On May 16 -17, local community members, policymakers, activists, and experts from around the country will gather for the Baltimore Economic Democracy Conference, “Building Our New Economy Together.” The two-day event will focus on finding policy alternatives meant to build local wealth and community ownership across a range of issues including: affordable housing; renewable energy; food security; worker-owned cooperatives; as well as money and finance.
The conference is being organized by It’s Our Economy—a project of Popular Resistance focused on building a nation-wide movement for economic democracy—in partnership with the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), the United Workers, and the University of Maryland Social Work Community Outreach Service.
“By bringing together figures from across the country with local community members, the Economic Democracy Conference is meant to be a space where people can share knowledge on how to build wealth in an equitable manner right here in Baltimore,” says Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-director of It’s Our Economy.
The conference will be comprised of a televised town hall at The Real News on Friday night that will bring together national and local figures who are working to frame the vision and values for a new economy. On Saturday, a day of workshops will be held at the University of Maryland School of Social Work that will examine how people in Baltimore can expand or begin projects to create economic democracy.
“Local communities should be in charge of the decisions that affect them. The economy should put people ahead of profits to reduce the dramatic inequality that characterizes Baltimore,” said Kevin Zeese, also a co-director.
One of the multiple tracks that will explore alternatives to current policy will focus on renewable energy. During this track, students from Benjamin Franklin High School will open a discussion on the structural aspects of environmental injustice that skew unevenly along lines of race and income. The students hail from the community of Curtis Bay, where the proposed Fairfield Incinerator is sited for construction within a mile of their school – an area with the worst air quality in Maryland according to the DC-based Environmental Energy Project.
Another way in which people are getting involved in the local economy is through Participatory Budgeting, a process whereby residents participate directly in the allocation of city funds in their neighborhoods. This issue will be discussed in a workshop during the event featuring Josh Lerner, the Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project, which has helped to spur these processes in several U.S. cities in recent years.
With 40,000 vacant homes, 4,000 homeless, and a recent move by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to privatize the city’s public housing stock, local residents and activists are also examining the feasibility of non-speculative, community-owned housing models. In confronting the urgent need for affordable housing, the conference will examine community land trusts (CLT’s) which allow communities to manage housing development based on their needs. Michael Brown, a leading expert on the development of CLTs who helped establish one of the first CLTs in the country, will discuss what this would look like in Baltimore.
Jobs and the ability to meet basic needs are also key features of any discussion about the economy. One track of the conference will focus on creating jobs through worker -owned cooperatives in which workers have greater control of their workplace, share profits, and build wealth. Still others will meet to discuss ways to build sustainable food chains and address the needs of those in Baltimore’s food deserts.
Other speakers and participants will include: renowned economist Gar Alperovitz; Jacqui Dunne, author of Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity into Prosperity; Jacqui Patterson, NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program Director; members of Strike Debt, the organization that has abolished nearly $15 million in medical debt; John Morris of Sojourner-Douglass College; and Ed Whitfield, Executive Director of the Fund for Democratic Communities.
The event is free and will begin Friday, May 16 in the studio space at The Real News Network. The town hall will run from 7:00pm – 9:00pm with doors opening at 6:30pm and a reception after. Then, on Saturday, May 17th, the workshops on the issue areas discussed above will take place at the University of Maryland School of Social Work from 9:00am – 4:00pm with doors open for coffee, light fare, and tabling at 8:30am. The town hall Friday night and the opening/closing plenaries on Saturday will be live streamed on www.itsoureconomy.us
For more information on speakers, the agenda, and live streaming visit: http://itsoureconomy.us/events/baltimore-economic-democracy-conference/