Journal of Aesthetics & protest
Conversations and Theory in
practice. go post-money!!!
by Amy Franceschini, Futurefarmers, San Francisco
In a recent visit to Madrid, Spain I had the chance to meet the founder of Esosecha organic farm, Javier Perez. Over a ham sandwich he asked me about Ralph Nader, and I asked him about the organic food movement in Madrid. Oddly enough, there really isn’t one, yet… Javier, like many of the peri-urban organic farms surrounding Madrid export their food to northern Europe. Esocheca is part of a regional network of organizations working together to cultivate a culture of local, organic food that is linked to a local economic base. A Spanish cooperative called Coop 57 is providing a means to this end. Founded in Catalonia ten years ago, Coop 57 gathers organizations from different fields with the aim of promoting a financial model based on ethics, solidarity and self-management that represent an alternative to traditional banking. Coop 57 offers loans and subsidies for the co-operative partners to be able to develop feasible projects that rest on sustainable development, labor rights and service to society. The partners decide which projects will contribute to a new model of “market”. One built upon social networks that allow people to have direct control of what is done with their savings. The difference between “micro-lending” and Coop 57 is that Coop 57 loans incur “social” interest rather than monetary.
Amy: Why is this relevant in these times?
Javier: There is a need to make the issue of economic management understandable to the users –so they can participate in making decisions. The impetus to start Coop 57 was to create a financial instrument that would help cooperatives and social movements to self-finance without the need to turn to traditional banks, with the main principle that money should simply be a tool to realize activities (whether these are productive or not) and not an end goal.
Amy: Is it limited to small farmers or to a broad audience?
Javier: Coop 57 is open to a broad audience. Our cooperative belongs to the Madrid section of Coop 57. There are 5 sections in Spain—Barcelona, Aragon, Madrid, Andalucía y Galicia. In total, we are close to 300 cooperatives and entities participating in this project. Each section is usually composed of entities that have a strong ideological affinity.
Amy: Can you explain the basic concept of Coop 57?
Javier: The money that is earned (4 million euros in 2008) is used to fund the activities of associated entities. All the entities and savers are partners that have equal rights and can participate in the governing of the cooperative. Based on solidarity-driven self-management, it allows people to have a direct control over what is done with their savings.
We are attempting to create an ecological municipality. It is possible to demonstrate by practice in the rural nuclei and continue living, working and generating wealth and be respectful to the environment.
We want to recover the culture of the farmer as the base of the ecology; to maintain and improve the Earth’s wealth, to live with little consumption, to conserve old methods without resigning to modern techniques and to maintain the Earth and our work as a school for life.
Amy: How can people participate in Coop 57?
Javier: Individuals can participate in Coop 57 by:
Amy: How do you think this "social banking" is having an effect on the community in terms of a rethinking of "value”?
Javier: It is a pretty big change. People from all around are starting to transfer their savings to Coop 57 and participating in the management of the cooperative.
Within the project people start to think that it is possible to undertake projects outside the market.
As a follow up to the interview, I worked with Marlene Franco to translate and select a selection, from a long and inspiring list, of projects funded by Coop 57:
Since January 2005, loans worth more than 10 million euros have been granted to projects in the social Catalan (Spain) economy directly tied to the promotion of cooperativism, employment, ecological sustainability, culture and education.. These monies have funded specialized schools, publishers, child care centers, social centers, bicycle repair projects, guerilla theater and street education.
In 2007, SAT, the Trade Union of Workers representing metal, hotel, construction, health and public administration workers were funded to continue their organizing work.
The Aposta School of Cooperatism was granted funds to develop a school that has no rules. It is based on pluralism and organizes “classes” around themes that emerge within the community. Interested parties meet to discuss how they want to learn and the format takes shape from there; a series of meetings with invited guests, field trips, walks, panel discussions and hands-on workshops.
The University Rural Paulo Freire received an advance grant to implement the start of a composting plant for reuse of municipal waste.
Bruguera: 20 Years After received communication equipment, editing and postproduction fees for a documentary film on the fight of the working-class that has its origins in Coop 57's birth. The documentary is a short thorough history of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the first legal victory for the workers of Bruguera, held at the house of Can Fuller in October 2006.
Other groups funded include: Grup de Recerca i Estudi dels Conflict, a conflict resolution and mediation organization and Inserció, a social re-integration organization serving former inmates of Quatre Camins Prison, as well as homeless, immigrants and marginalized women.
Coop 57 is also heavily present at conferences, events and maintains an active lecture schedule. For example, to mark the International Day of Cooperatives, the Cooperative Workers Housing and the Ecoprat municipality of El Prat de Llobregat (Barcelona) organized a gathering: Cooperative Approach to the World, with lectures, an exhibition and a presentation of Coop57, represented by Raimon Gassiot, of the Main Council. In another meeting, organized by CONSOP with 250 young people between 16 and 25 years from Germany, the Republic Czech, Hungary and Catalonia, a day full of conferences and exchange experiences took place. The aim of CONSOP was to bring youth to "labor initiatives where the common benefit is more important than the individual: where ethics and creativity truly count," to transmit the cooperative values of a social economy. Coop57 participated in the workshop "Experiences of economic democracy”.
Coop57 maintains a light organizational structure that can react to current issues in our rapidly changing world. Coop57 recently joined the Commission on Alternatives to the Crisis: Xarxa Solidarity Economy, an organization that develops and disseminates material regarding the causes of financial crisis and the collapse of sub-prime mortgages. One of their most successful actions has been "Decalogue on the Crisis". It is a project where pamphlets and posters were distributed in the streets, proposing concrete measures for ways to move toward another economic model.