Direct Democracy, Constituent Power, and the Common(s)

Our panel will explore programs, practices, and experimentations in the power-building models we are constructing from below. Central to the question of movement building is that of how we can organize ourselves democratically, without coercion, and power-hoarding, and with the particularities of gender, race, ability, and other forms of domination in mind. Our presentations will explore many aspects of direct democratic governance including collective decision-making, equitable management of resources, addressing interpersonal and structural conflict resolution, emergent contradictions of building and sustaining radical democratic institutions, and requisite approaches to resolve them. Our presentations are connected with a common thread of anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist approaches seeking to address the sociopolitical, economic, and ecological crises of our time.

 

Speakers include:

  • Alison Chopel, Universidad de Puerto Rico
  • Ndindi Kitonga, Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid
  • Kermit O
  • Yvonne Yen Liu, Solidarity Research Center

We will be presenting this panel at the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN on Thursday, June 20th 2024 from 2:45 PM to 4:15 PM ET. We are making our panel available for people to attend virtually by livestream.

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Speakers

Alison Chopel

she/her

I’m a weaver who holds connections in diverse arenas, which I strive to leverage to strengthen movements for just transformations. This includes my role as engaged neighbor and volunteer for my community compost program and community center arts, music and activism, my role as advisory board member on the Collective Sustenance Farm project, and my role as mother, friend, sister, partner, colleague for those close to me. My roles as the Partnerships Curator with the League of Puerto Rican Cities, my role as professor in the Graduate School of Planning at the University of Puerto Rico, my role as ecosystem coordinator in nurturing the deep collaboration of three young systems change organizations in Puerto Rico who are working on participatory governance through municipalism, land justice, housing justice, and democratization of information, are all nourished by these relationships and vice versa.

Organizing Project:La Liga de Ciudades de Puerto Rico

Location:San Juan, PR

Kermit O

he/him

Kermit is a 4th generation Philadelphian, writer, dreamer, and abolitionist, researching and organizing at intersections of land, food, and environmental justice. He sees abolition as the breaching of enclosure — schools, prisons, labor, race, gender, family, all the way to the borders of the nation-state — to liberate bodies, cultures, knowledges, resources, and energies, across space and time, along collectively self-determined pathways.

Kermit works to engage communities in shared struggle, mutual support, freedom dreaming, and and the coproduction of knowledge, resources, and space, whether in research, organizing, or the larger project of world-making. He is particularly interested in building hyperlocal networks of material solidarity, as an alternative form of economy — that is, how people relate to each other and the land. He wants to explore how these arrangements might be scaled up to build the social, political, and material infrastructure for dual power, as a strategy for resistance and resilience against the intersecting and emergent crises of capitalism.

Organizing Project:Building Blocs

Location:Philadelphia, PA

Ndindi Kitonga

she/her

Ndindi Kitonga is an educator, long-time community organizer, and houseless rights advocate. Ndindi grew up with a family who worked as counselors and educators in Kawangware, a large slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. Her early experiences working with a dispossessed community compelled her to pursue higher education in the United States and eventually to work with youth as a high school science teacher.

In response to the horrific disparities the COVID pandemic exacerbated in her community in Palms, Ndindi co-created a small mutual aid network in her local community in March 2020. The unhoused population in this community is comprised mostly of Black and Latine people, many of who are queer, disabled, undocumented, and PWUD (people who use Drugs). The abolitionist network of care, Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid (PUMA) has grown over the past three years from a small collective where organizers share food, hygiene, harm reduction, and other supplies with their unhoused neighbors, to one where they are organizing popular education clinics, coalition-building, and political mobilization.

Ndindi is also the co-founder of Angeles Workshop School, a radical secondary school in Los Angeles focusing on democratic learning and class consciousness. In addition to her work in K-12 education, Ndindi teaches graduate school courses and is a published scholar in the areas of Black movement politics, feminist abolitionisms, critical pedagogy, and anti-colonial education.

Ndindi has a B.S. in Biochemistry as well as an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Education.

Organizing Project:Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid

Location:Los Angeles, CA

Yvonne Yen Liu

she/her

Yvonne Yen Liu is the Co-Founder and Research Director of Solidarity Research Center. She is based in Los Angeles, California, where the sun smiles on her every day. Although a native of New York City, she and the city have broken up and went their separate ways. She is a practitioner of research justice with over 20 years of being a nerd for social movements. Yvonne serves on the boards of the US Solidarity Economy Network, Policy Advocates for Sustainable Economies (a 501(c)(4) organization affiliated with the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives), Institute for Social Ecology, and New Economy Coalition. She teaches in the gender studies department at California State University, Los Angeles. Yvonne has a BA in cultural anthropology from Columbia University and a MA in sociology from the CUNY Graduate Center, where she pursued a PhD.

Paper Abstracts

Power Building from Below in Puerto Rico by ALISON CHOPEL

This paper explores relationships between what Michael Hardt refers to as the natural (ecological) and the artificial (social and economic) commons, through the lens of three specific power building projects in Post-María Puerto Rico. Post-María Puerto Rico has much to offer the world in terms of understanding possibilities for our future, in particular the varied possible ways in which commons are acknowledged as such and managed collectively or continued to be coopted through the illusion of private property ownership, as it is in the forefront of both climate and social vulnerability (given it has among the highest climate risk index and the highest economic inequalities in the Western hemisphere). A look at the journey of a collective of queer artists combatting displacement in the capital’s arts district (La Futura es Rosario) shows how we must practice and improve management of natural commons to enable the immaterial production of artificial commons to happen in a way that is healthy, just and joyful. My colleague at the Graduate School of Planning in the University of Puerto Rico, Ariam Torres Cordero, has described a practice of Bomba Planning that demonstrates how we can bolster and invest in the immaterial knowledge, skills, roles and processes to make decisions together to manage commons and plan into the future. Lastly, the Resiliency Law Center’s theory of change posits that investing in the building of the artificial commons assets of collective, localised governance is arguably one of the best investments for conservation/ management of the natural commons as well, as local communities that depend on healthy ecosystems are their best stewards.

Direct Democracy, Building Power, and Counter-Narrative Education by NDINDI KITONGA

Is it possible to nurture a learning environment in which students can participate in democracy, built on the radical notion that young people should and can be free and that their full participation is vital not only in classrooms but in larger socio-political contexts? This paper will explore three educational spaces based in Los Angeles experimenting with notions of abolition and direct democracy outside of mainstream schooling institutions. The programs include Colegio del Pueblo (Parent Ethnic Studies program), Escuelita Aztlan (Community Saturday School open to all ages from infant to abuelita), and Angeles Workshop School (cooperative micro-school). These programs predominately serve working-class Black and Brown folks interested in anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics. The paper will discuss the three models’ practices with: 1) developing learner agency and mode to transform oneself from a victim of hegemony, capitalism, and internalization of the -isms, to an empowered agent of change at all levels, 2) nurturing learners’ participation in ones’ community to build combat injustices and challenge institutional power, 3) building widespread democratic education networks to support learning and foster the type of praxis necessary to build alternative worlds free of capitalist exploitation, ecological degradation, and all other antagonisms to human flourishing.

Building BLOCs for Autonomy and Self-Determination in Philadelphia by KERMIT O

Enclosure, the division of common land into private segments which forms the underlying logic of capitalism, also finds expression in our relationships to time, space, community, the body, knowledge, labor, and life itself. Abolition derives from both the Latin abolere, to destroy, and adolere, to grow. Abolition might therefore even be defined as the dissolution of enclosures, which creates or restores pathways for living. Commoning, the return to stewardship, sharing, and solidarity, is a key strategy in our approach to abolitionist horizons. While we must resist relations of domination at every turn, it is essential to prefigure the world we want. Building BLOCs — block level organizing committees — to dream, design, and democratically develop our immediate social and material realities is one tactic being explored in Philadelphia for modeling and practicing more liberatory relations, toward greater autonomy and self-determination.

The Municipalist Moment in Los Angeles by YVONNE YEN LIU

Experiments in municipalism and the reclamation of the common(s) have been slow to develop in North America and yet one is emerging in Los Angeles. The city is inhospitable to the majority: growing numbers of unhoused residents are swept off the sidewalks to be incarcerated, while Black and Latine families are subjected to racial banishment and pushed to the periphery. The fragmentation of the built environment of the city is mirrored in the inability of social movements to come together. Divisions are made to weaken constituent power and to pit groups segregated by race and place to fight for meager resources. A network of social movement organizations, under the name of Los Angeles for All, is attempting to establish collective action plans, governance, and infrastructure to build power from below. The long-term vision is to replace the status quo with a directly democratic polity and solidarity economy. The presentation will explore how the common(s) and public goods can be managed in a transformed city and will reflect on how governance and institutions can transition to this municipalist model.

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