyond giving access to services, there are many social and economic benefits to this practice. By participating, people “create and strengthen community bonds, create economic freedom by providing an alternative means to get needs and desires met, and encourage creativity in redefining self-sufficiency, interdependence, and valuation of time.”
The solidarity economy is, above all else, about the people. It is a counterpoint to a capitalist economy where returns to investors reigns over all else. That means that it must also be about actively opposing injustices that are inherent in the current system, such as inequities historically rooted in racism and colonialism.