Moving Beyond Words

Peter Weisberg

Capitalism is failing.  It’s failing the vast majority of people on the planet and its savaging the planet itself.  As this process accelerates, the myths that hold the neo-liberal edifice rupture and these fissures can provide fertile ground for radical alternatives. 

“Moving Beyond Capitalism” for me, is about visions.  Alternative visions for a world desperately in need of a change in trajectory.

I'm not talking about unreachable utopian visions, altho I like having a utopian horizon.  The slogan “Demand the Impossible” is very appealing to me.

I'm not talking about sterile academic visions, which have no connection to the realities of everyday life and its challenges.

I'm talking about the visions that emerge from the hard work of people in numerous communities throughout the world, who are building alternative models for workplaces, financial structures, trade relationships, artistic creations, revitalizing the commons, governmental institutions and world outlooks, all of which place the needs of people and the well being of the planet above the interests of wealthy individuals, corporate capitalism and the governmental power fed by the entities that lack a human value system.

You'll hear about cooperatives, public banks, community funding, solidarity economies to name just a few of the projects underway.  You'll have the opportunity to watch new documentaries on issues of social importance and you'll be exposed to the vision of some incredible artists.

Beyond words, these are projects that are happening now.  Some are local, like the association of cooperatives in Cleveland and Baltimore, and RichmondCalifornia where a bold attempt to exercise the governmental power of eminent domain to seize foreclosed properties from banks and return ownership to the local residents.  Some are regional, such as the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain and the Zapatistas in Chiapas.  Others are national in scope, including Cuba and Venezuela.  All of them have powerful stories to tell, lessons to learn from and visions to be inspired by.

I'd like to focus on the Zapatista struggle for a moment.  For 20 years, this indigenous movement has been building a cultural and economic moat in southern Mexico.  They embody one of the great subversive movements in resistance to global capitalism.  Their vision is based on their “place” in the world and the rich cultural heritage that has been developed over many generations.  It is their reverence for deep place-based knowledge that serves as the foundation for their moral outlook.  Zapatista communities, or Caracols, are represented by the symbol of a snail; where everything spirals out from the core community.  They have created an economy centered around local solidarity and an autonomous governmental structure that derives its power from the direct participation of its population.  There is no political class or elite.  Members of the “Councils for Good Governance” are selected by community assemblies and serve for a period no greater than 2 years.  Council members “lead by obeying”, which means they follow the needs of the community and can be removed by the community at any time.  Decisions that impact local education, health care, justice, project priority and funding are made by the councils, who are direct representatives of the public will.  The governing process incorporates a continuous consulting with the full community.  There is a vital fluidity to this governing model.  Ongoing evaluation and critique are essential to this practice, and the process draws its strength from focusing on reaching decisions that foster harmony and restorative justice.  The influence of the state and federal government is minimal in these autonomous communities.  The Zapatistas do not participate in electoral politics, which they view as a sham and gross distortion of the democratic process.  They refuse to participate in “hold your nose” politics where you vote for the least worst.  They place responsibility for their lives squarely on the shoulders of the community.

This form of participatory democracy is at once; emancipatory, rebellious and independent.  In its practice, it nourishes the very foundation upon which it thrives.  Zapatista's do not derive their power from the federal or state governments. They derive their authority from their community. They do not ask outside forces for power, they take it for themselves.

Venezuela presents another path to power.  When Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1999, he ran on a platform of 21st century socialism.  Yet he inherited a country with a classic neo-colonial capitalist economy.  The incredibly difficult task he faced was one of building a bridge from capitalism to socialism without completely dismantling the old structures.  A sizable portion of the capitalist economy was left intact, along with the elite class.  I recently saw a quote that highlights this predicament; “Venezuela is the only country where the rich protest and the poor celebrate”, this in reference to the recent unrest.  The Venezuelan elections have been noted as some of the most honest and fair in the world.  Yet the U.S. continues to portray the Venezuelan government as a dictatorship. Once again we see the hypocrisy of the US as it tries to undermine another democratically elected government.  Refusing to bow to the pressure of US politics, Venezuela has moved forward in its Bolivarian march.  They have continued to stay focused on the needs of the poor populace of the country.  In fact, according to a recent UN study, Venezuela has improved the quality of life for the majority of its population more than any other country in Latin America and the third most worldwide.  They have accomplished this in part thru the formation of “community councils”.  These neighborhood institutions are the distribution points for federal funds.  It is at the community level that most decisions affecting the local population is made.  Funds are distributed according to the needs and wants of the neighborhood.  Decentralized power continues to be favored by Venezuela and Cuba as they work toward a dynamic participatory democracy. 

The conference will have amazing speakers from Cuba, Venezuela and Chiapas, all of whom are interested in a dialog with conference attendees.  Along with the over 50 other presenters, we will explore many of the existing pathways being built to take individual businesses, communities, institutions and countries away from a failing capitalism and toward a vision of a world based on justice in all its beautiful and diverse manifestations.  The people forging these new relationships are out there, making their visions a reality.  Another reality is happening, if you know where to look.  MBC is bringing many of these folks together.  The conference will undress the myth of a benign capitalism and develop a strategy for moving toward a world that we can be proud of.  The conference presents an opportunity for all of us to participate in this timely process, be inspired and build a movement.