We Did It!

It’s 2020 – a year that will become memorable for all of us, thanks to COVID-19 and the economic collapse it has hastened.

For us at the Fund for Democratic Communities, 2020 will be memorable for an additional reason: it’s the year we close our doors. None of this should be a surprise, to our grantees, at least. Back in 2010, co-founders and co-Managing Directors Ed and Marnie agreed that we’d sunset F4DC in ten years, and we’ve been touting that plan in blogposts and papers and at conferences ever since.

Our original plan was to close in December of this year, but today we’re announcing that we’ll be closing on June 30th. Of course, we’re closing early because we’ve been wildly successful at building a more democratic, just, and sustainable world, and we’ve ended all forms of oppression ahead of schedule!!

Just kidding. We’re closing early because we’re out of money earlier than we’d originally planned.

As the COVID crisis and economic meltdown unfolded, we very deliberately decided to move as much as we could as fast as we could into the hands of people and groups doing important work. We’ve set aside enough funds to pay our peeps through the end of the year, close down operations in an orderly way, and tell the story of F4DC in ways that we hope will inspire others to support the organizations and movements that we’ve grown, nurtured, and learned from.

We were going to have a huge final gathering dedicated to summing up and leaning into the next stages of the work – but COVID fucked that up. Nonetheless, this isn’t the last you’ll hear from F4DC. After we close our public-facing operation and wrap things up administratively, we’ll be taking time to reflect about our history and what it means that there ever was an F4DC. And beyond that, each of us – Sohnie, Marnie, Ed, Mildred & Alex – is committed to the work. We’ll be moving into various jobs and onto new platforms where we intend to keep our collective vision of authentic grassroots democracy alive.

In 2012, Marnie wrote this about the thinking behind the decision to operate for a limited span of time:

We’re at a pivotal moment, a time of opportunity on the one hand and real danger on the other. F4DC is striving to put its resources — both money and people power — in service to the massive project of building a just, sustainable and democratic economy in this critical period. It’s a big project, and it’s sure to last way past 2020. But we think F4DC’s greatest impact—our shot at transformational impact — is in these next eight years.

It’s going to take a while (perhaps a few decades?) to figure out whether F4DC actually had a transformational impact. What we can say now is that we worked really hard with some brilliant, powerful partners to build some durable infrastructure for that just, democratic, and sustainable future. We’re incredibly grateful for the partners who have taught us, stood with us, argued with us, lifted us up along the way. We’re proud of the legacy we leave behind, which includes Seed Commons, the Southern Reparations Loan Funds, and all the learning from the Renaissance Community Cooperative, just to name a few highlights.

Justice movements are built and operate on trust, which feeds into a core principle at F4DC: the only way to build trust is to keep your promises. Ten years ago, we promised to move all of F4DC’s assets into communities, into the hands of people who will fight for freedom and build justice. And today, we’re proud to say that we are keeping that promise.

Alex, Ed, Marnie, Mildred, and Sohnie – the staff of F4DC

Local food coops and initiatives celebrated at Food For Thought film night

Attendees mingled and learned about food initiatives across our city.

On April 24, a great crowd came out for F4DC’s third movie night, “Food for Thought” at the Carousel Theater. We were so pleased to co-sponsor the event with Deep Roots Market in celebration of the grand opening of their new location and the Renaissance Community Co-op that’s in the midst of an impressive drive to launch a food co-op in Northeast Greensboro.

Attendees mingled and learned about food initiatives across our city.
Attendees mingled and learned about food initiatives across our city.

What’s a co-op’s number one purpose? To meet the needs of its members! This reality rang clear throughout the evening.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s it was really tough to get natural and organic foods in Greensboro. So, a small group of people starting a buying club for these types of items. This was the origin of Greensboro’s first consumer food co-op. Community members recognized a common need and worked together to meet that need by forming a cooperative business. With the expansion this year, Deep Roots is expecting an annual revenue of over $4 million dollars and will employ more than four dozen people. They’ve come a long way from those first days in a Guilford College dorm room!

Renaissance Community Coop Steering Committee members signed up new members!
Renaissance Community Coop Steering Committee members signed up new members!

Likewise, neighbors in Northeast Greensboro decided they were tired of waiting year after year for a grocery store chain to set up shop after Winn-Dixie closed in the 1990’s and left them living in a food desert. Folks started meeting together last year to start their own grocery store with healthy foods in a conventional store that’s owned and democratically controlled by the community. In addition to healthy and affordable food, this store will create community wealth and good jobs. By working together to meet their own needs, they are paving the way for communities across the country. With the help of the City of Greensboro, Renaissance Community Co-op is soon to be a national success story.

Four film shorts were shown at movie night, In between, there was rich discussion with panelists, Joel Landau (of Deep Roots Market), Sadie Blue and Casey Thomas (of Renaissance Community Co-op). If you missed “Food for Thought” movie night, check out some of the videos that we showed:

What’s to love about Food Co-ops is a 2 minute short about why natural and organic food co-ops are so great!

Watch some of the rough-cut scenes of Food For Change, a feature-length documentary in production about how food co-ops are a force for dynamic social and economic change in American culture. The movie tells the story of the cooperative movement in the U.S. through interviews, rare archival footage, and commentary by the filmmaker and social historians. A third of the money collected at the movie night went to this group to support the completion of their film.

The Little Mercmaid and Co-op Style are sure to leave you humming. Each of these short films were created by their co-op members in Lawrence, KS and East Lansing, MI respectively as part of the 2012 Year of the Co-op “My Co-op Rocks!” film contest.

We wrapped up the evening with very cool open space time. Everyone left their comfy theater seats and joined A&T Urban and Community Horticulture Program, the Edible School Yard, Greensboro Farmers Curb Market or Food Not Bombs and talked about ways to connect and get more involved in more food related efforts going on in Greensboro.

We hope to see you next time at F4DC’s next movie night. Check our website or sign up for the listserve for more information.

Creating a “Do It Ourselves” Economy

Fixing The Future

Last month, F4DC hosted a film screening of “Fixing the Future,” where movie-goers had an opportunity to travel along with David Brancaccio across the country and back again, as he talked to people who are imagining and actively building their local economies through projects like time banking, local currency and cooperative businesses.

After the film, local panelists spoke briefly about just a few of the grassroots economy efforts going on in North Carolina. We heard from the Greensboro Chapter of Slow Money, a network of people in the Triad lending and borrowing money to grow small food and agricultural businesses; Bountiful Backyards, a Durham-based worker-owned cooperative that creates edible landscapes; and Greenleaf Coffee Cooperative, a student-run coffee shop at Guilford College.

There was a dynamic energy in the room afterward as folks chatted about plans and ideas they may have mulled over for months or even years. Several people spontaneously agreed to gather to talk about how time banking might work in Greensboro. And plenty of people talked about local projects already in the works, such as the Renaissance Co-op Committee (RCC), a community led effort to develop a cooperative grocery store in Northeast Greensboro. Hope and determination came together as this community of people were reminded in just a couple of hours that WE can build the new economy ourselves.

Lets build a new economy!

The conversations didn’t stop that night. In the weeks that have followed the film screening, I’ve overheard several people talking about rebuilding our town’s economy from the ground up, and had some of these conversations myself! In fact, my husband and I just took advantage of a time bank inspired exchange this weekend. We had a morning of hands-on learning from someone in our neighborhood who’s an experienced contractor. He’s agreed to help us with a home construction project that required a fairly high skill level. We’ve offered up a few possibilities for a trade and look forward to seeing which of the options he’ll choose for his exchange.

These creative and real ideas that are taking root in places across the country because they fill a need we have to feel a sense of community. It feels good to be able to offer our skills and benefit from those of a new friend. Most importantly, we are participating in a cooperative, do-for-ourselves approach to changing our local economies.

Movie-goers at the “Fixing the Future” screening made a clear request to learn more about cooperatives. In response, we’ve decided to host another screening next month. On January 16th, we’ll show “Shift Change,” a documentary film that tells the stories of employee owned businesses that compete successfully in today’s economy while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces.

From the birthplace of the modern cooperative movement in Mondragon, Spain to cleaning cooperatives in the Bay Area, to North Carolina’s own Bountiful Backyards and Opportunity Threads, worker-owned cooperatives are creating scalable and replicable businesses that are changing people’s relationship to their work and local and regional economies in dramatic ways. Watch the trailer and save the date of January 16th!