Truth-lite in Honduras
Morales & Movements
Laborers & Worker Centers
Tiffany Ten eyck
Prelude to Depression?
PRTs & the CIA
WINESS TO WAR
Fellman's Terrorism History
Engler's Black Book
Zaps - 02-10
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Searching for Democratic Alternatives
This month's "Looking Forward" includes excerpts from articles (culled from various websites) covering the economy, ecology, education, and mental health.
-- Most of the art in this article is from Reproduce and Revolt (Soft Skull Press). Contributors include: Pablo Lopez Valdez, Lincoln Cushing, Dave Lowenstein, Richard Olmstead, Clifford Harper, Favianna Rodriguez, Sanya Hyland, and Miriam Klein Stahl.
Other Economies are Possible
Organizing toward an economy of cooperation and solidarity
By Ethan Miller
Can thousands of diverse, locally-rooted, grassroots economic projects form the basis for a viable democratic alternative to capitalism? It might seem unlikely that a motley array of initiatives such as worker, consumer, and housing cooperatives, community currencies, urban gardens, fair trade organizations, intentional communities, and neighborhood self-help associations could hold a candle to the capitalist economy. Could a process of horizontal networking, linking diverse democratic alternatives and social change organizations together in webs of mutual recognition and support, generate a social movement and economic vision capable of challenging the global capitalist order?
To these questions, economic activists around the world organizing under the banner of economía solidaria, or "solidarity economy," would answer a resounding "yes." It is precisely these innovative, bottom-up experiences of production, exchange, and consumption that are building the foundation for what many people are calling "new cultures and economies of solidarity."
The idea and practice of "solidarity economics" emerged in Latin America in the mid-1980s and blossomed in the mid to late 1990s as a convergence of at least three social trends. First, the economic exclusion experienced by growing segments of society generated by deepening debt and the ensuing structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), forced many communities to develop and strengthen creative, autonomous, and locally-rooted ways of meeting basic needs. These included initiatives such as worker and producer cooperatives, neighborhood and community associations, savings and credit associations, collective kitchens, and unemployed or landless worker mutual-aid organizations.
Second, growing dissatisfaction with the culture of the dominant market economy led groups of more economically privileged people to seek new ways of generating livelihoods and providing services. From largely a middle-class "counter-culture"—similar to that in the United States since the 1960s—emerged projects such as consumer cooperatives, cooperative childcare and health care initiatives, housing cooperatives, intentional communities, and ecovillages. There were often significant class and cultural differences between these two groups. Nevertheless, the initiatives they generated all shared a common set of operative values: cooperation, autonomy from centralized authorities, and participatory self-management by their members.
A third trend worked to link the two grassroots upsurges of economic solidarity to each other and to the larger socioeconomic context: emerging local and regional movements were beginning to forge global connections in opposition to the forces of neoliberal and neocolonial globalization. Seeking a democratic alternative to both capitalist globalization and state socialism, these movements identified community-based economic projects as key elements of alternative social organization.
At the First Latin Encuentro of Solidarity Culture and Socioeconomy held in 1998 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participants from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Colombia, and Spain created the latinoamericana de la economía solidaria (Latin American Solidarity Economy Network). In a statement, the Network declared, "We have observed that our experiences have much in common: a thirst for justice, a logic of participation, creativity, and processes of self-management and autonomy." By linking these shared experiences together in mutual support, they proclaimed, it would be possible to work toward "a socioeconomy of solidarity as a way of life that encompasses the totality of the human being."
Since 1998, this solidarity economy approach has developed into a global movement. The first World Social Forum in 2001 marked the creation of the Global Network of the Solidarity Socioeconomy, fostered in large part by an international working group of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural, and United World. By the time of the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, the Global Network had grown to include 47 national and regional solidarity economy networks from nearly every continent, representing tens of thousands of democratic grassroots economic initiatives worldwide. At a later Social Forum of the America's in Venezuela, solidarity economy topics comprised an estimated one-third of the entire event's program.
Defining Solidarity Economics
But what exactly is this "solidarity economy approach"? For some theorists of the movement, it begins with a redefinition of economic space itself. The dominant neoclassical story paints the economy as a singular space in which market actors (firms or individuals) seek to maximize their gain in a context of scarce resources. These actors play out their profit-seeking dramas on a stage wholly defined by the dynamics of the market and the state. Countering this narrow approach, solidarity economics embraces a plural and cultural view of the economy as a complex space of social relationship in which individuals, communities, and organizations generate livelihoods through many different means and with many different motivations and aspirations—not just the maximization of individual gain. The economic activity validated by neoclassical economists represents, in this view, only a tiny fraction of human efforts to meet needs and fulfill desires.
In expanding what counts as part of "the economy," solidarity economics resonates with other streams of contemporary radical economic thought. Marxist economists such as Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, for example, have suggested that multiple "modes of production" co-exist alongside the capitalist wage-labor mode. Feminist economists have demonstrated how neoclassical conceptions have hidden and devalued basic forms of subsistence and caregiving work that are often done by women. Feminist economic geographer J.K. Gibson-Graham, in her books The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (1998) and A Postcapitalist Politics (2006), synthesizes these and other streams of thought in what she calls the "diverse economies perspective." Addressing concerns that are central to the solidarity economy approach, she asks, "If we viewed the economic landscape as imperfectly colonized, homogenized, systematized, might we not find openings for projects of noncapitalist invention? Might we not find ways to construct different communities and societies, building upon what already exists?"
Indeed, the first task of solidarity economics is to identify existing economic practices—often invisible or marginal to the dominant lens—that foster cooperation, dignity, equity, self-determination, and democracy. Unlike many alternative economic projects that have come before, solidarity economics does not seek to build a singular model of how the economy should be structured, but rather pursues a dynamic process of economic organizing in which organizations, communities, and social movements work to identify, strengthen, connect, and create democratic and liberatory means of meeting their needs.
At the same time, building relationships between solidarity-based enterprises and larger social movements builds increased support for the solidarity economy while allowing the movements to meet some of the basic needs of their participants, demonstrate viable alternatives, and thus increase the power and scope of their transformative work. In Brazil, this dynamic is demonstrated by the Landless Workers Movement (MST). As a broad, popular movement for economic justice and agrarian reform, the MST has built a powerful program combining social and political action with cooperative, solidarity-based economics. From the establishment of democratic, cooperative settlements on land re-appropriated from wealthy absentee landlords to the development of nationwide, inter-settlement exchanges of products and services, networks of economic solidarity are contributing significantly to the sustenance of more than 300,000 families—over a million people. The Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum, of which the MST is a part, works on an even broader scale, incorporating 12 national networks and membership organizations with 21 regional Solidarity Forums and thousands of cooperative enterprises to build mutual support systems, facilitate exchanges, create cooperative incubator programs, and shape public policy.
Building a Movement
With the exception of the Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural, a U.S.-Mexico cross-border agricultural solidarity organization, the United States has been nearly absent from global conversations about solidarity economics. Maybe it's harder for those in the "belly of the beast" to imagine that alternatives to capitalism are possible. Are alternative economic practices somehow rendered more invisible, or more isolated, in the United States than in other parts of the world? Are there simply fewer solidarity-based initiatives with which to network?
Perhaps. But things are changing. A new wave of grassroots economic organizing is cultivating the next generation of worker cooperatives, community currency initiatives, housing cooperatives and collectives, community garden projects, fair trade campaigns, community land trusts, anarchist bookstores ("infoshops"), and community centers. Groups working on similar projects are making connections with each other.
It takes no great stretch of the imagination to picture, within the next ten years, a "U.S. Solidarity Economy Summit" convening many of the thousands of democratic, grassroots economic projects in the United States to generate a stronger shared identity, build relationships, and lay the groundwork for a U.S. Solidarity Economy Alliance. In the words of Argentinian economist and organizer Jose Luis Corragio, "the viability of social transformation is rarely a fact; it is, rather, something that must be constructed." This is a call to action.
Z Ethan Miller is a writer, musician, subsistence farmer, and organizer. This article is from the July/August 2006 issue of Dollars & Sense.
Ethan Miller is a writer, musician, subsistence farmer, and organizer. This article is from the July/August 2006 issue of Dollars & Sense.
It's Time for a Green Vision
By Kim Scipes
The Green movement around the world has presented a myriad of ideas and projects, each suggesting the way forward to a Green society. However, because there is no overarching vision, we have moved in many directions, stumbling from one good idea to another, but never in a coordinated, determined fashion toward a goal that could unify people around the world in a common project. It's time to project a vision that is realistic, but bold in its reach.
I think there are three interrelated requirements that any deep Green vision must put forth. Fist, it must be pro-globalization, not anti-globalization.
Third, any vision must be based on emancipation, not domination. The idea is to improve the well-being of people, not worsen their lives and aspirations. We must seek to bring everyone up, not down.
Based on these principles, the vision for the Green movement globally should be to develop a standard of living and way of life that would allow every person in the world to live comfortably in societies that are ecologically and economically sustainable over multiple generations. People should use these ideas as starting blocks, integrating them with advancing strategies that would help address other areas of concern such as "race" and gender relations, family forms and child rearing.
I have three questions whose answers I think are absolutely central to addressing the problem.
1. What do we need to produce that will allow us to make real our vision with the minimum amount of environmental impact? In our considerations, we must include in our calculations energy needed to transport goods, whether it be food or beer. That suggests that we need to reorganize our societies based on bioregions, to get as much of our needs met from within those regions as possible, greatly reducing our transportation needs.
Along with this would be a shift to organic, non-chemical-based farming, with no nitrogen-based fertilizers. Farming would be done on regional conditions without dependence on massive amounts of water extracted from underground aquifers (see the work of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas). That would restrict migration into environmentally sensitive areas. I grew up in the desert in Central Arizona and the carrying capacity of this area does not support the massive amounts of people who have moved into Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas—not to mention the golf courses. By shifting to a bioregion approach, there would have to be a massive reduction in consumption of unnecessary goods. This would drastically reduce needs for oil and other forms of energy. The drastic reductions of energy required to meet our needs means we no longer need the military spread across the planet to protect the oil and supply routes. We would also have to engineer production processes to remove waste, whether human or material.
At the same time, we would have to put strict limitations on "urban sprawl," which destroys farmland that becomes more precious as we seek to get our food within a 100-mile area. All these things would require much less labor for production than we use now, since people wouldn't have to waste their lives producing crap or providing unnecessary services. We would have to address the cultural implications of cutting unneeded production. Americans have been taught to believe in progress, and in a capitalist system with a supposedly unlimited resource base—whether in the U.S. or stolen from peoples around the world—that almost by definition means "more."
In short, what do we really need to live well? And what can be dispensed with so everyone else on the planet can also live well?
2. How do we organize production requirements? First, we have to decide whether to retain a hierarchical production system—boss on top, worker on bottom—or do we want to decentralize our production as much as possible and then make workplace relations much more equal and cooperative? Then we have to figure out how to organize production so that both the good and bad parts of needed jobs can be shared, so no one does just "good" work and no one does just "shit" work. In areas of "skilled" work, such as piloting aircraft, then we'll need pools of trained people who will share overall duties—but they'll have to contribute otherwise as well, perhaps by helping to provide child care at a neighborhood childcare center.
But there is other work, such as trash collection, that is much less glamorous, but is just as needed. How can we share the work? Obviously, if we all have to do it, then we might want to decide to reduce the amount of stuff thrown out—again, another reason to reduce consumption.
And there is other work—such as home construction—that can reclaim old or abandoned houses, or build new ones when needed, which has a positive social purpose, rather than being something "we need to do." All of this requires conscious thought and struggle over how best to do it. And there have to be some places for experiments, innovations, and technological developments to take place.
We need to keep working to reducing our footprint. As we do so, not only does the planet benefit, but it means less required work must be done. (See Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel's work on institutional structures in Participatory Economics.)
3. How can we distribute production work and goods most equitably? For example, housing: would it be more equitable to not allow anyone to own more than one house or apartment until everyone who wanted one had one? Tied into this move toward equitability, though, must also be an effort to change our culture. The economic and political programs that have been initiated by the government have been consciously designed to foster individualism at the explicit cost to collectivity. Accordingly, as collectivity has been denigrated, neo-liberal economic policies which have devastated developing countries in the Global South for so long have been turned on the American public.
I've presented a goal for the global environmental movement, with a particular focus on the United States, although not limited to it: to attain a standard of living and way of life that would allow every person in the world to live comfortably in societies that are ecologically and economically sustainable over multiple generations.
I have put forth a vision that can apply to literally every person on the planet. This is not just some pie-in-the-sky rhetoric: the environmental crisis threatens to destroy life on the planet and this demands that we move as hard, as fast, and as thoughtfully as possible toward a goal such as I have put forth. The planet deserves nothing less.
Z Kim Scipes is a long-time global labor and social justice activist, who teaches Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Indiana. He thanks those who participated in the June 2008 "Surviving Climate Change" roundtable for help with some ideas in this article (which appears in longer form as part of the Reimagining Society website hosted by Z Communications).
Kim Scipes is a long-time global labor and social justice activist, who teaches Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Indiana. He thanks those who participated in the June 2008 "Surviving Climate Change" roundtable for help with some ideas in this article (which appears in longer form as part of the Reimagining Society website hosted by Z Communications).
Time Bank, Inc
By Rob Baedeker
In a small, backroom office at the Community Reformed Church in East Oakland's Sobrante Park district, a handful of local residents are running their own neighborhood bank. Instead of U.S. currency, though, the transactions are recorded in hours and minutes. It's called a Time Bank and to explain how it works, Paul Butler, a 50-year resident of Sobrante Park and co-administrator of the program, pulls up a webpage and scrolls through a list of headings like "ride to hospital," "pickup from Amtrak station," "translation," and "preparation of food."
"Here's an odd one," he says, pointing to the screen. "Somebody needed digital pictures downloaded from their camera." Butler, who recently retired as a network specialist with IBM, has more than enough tech savvy to handle the task. After helping out with the photos, he records the time it took to complete the task in an online database. From now on, whenever he wants to cash in his hours—say he needs a ride to the Amtrak station—he can trade for any service offered by the bank's approximately 160 current members.
The Sobrante Park program is a member of TimeBanks USA, an international network of communities that use an alternative currency called "Time Dollars."
"The concept of Time Banking has to do with banking a person's time just as you would bank a person's money," Butler says. "Time is recorded for a service that is given and for a service received."
Those services can be anything that neighborhood residents have to offer. The skill level required can vary widely, from running errands to making hospital visits to repairing small appliances. And everyone's time is valued equally. Theoretically, an hour of brain surgery could be traded for an hour of yard work.
LaSonia Williams, a Time Bank member, has traded her time for services like lawn mowing and Spanish translation for a newsletter that she publishes; her neighbor had a water heater installed by a group of Time Bank members.
"I thought that was a really big thing for people to do," Williams says. "It seemed so technical."
There's something radical about an economic system that's outside the usual bounds of commerce, one where people are bartering hours rather than buying and selling goods, particularly when they're valuing everyone's time equally. Indeed, when you delve into the world of alternative currency schemes, the language sounds a little, well, revolutionary.
Here, for example, is an excerpt from an introduction to the "Ithaca HOURS" system, a local currency established in 1991 in Ithaca, New York: "We printed our own money because we watched Federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and fight wars," founder Paul Glover writes on the program's website. "HOURS, by contrast, stay in our region to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on transnational corporations and bankers, HOURS reinforces community trading and expands commerce which is more accountable to our concerns for ecology and social justice."
Unlike the Time Bank system, which issues no paper scrip, the Ithaca HOUR is actual printed currency, linked to time, but also to the U.S. dollar—one Ithaca HOUR is worth $10, the average hourly wage in the area. Ed Collum, a University of Southern Maine sociology professor who studies alternative currencies, says these two systems—Time Banking and the local, paper-currency model (Ithaca's HOURS)—are the dominant models of alternative currency that have taken hold in the U.S. His 2004 study of community currency systems using printed money counted 82 nationwide. The TimeBanks USA web site lists 60 Time Banks in the U.S.
The Ithaca-type local currency systems tend to be more overtly political, with a progressive bent. "Often, their members see community currencies as alternatives to capitalism," Collum says. By contrast, Time Banks tend to stay out of the political fray and focus on promoting their local networks. But Collum argues that, in another sense, the Time Bank system is much more radical and egalitarian given its premise that everyone's time is equal. "Some people run with that [principle] and really think about this in terms of Marxism and radical economics," he explains.
Indeed, it's easy to connect the dots to see the Time Bank as an embodiment of that Marxist slogan, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Everyone is "paid" the same rate and Time Bank accounts don't accrue interest. What's more, you can't sell your labor to the highest bidder as you would in a purely capitalist system.
When I asked Phebia Richardson, the 76-year-old co-founder of the Time Bank program, whether the concept of time-based money was difficult for people to embrace in an age when we're so accustomed to paying dollars for goods and services, she argued that a Time Bank was really just a different name for an old practice: community service. "We've always done things for each other," Richardson, who has lived in Sobrante Park for 50 years, says. "It's part of our heritage.... We're trying to make that more popular again. My father was a Methodist minister back in Louisiana," she adds. "He'd go around to (preach at) other churches and they would give him meat to bring home to his family. We had our own garden, and we'd share with neighbors. That's the way I grew up."
Like Richardson, Butler believes Time Banking can strengthen community ties. Sobrante Park, which he describes as "50 percent Hispanic, 40 percent African-American and 10 percent a mixture of everybody else," has seen its share of crime and violence over the years. At the time the Time Bank was started in 2004, Butler says, "there was a murder like every other week.... One of the concerns we had was that some of the violence and aggression was due to each of the groups being standoffish—staying in their own groups and not really socializing and doing things together," he says. "The whole concept of Time Banking is designed to get people helping other people."
The program currently has 160 members. While Butler would like it to include a larger percentage of the 700 to 800 households that live in Sobrante Park, he says it's already begun to foster connections between residents who wouldn't otherwise have known each other. Richardson adds, "No matter what your background, no matter how much money you have or don't have, you know that you've got people you can depend on to help you when you need help. That's the real foundation of Time Banking." It's an old-fashioned idea that, these days, sounds kind of revolutionary.
Rob Baedeker is a writer living in Berkeley. He is co-author, with the Kasper Hauser comedy group, of "Sky-Maul," the catalog parody. This article was first published at sfgate.com in February 2009.
Rob Baedeker is a writer living in Berkeley. He is co-author, with the Kasper Hauser comedy group, of "Sky-Maul," the catalog parody. This article was first published at sfgate.com in February 2009.
By Roberto Armstrong
If graded in terms of encouraging and developing an informed citizenry in a democratic country, the best grade most of our schools could hope for in my view would be a D or D-. Our public primary and secondary schools are bureaucratic institutions whose main social and intellectual achievement is indoctrination of students in the prevailing social norms and whose institutional interest is self-preservation. Certainly this system is leavened here and there by the work of some imaginative and fantastically dedicated teachers (and even a few administrators) who have been fighting worthwhile and mostly losing battles to change this system. Such reformers are trotted out by the system's proponents (irony of ironies) when criticism surfaces, to show how wonderful our educational systems can be.
I speak from some personal experience. I was an art and Spanish teacher in a public high school for 25 years and then an ESL and art history teacher in a public community college for 20 years, very active in the teachers' unions of both systems. I have seen myriad proposals for "reform" and a number of excellent programs come and go over those years, while the quality of the systems has continued to decline. But so far I have searched in vain for a proposal for democratic reform, which sees the undemocratic, pyramidal educational structure itself as a basic culprit in school failure.
The real question is: where is the evidence that this enormously expensive bureaucratic leviathan is working to the advantage of democracy or significantly improving the lives of ordinary students? By any meaningful standard, it is woefully lacking.
School board elections are mostly popularity contests void of any meaningful discussion of serious educational issues, while teacher negotiations almost always end up dealing mainly with salary and benefits improvements. District school administrators are too often careerists who make far more money, and garner greater prestige and power, by abandoning teaching and getting as far from students as possible.
If what we want is a functioning democratic school system, how can we get it? My suggestion is school autonomy, which involves doing away with all school districts and their bureaucracies, with the state school bureaucracy, and with most of the education codes as now written. We instead send our money directly from the State to each school on the basis of equal support for all students in all schools.
Our children do not attend school districts, they attend schools. As parents and interested members of the public who live within the schools' boundaries and as equals in collaboration with teachers, together we can exercise direct democratic control over those schools. This can bring about any number of desirable results: money (huge sums of it) that now pays for educational bureaucracies will go to students' education, parents and public will have to take responsibility for their role in the schools, and teachers will have to take responsibility for what happens in their classes and schools. Autonomous schools will become laboratories for democracy and its possibilities.
Under the present system, the failure of a school district causes problems throughout the system, affecting all the students and staff in the district. Under school autonomy, only the individual school is affected by failure, and the parents and teachers of that school cannot escape responsibility for that failure. But they can also find ways to succeed. Once the voters of a State opt for school autonomy, their representatives in the legislature will have to deal with the implications for the State of this new system. Here are a few suggestions for dealing with them.
School funding. With the abolishment of local school districts, the State would become the sole source of funds for the schools. (No outside sources for funding for individual schools should be allowed since that will only reestablish the inequalities that now exist between richer and poorer schools.) But if we are not to covertly reestablish a State bureaucracy to take the place of the local ones we have removed, certain conditions will have to be met.
Mission statement. Describing what will be expected of all schools will be needed. Basically it would include what kinds of citizens we expect our students to become: healthy, well-informed, and well-rounded in the arts, sciences, and social studies as well as competent in the basic skills. It will guarantee academic freedom to the teachers and respect for student rights. Such a statement will provide the basis for evaluating the success of each individual school. This statement will serve as the basic education code, which should be added to sparingly, if at all.
Evaluation. On a regional basis the State will need to fund groups made up of citizens and teachers trained to periodically evaluate each school in terms of how well it is meeting its mission and to make concrete suggestions for improvements and to monitor those improvements.
Salaries. Since the State will be the sole source of school financing, salaries will have to be negotiated at the State level. The present system of salary schedules based on rewarding teachers for time served and extra classes taken strikes me as fundamentally unsound. There is no evidence that it has produced better teaching or that it has improved most students' performance. But it has produced an incredible proliferation of "betterment" courses, which the institutions of higher learning have been only too enthusiastic to promote from what seem pretty obvious economic motives on both levels. If we are serious about having a democratic school system, a teacher's or other employee's reason for changing jobs should never be on the basis of having received a better salary offer in another autonomous school. Nor is there any justification for paying differing salaries for the same work, a practice that is now found throughout the schools.
Equal pay for equal work. Undoubtedly this is an area where there will have to be serious public debate about what economic equality means in practice.
School construction and repair. A state body or regional bodies will need to be created and funded to build and repair schools. A fair and just system of priorities will have to be established (through elected representatives of the schools) and carried out. The architects and others involved will be required to cooperate with each school in arriving at acceptable designs.
Academic relations with other schools. Though schools will be autonomous, they should be encouraged to reach agreements with other primary and secondary schools over any academic matters mutually affecting them. They should cooperate with other autonomous schools in their agreements with community colleges and schools of higher education about such matters as teacher training, curriculum content, etc. And they should mutually establish standards for these.
Cooperation.This should be encouraged in every way possible. Successful participation in systems of cooperation shall form part of the school evaluation. This should involve every area where cooperation can improve the level of student services: academics, busing, maintenance, athletic programs, sharing of facilities, union with another school, etc.
Job security. Fair and reasonable rules for job security and tenure for teachers and job security for other employees should be established by the State.
School administration. Schools should be free to experiment with whatever administrative systems they may choose. This should lead in time to more effective and varied systems of school governance.
There are certainly other important matters (e.g. establishing new schools and testing to name a couple) that will need to be addressed, but the above-mentioned can serve as a basis for discussing and elaborating them. We must never forget that equality and democracy mean respect for individual differences or they mean nothing. Self-governing, autonomous schools can be a giant step toward the achievement of both.
Roberto Armstrong is a retired teacher who has also been an active sculptor and painter both here and in Mexico for the last 55 years.
Roberto Armstrong is a retired teacher who has also been an active sculptor and painter both here and in Mexico for the last 55 years.
Mental Health After Capitalism
By Dawn Belkin Martinez
In the U.S., as in many other countries, the struggle for comprehensive health care as a fundamental right continues to be waged on many fronts. There are three dominant components of social power characteristic of advanced capitalism and how they influence the provision of mental health services: (1) economic power; (2) political/institutional power; and (3) ideological or discursive power.
Economic Power. Under capitalism, mental health systems are driven by market economics and the profit motive. Most decisions about who gets services, what kind of services they get, its quality and quantity, are determined by access to or control of money and other resources.
Political/Institutional Power. Under capitalism, mental health services are furnished through a vast system of powerful institutions, dominated by a hierarchy of elite experts, administrators, and doctors who are overwhelmingly white, male, and heterosexual. These institutions are powerful mechanisms for the social control of the population. They use clinics, hospitals, "treatment," and medication to restrain and discipline "deviant" forms of behavior and impose on individuals and communities regimes of social conformity.
For much of the 20th century in the United States, the seriously mentally ill were confined to state hospitals while those suffering less extreme forms of mental illness received little or no treatment at all. Forty years ago, under a process labeled "deinstitutionalization," many of these state hospitals were closed and their patients were sent back into society at large. However, adequate funds were never allocated to provide services for these people, and the treatment they received was limited and inadequate. Adrift without necessary social support, many of these former patients drifted into alcoholism or drug addition and were unable to successfully integrate into their communities.
In the last 20 years, the conditions experienced by the seriously mentally ill in the United States have worsened considerably. Today, many mentally ill individuals are found living on the street, or in homeless shelters or prisons. A U.S. government study in 1998 estimated that nearly a quarter of a million mentally ill persons were incarcerated in prisons and jails. In this way, social control of the seriously mentally ill has become less a medical issue and more and more a police matter.
Meanwhile, for persons suffering other less serious forms of mental illness in the United States, over the last 40 years, psychotropic medications and prescription drugs have all too often become the dominant or only form of treatment. While this approach undoubtedly benefits some individuals, the primary beneficiary of this reliance on drugs is the powerful pharmaceutical industry and the web of corporate entities that make up the medical industrial complex.
Ideological/Discursive Power.The dominant discourses on mental health and mental illness under capitalism are biological/medical models that treat most forms of mental illness as "pathologies." Ignoring the economic, political, and social causes of a number of widespread mental health problems, these discourses "blame the victim" when individuals deviate from the narrow range of accepted behavioral norms. Such discourses reinforce people's problems and, once they are internalized, keep them locked into self-subjugating social narratives.
An Alternative Model
Some of the essential elements of an alternative model are as follows. All health care, including mental health care would be a human right, not a privilege. Services would be provided to the entire population based on need, not on ability to pay. Mental health care will focus on prevention and the social causes of illness as well as the treatment and care of the ill.
Society as a whole would allocate appropriate resources to health care, rather than leave it to the market to determine where and in what amount mental health care services would be provided. Likewise, society would devote sufficient resources to institutions of higher learning for training programs for physicians, psychologists, social workers, and other health care professionals. Such programs will emphasize health care delivery as a public service rather than lucrative private career.
Mental health institutions would no longer be organized according to the models promoted by the medical industrial complex. The institutional goal of mental health systems would be to facilitate the fullest development of the potentials of each and every individual, consistent with his or her physical and mental capabilities. Rather than viewing patients as objects to be manipulated and controlled for the benefit of capital, individuals in health care systems would be viewed as subjects, working alongside physicians and other health care workers toward their individual and collective empowerment.
Health care providers themselves will no longer be exalted and revered experts, dominating a hierarchical system that reinforces their privileges and distances them from the patients with which they work. Instead, they will see themselves as helpful allies in a joint project with them.
Geographically, post-capitalist mental health services will be furnished through a decentralized system of full service neighborhood clinics which will guarantee a continuity of care, and a close connection between providers and the communities in which they work.
In addition to institutional and geographical changes, life after capitalism will inaugurate other transformations in the way that mental health services are provided. Post-capitalist mental health practitioners will be guided by new principles in their relationships with clients and families. The North American psychologist William Madsen has identified the following commitments as key to these new principles:
- First, approach clients, their families, and communities as unique micro-cultures and learn what they can teach you. Clients' behavior and action need to be understood through their own lenses.
- Second, abandon the approach of identifying pathologies in favor of one that elicits competencies. Persons with mental health problems have skills, resilience, and capacities to grow. Treatment is not possible without recognition and reliance on these strengths.
- Third, work in partnership with clients and families. Clients must be active and invested subjects in their own treatment.
- Fourth, engage in empowerment practice, which involves ways of thinking and acting that acknowledge, support, and amplify people's own participation and influence in the decisions that affect their lives. Mental health care providers must make themselves and their work accountable to their clients.
Mental health theory will have to make a profound break with tradition. Activists in various countries are already attempting to identify theoretical constructs that represent a genuine break with the dominant contemporary discourses. One I find particularly useful has been developed by the Australian family therapist Michael White.
White's theoretical model is an alternative to the way that capitalist mental health system dehumanizes people by reducing them to their illnesses. He notes that these discourses often reinforce the problems that led people to seek treatment in the first place and keep them locked in self-subjugating social and personal narratives. His alternative model assists clients, both by enabling them to externalize their illnesses and by inviting them to participate in the construction of new and liberating narratives and stories about themselves.
Working together with clients as helpful allies, practitioners assist them to confront their problems by examining their lives in their full social contexts. This practice, by distinguishing and separating individuals from their illness, enables them to actively participate in the emergence of new personal narratives, different versions of their past, present, and future, and new self-images and ways of living.
This alternative mental health theory and practice draws inspiration from the political/educational work of Paulo Freire. As Freire demonstrated, individuals do not gain critical awareness by being "empty vessels" to be filled with knowledge or ideas by outside experts. Instead, they can come to truly understand themselves and their world and to consciously act in it only through a process of praxis involving reflection, action, reflection.
A Post-Capitalist Mental Health Alternative
Mental health care providers and clients can fight the logic of the current system in a number of ways, including the following:
1. Reject the wealth of monetary and institutional privileges associated with being physicians, psychologists, and social workers. Fight the oppressive hierarchies characteristic of hospitals, clinics, and governmental health bureaucracies. Support strong, progressive labor unions of hospital and clinic workers where they exist and help to organize them where they do not.
2. Master forms of empowerment practice in order to guarantee that clients and families involved in mental health systems have real power in determining their course of treatment. They can actively participate in community and neighborhood organizations that embody empowerment practices and are fighting to develop popular forms of struggle and resistance to capitalist oppression and exploitation.
3. Promote the reform of university and college programs which train physicians, psychologists, and social workers to ensure that these programs incorporate radical critiques of the existing system and raise with students the idea of post-capitalist alternatives. As someone who teaches social work in a graduate college, I am particularly aware of the importance of introducing empowerment theory and practice into student consciousness about mental illness and mental health.
4. Given their wealth and social status, doctors and psychologists wield a great deal of power in capitalist countries. Progressives among them should be actively participating in organizations and associations of other physicians, social workers, and mental health providers to insist that these groups intervene in economic and political struggles for universal health care and the reform of health care systems and institutions.
5. Recipients of mental health services, their families, and friends constitute a significant community of interest. Given their knowledge of the workings of mental health systems, and their stake in their improvement, this community should be encouraged to get involved in efforts to reform mental health systems, expand access to care, and ensure that public programs receive necessary funding.
6. A number of different studies have demonstrated that participation in community organizing and political action is good for people's mental health. It contributes to psychological well being and individual empowerment, and teaches participatory competence, causal importance, and self-efficacy that can materially and spiritually enhance participants' lives. For all these reasons, providers ought to be encouraging clients to become active in community and political struggles as part of their treatment plans.
Dawn Belkin Martinez is a social worker and teacher of social work at Simmons College School of Social Work. She is also a community activist working on connecting the U.S. imperialist war abroad and the war against the poor here at home. Her current research examines political organizing among Latino immigrants. This essay was prepared as a 2003 talk on Life After Capitalism and is available on ZNet.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.