• Marcelo Vieta

More than Surviving, Our Longing to Thrive: Economic Democracy for the Black Community Post-COVID-19

Updated: Aug 23

By Melanie Blackman


Themes: Anti-Racism/Black Lives Matter, Social Justice, Enterprise/Organization


Listen to the Podcast: Melanie Blackman interviews Agapi Gessesse and Natasha Gray


“True resistance begins with people confronting pain…and wanting to do something to change it” (hooks, 2014, p.229). For People of Colour (POC), specifically members of the Black community, we continue to live in the legacy of colonial violence through the structural injustices in social services, health care, the justice system and the economy. The pandemic has heightened our daily oppressions, forcing all to witness our collective ills and trauma and reinvigorating a demand for change.

In the accompanying podcast to this essay, we discuss collective organizing as an essential tool to support marginalized communities, specifically the Black community, who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 (CBC, 2020). For members of the Black community, systemic inequities with deep roots in anti-Black racism are a daily reality that leaves our communities barely surviving and is only being heightened during the current pandemic. With the compounded effects of recent violence against the Black community by law enforcement, there has been an elevation of the collective struggle and call to action. For the podcast I invite Agapi Gessesse, Executive Director of the Black-led youth organization CEE Toronto, and grassroots organizer and founder of She Got the Power and A Dope Girls Guide, Natasha Gray, to have a generative conversation regarding a way forward, moving from surviving to thriving. First we explore the idea of an economy of care and its efficacy in the Black community. Then we discuss financial cooperative/collective organizing as a form of resistance and economic democracy. Lastly, we explore cooperative models as valuable mechanisms to engage and invest in Black youth as the next generation. This podcast concludes by emphasizing multiple pathways of collective organizing as acts of collective resistance and the rejuvenation of a thriving Black community post COVID-19.


Is Caring Enough?


Our conversation discusses the initial shift from the COVID-19 crisis economy to care centered economies. We reference viral support inquiries, healthcare professional thank you parades, posters encouraging people to stay home and recent BLM support through protest and social media. As a recent op-ed piece in the Toronto Star on the caremongering movement stated: “Hope that the crisis will serve to bring out the best in us...its spreading acts of kindness and reassurance that people will help others when they need it most” (Toronto Star, 2020). The op-ed highlights the positive effects of the pandemic moment, shifting from a crisis economy to care economy. We discuss caremongering and its benefit to marginalized communities and if it really can be reassurance that communities will help others at the time of need. Both guest podcasters acknowledge the importance of care economies in support of Black communities as a very initial stage of building awareness. But it is simply not enough to address structural injustice.


Freedom for Us-Collective Power


In the next part of the discussion, we hear the guest podcasters’ perspective on mutual aid models that have and continue to serve marginalized communities. Gessesse references mutual aid and collective organizing as mechanisms that have always existed in our communities. She references other names for what Caroline Hossein (2020) calls Rotating Saving and Credit Associations (ROSCAs): “ROSCAs use a common fund that individuals contribute a set amount to on a regular basis (usually monthly), while one member withdrawals the funds at each meeting” (Hossein, 2020). Similarly, Gray endorses mutual aid models as way to achieve collective independence from systems of oppression.


What Effects Can Cooperatives Have on the Next Generation?


We finish our discussion by centering on cooperative models as a way forward for the Black community to address inequities around health, food security, transportation and mental health post COVID-19. I reference Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s work in her 2014 book Collective Courage and its sharing of comprehensive models of youth led cooperatives and the correlated positive learning and ways to build the Black community’s economic autonomy through cooperatives. As Gordon Nembhard writes: “They have created mechanisms that distribute, recycle, and multiply local enterprise and capital with a community, creating a solidarity economy” (Nembhard, 2014, p. 236-237). Guest podcasters share their perspectives of solidarity economies and its viability for the youth of today. They acknowledge that the Black youth of today are not only ready to actively resist structural injustice but are also looking for reparations through action. We also discussed healing as an integral part to learning to work together to support collective action.


Parting Thoughts


This podcast is a preliminary conversation on solidarity economies such as cooperative models as viable solutions for marginalized Black communities post COVID-19. As a community that experiences very particular inequities rooted in anti-Black racism, we acknowledge the low social determinants of health and the effects of COVID-19 to show how capital-centered economies will always leave people behind and create a crisis economy. As author Tom Malleson states: “…environmental and social breakdown lead to a backlash which is instead channeled towards radical deepening of democracy. The masses of people intimately affected by economic power demand increasing control over it.” (Malleson, 2014, p.216). COVID-19, combined with racism and violence against the Black community, are two current “viruses” affected many marginalized and racialized groups. But they also offer openings and opportunities for the 99% to demand more control over our economic destinies.


Contributing critical insight to addressing care economies, Black freedom and the power of collectives to organize for the next generation are two Black grassroots leaders who continue to support and advocate on behalf of the Black community. I thought it absolutely critical to have this conversation with leaders closest to the ground, closely connected to the voices of the Black community. In agreement with theorists like Caroline Hossein and Jessica Gordon Nembhard, we too acknowledge the necessity to disrupt the narrative that the Black community has a difficulty working as a collective. Instead, we discuss our histories of resistance, perseverance and successes from our collective organizing. Our conversation ends with the possibilities for the next generation in solidarity economies. It is our hope that we can continue to identify more opportunities for members of the Black community to learn, join or establish cooperative models to address their localized needs. I am also interested in learning more about other ways of communal exchange, such as bartering as means to achieving economic democracy. This is just the beginning of many necessary conversations around solutions for the Black community by the Black community. Our power is in our collective organizing!


References


Editorial Board. (2020). Caremongering: A Movement that Amplifies the Best of Us (Links to an external site.). The Toronto Star. (Mar. 22).pandemic.


hooks, bell. (2014). Yearning: Race, gender, and cultural politics. London: Routledge. (p.229)


Hossein, Caroline. (2020). Mutual Aid and Physical Distancing Are Not New for Marginalized and Black Communities in the Americas (Links to an external site.). HistPhil. (Mar. 24).


Malleson, Tom. (2014). Conclusion, Toward a Feasible Socialism for the 21st Century. In After Occupy: Economic Democracy for the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press (p. 198-217).


Nembhard, J. G. (2014). Collective courage: A history of African American cooperative economic thought and practice. University Park: Penn State Univ. Press. (p.236-237)


CBC (April 22) Toronto will start tracking race-based data, even if province won’t. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-covid-19-race-based-data-1.5540937