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On Friday, April 18, 2014, more than 40 community activists and faculty and students  from M.I.T. and Tufts University gathered in downtown Boston for a day-long critical learning and sharing workshop hosted by Tufts Practical Visionaries Workshop and the Center for Economic Democracy. Working together to develop their own vision for a more democratic, just and sustainable economy, the group actively challenged the assumptions underpinning capitalism. Prior to the meeting, participants prepared for the discussions by reading articles and watching videos (available below) that critically analyze the notion of capitalism and highlight economic democracy initiatives such as worker cooperatives, community banks, and land trusts.

The workshop included a series of participatory exercises aimed at uncovering the issues local communities are facing, the root causes of those issues, the group’s understanding of capitalism as well as hopeful case studies in Boston and beyond and strategies for creating new practices and systems. Lack of good jobs, limited access to education, high rents, pollution, poverty, gender violence and gentrification were some of the common issues discussed, with larger systems of oppression such as racism, patriarchy and militarism identified as root causes.

Once the group established a shared understanding of issues and causes, Penn Loh led a dynamic exercise to illustrate how capitalism works, highlighting who wins, who loses and why the system relies on crisis to continue. Exercises like the one depicted above allowed the group to articulate in concrete terms such stages of the economy as finance-investment, production, consumption, exchange and accumulation of surplus. Once each of these stages were unpacked, the group began a set of discussions about how to strategically intervene in different stages. In the afternoon, for example, workshop organizers led four interactive and educational breakout sessions entitled participatory budgeting, finance, community-driven real estate and anchor institutions. Each participant had an opportunity to join two sessions and report back to the larger group.

The day concluded with rigorous reflections on the limitations and potentials of the group’s work with an eye toward how to strengthen and connect the impressive examples of economic democracy already underway in the Boston region.

The workshop was organized by Penn Loh, Aaron Tanaka, Nene Igietseme, Juan Leyton, Jennifer Ly, and Becca Tumposky. SEIU Local 32BJ, District 615, generously provided space for the meeting.

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