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Justice Communicator Column 4: Common ownership may be the solution to the economic problems of today

This week, Detroit Evolution is pleased to repost the Justice Communicators column from The Michigan Citizen. Patrick Geans-Ali, Victoria Goff and I have been cycling through a loose discussion on the relationship between principals shared by the Environmental Justice, Media & Digital Justice and Food Justice movements. Thus far we have discussed the principals of Access, Participation and Community Ownership. Detroit Evolution will be posting these columns every day for nine days in the order they were published and invite you to join in on the discussion. Though I intended to post these in order, I will post Victoria’s third column on access soon. To keep the justice flowing, here is Patrick’s column on community ownership. Please share and thank you! ~Gregg

Common ownership may be the solution to the economic problems of today
• Sun, Sep 18, 2011
By Patrick Geans-Ali

This is the first in the series of columns on the justice principle of common ownership by the justice communicators

The deteriorating state of today’s world economy has many people re-evaluating whether the capitalist model pervading the geo-political landscape today is the be-all-end-all its proponents have claimed. After all, Red China has now gone green (and I don’t mean environmentally green). Soviet Russia has become the embodiment of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and the governors of Michigan and Wisconsin are dismantling city charters and collective bargaining rights in the name of the almighty dollar.

The world seems to have no alternative as the current system cannibalizes itself, as if suffering from a collective form of mad cow disease. The truth is there is a range of cures out there, but just like cures in today’s health care system, they are not being considered because the mad cows running the asylum don’t stand to profit from them.

One potential solution is the justice principle of common ownership, examples of which are cropping up in Detroit’s urban farming movement at the Cass Corridor Commons, a grassroots community justice center taking shape at the corner of Forest and W. Warren, and with your local ACE Hardware store, which is locally owned and operated, but is able to reap the benefits of collective buying power as a member of this dealer-owned cooperative.

These are just a few of the pioneering efforts being forged by local visionaries who are weary of America’s naked emperor syndrome and think it’s about time we visit the local thrift shop and find something more appropriate.

This may be heresy in Detroit Lions country, but as a sports fan, the Green Bay Packers business model jumps out as another intriguing example of what is possible in today’s business circles. Unlike most NFL franchises, the Packers, pro sports only community-owned franchise, don’t have privateering pirates at the top or behind the curtains. No need for the Koch Brothers in that part of Wisconsin.

In Green Bay, there is no shaking down of the city for publicly subsidized stadiums or the risk of them bolting to the next city that will offer a sweeter deal. The Packers organization is accountable to the shareholders of the organization. The result is a stable non-profit franchise that is securely rooted in the local community and that truly represents that community.

Wikepedia defines a cooperative (or co-op) as “a business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit. It is … an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

Who is to say cooperative business models couldn’t be replicated throughout the wider society? Could you imagine a world where the workers of General Motors actually own it and equally distribute the gains of that business among themselves, as opposed to foreign investors who never risk losing a finger in a machine or being exposed to some toxin? Can you imagine Midtown being rejuvenated by the invisible capital that never left Detroit?

This lack of business ethic goes to the heart of what is wrong with the current system. The vast majority of the profits would not be siphoned off by trust fund babies who have never worked a day in their lives but feel the world is obligated to let them, as the gangsters would say, “wet their beaks.” That wealth would circulate among the people who do the work. It would be invested in local communities. It would be spent in local economies.

This would result in continued local investments because people would see the connection between the quality of the products they make and the return to themselves. It certainly wouldn’t lead to the off-shoring of jobs and the relocation of factories.

I’m of a minority opinion among my colleagues that there are some virtues to the capitalist system. I believe that if everyone were allowed to truly discern his or her own best self interest and act accordingly, the system would work fine.

At the same time, I can’t deny that ideal is beyond the reach of most people — if not patently naïve — in a world where the three-headed monster of corporate-controlled mass media, government and the (currently trending) educational systems are the rule of the day.

Still, as the current system proceeds to self-destruct, it would be a good idea for those of us who are not enamored with the current system to start acting on the reality that a new world is truly possible. If we can do that, people may just find that decay of the current system lays the path to that better world. Make no mistake about it: The building of that world starts now.

November 4, 2011   No Comments

Justice Communicator Column 3: Access from Digital Justice Perspective

We’re back on task with our Justice Communicator Column round-up. These posts originally appeared in the Michigan Citizen. ~Gregg

Access from Digital Justice Perspective
by Victoria Goff

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently announced recommendations to marketing corporations and ad agencies against using heavy airbrushing in their advertisements. The AMA’s recommendations were unusual as they recognized the effect a constant stream of a certain type of media message can have on the health of human beings. In this case, the AMA was most concerned about what effect the constant stream of “perfect” women has on the body image of girls and women, but what I found so groundbreaking about the AMA’s recommendations is how they help to expand our understand of what “access” can mean, especially in the context of digital media.

Previously in this column, my fellow communications coordinators covered what “access” might look like from environmental and food justice perspectives. Patrick noted that environmental justice can not be a reality when children are being denied access to community gardens. Gregg discussed how corporate grocery stores can make accessing quality organic food nearly impossible for local communities. In each of their columns, they redefined what we’ve traditionally understood “access” to mean from the environmental and food justice perspective: access means more than the ability to take a vacation at some far away campground, and it means something much different than the ability to buy expensive food.

When it comes to “access” from a digital justice perspective, we’re dealing with a very similar need to redefine what “access” means. Traditionally, “access” to different types of media means increasing consumer’s ability to buy high speed internet or computers. But as Patrick and Gregg pointed out in their columns, only by reconsidering the entire way “lack of access” affects our communities can we really see the problem.

When it comes to digital justice, the AMA’s recommendations show us that just like the environment we live in and the food we eat, media lliterally affects the health and mental well being of those who consume it. When young people don’t have access to diverse positive images of themselves, their physical health suffers. How does increasing a consumer’s access to those images (increasing ability to buy high speed internet) help to heal a young person’s physical health?

When you expand what “access” can mean, you begin to see that Detroit also has plenty of its own “photoshopped” representations in media. The phenomenon of “decay porn” is a type of media that aims to capture the “tragic beauty” of abandoned buildings in Detroit. The utterly uncritical belief in the eminent death of a once great city allows mostly outsiders to profit handsomely off of the books, tours, and websites that result from the “tragically beautiful” photos.

But what do those photos mean for the health of Detroiters? If an onslaught of impossibly perfect photos of women can harm the mental and physical health of an entire generation of women and girls–what does the onslaught of photos that assume the death of Detroit mean for the mental and physical health of generations of Detroiters? What does it mean for the health of Detroit as a city? And how does increasing a community’s ability buy high speed internet address this health issue?

While the ability to subscribe to the internet or buy cheap computers is not necessarily a bad thing by itself, it does more to address the needs of corporations than communities. It does not prioritize the health of community members or assume their agency in creating solutions for themselves. It does what Gregg describes in his column about food and access: it dismisses and often destroys local innovation and community based resources rather than nurturing them. Access from a digital justice perspective recognizes that just as local farmers created CSA’s to address lack of quality food in the area, local media makers already are creating their own types of media that may or may not be technology centered to address the lack of quality media. Local media makers are farmers in their own right–and have the power to grow media that can heal and build.

Access in a digital justice sense is less about buying access and more about recognizing that without media, we have no relationships or communities. Whether it means dancing or cooking together or chatting on a blog or texting friends about the latest protest, relationships are the essential nutrient to a quality diet of any kind.

Stay tuned for next week’s article which will focus on “participation!”

Victoria Goff is the Communications Coordinator for the Detroit Media Economy Collaborative in Detroit Michigan. DMEC is a collaboration between organizations in Detroit that are working to build a sustainable media economy in Detroit.

November 3, 2011   No Comments

Justice Communicator Column 2: Whole Foods, access and food justice

This week, Detroit Evolution is pleased to repost the Justice Communicators column from The Michigan Citizen. Patrick Geans-Ali, Victoria Goff and I have been cycling through a loose discussion on the relationship between principals shared by the Environmental Justice, Media & Digital Justice and Food Justice movements. Thus far we have discussed the principals of Access, Participation and Community Ownership. Detroit Evolution will be posting these columns every day for nine days in the order they were published and invite you to join in on the discussion. This is the second column of the series focused on the justice principal of access. Please share and thank you! ~Gregg

Whole Foods, access and food justice
• Sun, Aug 07, 2011

By Gregg Newsom

It is convenient to this column’s current focus on access that health food giant Whole Foods Market, Inc. recently announced its plan to open a location in Detroit at Mack and John R in 2013. “Whole Paychecks,” as many call it, is well known for their exorbitant prices and for increasing disparity in urban communities. Whole Foods’ intention to join our local food system offers an opportunity to discuss the importance of food access within the larger frame of food justice and take a closer look at their business practices and policies.

The movement toward a just and equitable food system in Detroit has a rich, diverse history and the current expression of food justice is held by many individuals and organizations. One of them, The Food Justice Task Force was seeded two years ago as part of a community response to outside interest in the city’s growing urban agriculture movement. Rather than defer to outside interests, the partners organized and began building relationships and strategies to co-create a just food system in Detroit.

Some argue Detroit, as a regional hub for food distribution with large land parcels for potential farming use, represents a large playing field where differing models of agriculture and development can be explored and evaluated. While the field may be large, with a proposed $4.2 million in tax credits, pricing that makes their food inaccessible to most Detroiters and their role in gentrification, Whole Foods is already playing unfair and unjust.

In cities around the United States, the coordinates where Whole Foods break ground are now signposts of gentrification. The chain peddles foods and products that are considered staples among the so-called “creative class.” Rather than lift up and value longtime Detroiters as resources, the mayor’s office would prefer to import people they perceive as innovators and saviors.

Instead of attempting to mindfully navigate the inevitable challenges and opportunities that arise as Detroit’s demographics shift, many Midtown developers and business owners have read gentrification as an unavoidable natural process at best or, at its most dubious, as a mandate and means to increase property values and move low income residents out of desirable areas.

In addition to supporting gentrification, Whole Foods promotes healthy, green lifestyles. Their shelves and cases are stocked with foods and products framed as solutions to health issues and raise awareness of and support global causes. The reality is they promote a profit driven, homogenized and predominately white image of heath and wellness and stock “feel good” home products that are environmentally friendly in name only.

Admittedly, the grocery stocks some examples of socially conscious products that walk the talk, but many of their packaged foods contain refined sugars, highly processed oils and unregulated additives used to maintain flavor and color. Of course, this phenomenon is not exclusive to Whole Foods, but their name and branding give people the impression that anything they purchase in the store is healthy. So, in addition to pricing their food and vision of health out of the reach of certain people, they mislead their actual customers with that same food and vision of wellness.

In 2009, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey spoke out against national health care in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. Mackey’s recommendation is that rather than providing national health care, Americans should simply eat at Whole Food. He writes, “Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat.” While proposing a healthy diet as a means of preventative or alternative self-care, Whole Foods’ prices render that care inaccessible.

Even with the above examples of manipulation of food and health access by Whole Foods, the perceived, media-driven “plight” of Detroit makes it challenging to question any proposal with potential to generate revenue, create jobs and increase food options. Detroit’s food system, like the landscape of the city, is changing rapidly at both the grassroots and the corporate level. The principles of food justice, particularly as they pertain to community access to fresh, nutritious, affordable and culturally-rooted food are fundamental in growing a truly sustainable food system in Detroit.

Gregg Newsom is the communications coordinator for the Detroit Food Justice Task Force, a consortium of Black and people of color led organizations and supporters that share a commitment to creating a healthy, sustainable, affordable food security plan for Detroit. For more information, visit www.detroitfoodjustice.org.

November 1, 2011   No Comments