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Divest UMass and STPEC host panel on building ‘solidarity economies’ in the Trump era

Aakanksha Gupta/Collegian

The UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign partnered with the Social Thought and Political Economy Department to host a teach-in titled “Visions Beyond Trump: Building Solidarities and Solidarity Economies” Wednesday night in the Commonwealth Honors College events hall.

Esteban Kelly, the executive director for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, opened the talk with a group addressing the discussion’s key terms: solidarity, equity, democracy, sustainability and pluralism.

“The people who have mobilized for all these social, racial and economic justice movements, need to be plugged in and know that this is all connected,” Kelly said.

The audience of over 130 students and community members participated by writing things they associated with each term on a sticky note and passing them to the front. Slips of paper with phrases like “a life-sustaining culture,” “redefining enough” and “critical empathy” floated to the front of the room.

The panel, which consisted of Aaron Tanaka (director of the Center for Economic Democracy), Natalia Linares (communications manager for the New Economy Coalition), Kiran Asher (associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies), Maya Gaul (worker/owner of Cooperative Energy, Recycling and Organics) and Kelly, spoke about the movement toward a new economy that prioritizes people, cooperative businesses and equity over profits. They also discussed the “solidarity economy,” the failings of capitalism and the self-defeating prophecy of neoliberalism.

Emily Kawano, the coordinator and a founder of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, was scheduled to speak during the two and a half hour the panel but had to cancel at the last minute. Linares, who replaced Kawano, spoke about her work with the record label collective, Sol Collective, from Sacramento.

“If social justice is absent in the art we are producing, then we are going to be exploited by corporate media,” Linares said.

Collective problem solving and controlling capital in an equitable way are key elements of the solidarity economy, according to the panelists. They stressed the importance of supportive, healing communities and being conscious of the space one occupies.

“We live in a culture of violence,” Gaul said. “I’m not just talking about physical violence, but mental, emotional, and spiritual.”

In his closing remarks, Kelly said, “One things the Trump election has taught us is to slow down, stop judging and take care of each other.”

Kelly will host a follow-up workshop on racism today from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the Cape Cod Lounge in the Student Union.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @srobertson__.

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