Reimagine!

To have any hope of solving the twin crises of accelerating environmental degradation and growing economic inequality, we have to reimagine some fundamental assumptions in both the domestic and economic spheres: What is work? What is leisure? What is labor performed in our homes? How, as a society, do we organize our domestic and work lives so that we can meet our fundamental material and cultural needs?

Cooperative work places have long experience in organizing democratic governance for the means of production, but we need to move beyond industrial-era understandings of social relations. Democratizing the means of reproduction—the social sphere in which we meet the needs for education, health care, and domestic work—is an urgent task that can make another world possible.

In this issue of Race Poverty & the Environment, we feature the dreamers and the doers who are already reshaping our world and preparing for a more just transition. Here’s a sampling of the issues they are raising:

Transit-oriented development (TOD) puts homes within easy reach of workplaces but the gentrification that follows can also drive communities of color into deeper poverty by forc19-2 Cover IIing them out.. Can we imagine equity at the center of urban planning processes? (Rein, Saldaña and Wykowski, Castro)

Unionized public sector workers are under direct attack in the former industrial heartland of Michigan. Can the social movement unionism of the teachers in Chicago create new connections between community and labor strong enough to turn back corporatization? (Weiner, Fletcher)

Women’s legal right to contraception, health services, protection from job discrimination, and equal pay were established in the 20th century. Now the right wing is conducting a reactionary assault on those rights. Can we imagine how resisting exploitation of women in the domestic sphere can build new alliances that transform our lives at home and at work? (James, Kidd, Joaquin)

The typical corporate workplace is dominated by an unaccountable hierarchy that takes neither community concerns nor workers’ rights into account when making decisions that shape people’s lives. Can we imagine cooperative workplaces where goods are made, food is grown, building materials are constructed, and social justice organizing is conducted under the direction of the workers themselves for the benefit of the communities where they work and live? (Lavender, Casares and Mata)

In the wake of women’s entry into the workforce, an enormous industry of caring professions, including childcare, elder care, in-home health services, cleaning services, food preparation, and social services have become a substantial part of the gross domestic product. Can we imagine hospitals, home care service companies, and nonprofit organizations where the practices of the workers emerge from their direct connection to the population being served? And where unionized workers negotiate with boards elected from among the people being served? (Campbell)

In cities and states across the country, local governments are going bankrupt or deeper into debt paying exorbitant interest rates to banks to shore up core services because of a broken tax system. Can we imagine a government where the power to create the money supply is not used to capitalize for-profit banks that turn around and lend the money to local governments and homeowners at marked up interest rates? (Bond Graham, Clark)

In California, an untested cap-and-trade system has been adopted as a central strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a revenue stream directed by the state government. But the program as it is being implemented has loopholes and pitfalls that may exacerbate the broader problem of toxic emissions and increase the environmental impacts for low-income people. Can we imagine a taxation system based on harm to the environment that actually benefits poor communities and increases their resilience? (Truong, Conant)

Neoliberal economic approaches are starving investment in sustainable development, education, and social services at the same time that capital reserves and the stock market keep climbing. The absence of transit-accessible affordable housing, the failure to transition to renewable energy, and the incessant drive to corporatize public service stem from a perverse incentive for speculative economic investment over development directed at meeting the survival needs of people and the planet. More deeply, the division of labor which separates work in the home from work in the economy is part of a centuries-old system of social control that has subsumed the commons—the natural wealth of the world—and the natural processes of human reproduction to economic imperatives that only benefit a narrow elite.

Women’s rights to equal pay, health care, and contraception were under attack in the 2012 election campaigns. The political conversation about "legitimate" rape and God's intentions around a raped woman’s pregnancy are outstanding instances of a misogynist ideology that has a deep commitment to women as servants in the domestic sphere—doing the unwaged work of social reproduction—while leaving the highly paid and powerful positions in the economic sphere in the hands of a tiny fraction of white males (with a sprinkling of women and people of color willing to collaborate in a system of economic and social domination).

The neoliberal system is simultaneously shifting debt into the public sphere, privatizing public goods and services and commodifying work that was done in the community. Women in traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as teaching, nursing, and domestic work are leading some of the best organizing campaigns in the labor movement. (Weiner, Muniz, Joaquin) And movement thinkers, such as Grace Lee Boggs, Sylvia Federici, and Selma James are challenging all of us to look beyond the last election or the next one to the roots of our social and economic organization. As Boggs puts it in her speech excerpted on page 44: “We have to re-imagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. We have to reimagine revolution and think not only about the change, not only in our institutions, but the changes in ourselves.”

B. Jesse Clarke is the editor of Race, Poverty & the Environment.

* For references to articles that appear in this issue, author or interviewees’ last names are enclosed in parentheses



Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.

You can also subscribe to the Radio RP&E podcast feed or listen on iTunes.

Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment

 

Eyes Opened: My Exit Review



About five years ago, more than anything, I wanted to be a journalist who truly represented the voice of the people. A job at a corporate, mainstream publication never appealed to me. Today, I’m honored to have worked as the web and design editor for Race, Poverty & the Environment, a journal that has mirrored my passion for a myriad of issues in the realm of social and environmental justice. And it’s also great being able to say, I worked for Urban Habitat, “an organization that builds power in low-income communities and communities of color.“

But for 2013, I want to do more. It was Grace Lee Boggs that said, ”How we change the world and how we think about changing the world has to change.”

Over the last several months, I’ve really come to understand the wisdom of her words. “The time has come for us to reimagine everything. We have to reimagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. We have to think not only about the change in our institutions but the changes we need to make in ourselves.” (Boggs).

Another world is possible: a world that exceeds the confines of corporate institutions, the non-profit sector, and the current political system. A world that puts the needs, and the basic rights of ALL people at the forefront—no matter race, class, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. From the rights of domestic workers, immigrants, women, people of color, and low-income people, to LGBT, teachers, students, workers… and the lists goes on. Selma James (p. 68) observes that our current model of work, “the activity women and men are forced to perform in order to survive… saps our time our energy and our life.“

As far-fetched as it sounds, we must create something new and do the impossible to make the world a better place. We must truly want it and then act on it, and be willing to sacrifice for what we believe in, even if it means quitting your job. I don’t believe a system structured for the sake of productivity, monetary gain, and capital can ever truly be transformed.

A few months ago, Urban Habitat held a communications/branding training workshop for its staff. We were asked to find words and phrases that define Urban Habitat’s vision, such as “change” and “transform.” But asking the powers that be to “change” or “transform” a system that’s doing exactly what it was established to do—a system built on the backs of slaves, corrupt institutions, imperialism and exploitation—negates our own power to imagine a new way of organizing our lives. Instead, we often find this power unattainable.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dolores Huerta, Malcolm X, Gabriela Silang, Rosa Parks, were all just ordinary people who were passionate about what they believed in and made things happen against all odds.

Muhammad Ali said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given, than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Nonprofit corporations, funded by the 1-percent, did not lead the victories of the Women’s Suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement and other social struggles. A common analysis, a collective will, and unity in action were the key ingredients in those movements, which inspired millions (Joaquin). And while the nonprofit form has a role in serving our communities, it clearly is not enough.

As I leave Urban Habitat—I have been laid off—I am saddened, and will miss all the great co-workers who have offered me encouragement and friendship. I want to especially thank my editor, B. Jesse Clarke, for being one of my great inspirations. Thank you Jesse, for everything you’ve taught me about life, production, design, publishing, politics, liberation, and so much more.

But even as I leave this job with its paid vacations and benefits to face an uncertain future, I am also grateful because I’m forced to do nothing but make my dreams a reality on my own terms and do good in the world. For those of you who want to be in touch or learn more about the next steps in my journey, visit me at eyesopenedblog.com.

Christine Joy Ferrer is the web and design editor of Race, Poverty and the Environment and founder and editor of Eyes Opened Blog.


Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.

You can also subscribe to the Radio RP&E podcast feed or listen on iTunes.

Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment