Community-based Economic Democracy

Chris White, Kevin Zeese & Margaret Flowers

With growing recognition that the economy fails to serve the interests of most people, alternative institutions and processes based on economic democracy are beginning to pop up everywhere – in the global North and South alike. In the U.S. this movement is called by some “the New Economy”, in Latin America ”21st Century Socialism.”  People are joining a global movement to create structures grounded in democratic control of community wealth – an economy of, by, and for the people.

People want greater decision making in their workplaces, communities, and lives and that is what economic democracy offers; it builds infrastructure and institutions that facilitate people participating in shaping their own futures – democratic community institutions like consumer and worker owned cooperatives, public banks, participatory budgeting, local currencies and community-based agriculture.  In recent years there has been a flurry of conferences where people get together to exchange their experiences in democratizing their local economies.  This summer San Miguel will host an international conference “Moving Beyond Capitalism” sponsored by the Center for Global Justice.  

The seeds of a democratized economy are firmly planted in the United States. More than 130 million residents are members of some type of cooperative, including credit unions. Cleveland is developing a series of worker cooperatives that have received notable acclaim throughout the country – the Evergreen Cooperatives – and other cities are starting to build similar models. In places like the San Francisco Bay area and in New York City there are networks that are supporting existing co-operatives and other democratized economic structures while promoting the growth and interconnectivity of more.

The ideal of a country, of, by, and for the people is rooted in American history and co-operative movements have paralleled efforts to transform society throughout our history. 

Community-rooted and -driven processes of decision-making regarding issues like the use of land, the production of food, the management of finances for the public good, and the stewardship of the environment are rooted in old-fashioned democracy. These concepts are not ‘radical’ unless we are talking about getting to the root of the matter.

In many cities government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, while seemingly well-intentioned, have proceeded with ideas for economic development that simply do not include in the picture the current communities of people who live there. How could they when little has been done to engage the community in the process of so-called “revitalization”?  So communities are organizing themselves to address a variety of issues including renewable energy; food security; worker-owned cooperatives; non-speculative housing models; as well as ways to democratize money and finance while resisting debt.  

While many feel a failure of democratic political institutions on the national level, there is a rebirth of democracy at the local level as ordinary people seek greater control of their lives outside the big banks and corporations. This is what will be extensively discussed in the July 29 to August 4 “Moving Beyond Capitalism” conference.  For more information go to

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers co-direct It’s Our Economy, Chris White is the national coordinator of the organization.