When I attended a program in Knoxville, Tenn., commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington I heard the need for action as well as commemoration. The slogan of the march was “Jobs and Freedom.” But with the middle class today sliding toward poverty and black families still earning less than 60% of what white families earn, the economy we all helped build is failing us. Without an economy that is fair to both our people and our Earth, freedom is limited.
Noted economic writer, David Korten, in the second edition of his latest book, Agenda for a New Economy (2010), explains why we have made so little progress in solving many of our environmental and social ills. He notes that we mistakenly see issues like poverty, war, destruction of our Earth and inadequate medical systems as separate problems requiring separate solutions. Efforts to address these problems often occur in times of crisis and have a short-term focus. In fact, these ills flow from our present economic system with its focus on making more money for those with money. So if we want a more humane and just world he urges us to join the long-term effort to build a just economy focused on strengthening our communities through jobs.
This does not mean that we should stop working on separate efforts. However every organization working for economic and social justice that agrees with Korten’s view needs to explore delegating part of their financial and human resources to rebuilding our economy. If we are working for improved health services, we could be working for the immediate expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee. We could also be working longer-term to create better services through changing the way we fund health services. Wishing for economic justice without changing our economy is like hoping to lose weight without changing our diet.
Vision is crucial for creating change. It is particularly necessary for creating a new economy. This can develop out of studying what a just economy is, how our present one falls short and strategies for creating a new one. Faith communities can have a vital role since a just economy is tied to a spiritual awakening. There are many ways to build an economy based on our shared values. Education in these areas is key to taking action.
Changing our economy at first seems overwhelming. But the more we learn how it really operates and its weaknesses, the more possible change appears. Gar Alperovitz, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, in his new book, What Then Must We Do (2013), includes many examples of the local changes already underway. He emphasizes that it takes commitment to long-term efforts to change systems of any kind, including our economic system.
A local example of how all this might work is at the church my wife and I attend, Church of the Savior-UCC. Our Justice Committee recently developed an economic justice study program partly based on Korten’s ideas. After this study we formed three small groups. Each group is a limited effort at both increasing our freedom from the control that our largest financial institutions have on our economy and strengthening our local economy.
One is helping people move their banking to local based financial institutions. Another is looking at fair trade issues and selling fair trade items at church.
A third is working with organizations to persuade Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision allowing unlimited corporate money in our elections.
We are planning other groups, including one focused on buying at locally owned stores. All the group goals include educating the congregation and the community about their issues.
Think of thousands of small groups working for economic justice. These can become a movement. All movements start small.
Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” seems prophetic for economic justice. Let us build a better life for all.
Bob Rundle is co-director of the Institute for Spirituality and Global Economics (SAGE). Email email@example.com. A version of this appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel.
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2013
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