A New Era in Chicago as workers open their own window factory

New Era Windows

Writing in The Nation, Laura Flanders covers the opening of New Era Windows in Chicago. After their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors, closed the plant and fired the staff, the workers occupied the plant. Eventually they were able to take ownership of it and, with the help of the broader cooperative movement around the country, re-opened it as a worker-owned cooperative!

Flanders writes:

The workers in this story are members of the same workforce who, when they received word that their plant was about to be closed with no notice at what was then the Republic Windows and Doors factory in 2008, occupied their plant and became a cause célèbre in a grim winter of mass layoffs. When they were laid off again in early 2012, by a second owner, they decided, as Apple would say, to “think different.” With encouragement from their union, the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE), and The Working World, a progressive investment group that helps co-operative start-ups internationally, they formed a company, “New Era LLC.” New Era is 100 percent owned by workers and now, at last, open for business.

Below is a great video piece on the opening. Click here to read the full article.

Cooperative movement concerned about President’s budget

Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal
Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal
Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal

The White House released its 2014 budget proposal recently. There are significant changes to the methods cooperative development is funded. The National Cooperative Business Association and CooperationWorks! have both expressed their concern.

Below is NCBA’s response:


NCBA Concerned Over Consolidation Proposal of Rural Development Programs Outlined in President’s FY14 Budget

(WASHINGTON, DC) – In its initial review of the recently released President’s FY14 budget, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) is seriously concerned with the elimination of the only program in the federal government solely focused on cooperative owned businesses.

“In the President’s budget that was released today, there is a proposal to consolidate a number of rural development programs including the Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program (RCDG). The RCDG program provides technical assistance for cooperative expansion and development,” said Mike Beall, president and CEO of NCBA. “I am concerned that consolidating the RCDG program with unrelated rural development programs will diminish the agency’s focus and mission of supporting the advancement of cooperatives. I look forward to discussing this concern with USDA and the White House to learn more on the consolidation proposal.”

Over the next few days, NCBA will host talks with leaders in all cooperative sectors to discuss the effect this outcome will have on cooperative development centers and cooperatives in rural America.

Update: Click here to read about USDA cuts already being put into place.

Yes Weekly: Neighborhood aims for co-op grocery in food desert

Bessemer Center, Northeast Greensboro (Photo by Eric Ginsburg, Yes Weekly)

This week’s issue of Yes Weekly features a lengthy article from Eric Ginsburg about the Renaissance Cooperative Committee’s effort to launch a cooperative grocery in Northeast Greensboro. The Fund for Democratic Communities is thrilled to be supporting their work to bring a community-owned store to their neighborhood!

Continue reading Yes Weekly: Neighborhood aims for co-op grocery in food desert

Sustainability vs. Competition

Competitors in the London 2012 Olympics
Competitors in the London 2012 Olympics
Competitors in the London 2012 Olympics

Building sustainable communities is something we think about a lot here at the Fund for Democratic Communities. Our starting point in these discussions is the economic sustainability of communities and their ability to use their community wealth for their own benefit. The mainstream discourse on sustainability is largely set within the boundaries of the current economic system – one that is based on exploitation of labor and extraction of wealth and resources from communities around the world. True sustainability will likely not be found within this worn out and fundamentally self-destructive system.

I recently attended a large region-wide gathering with people from business, government and the nonprofit sectors. This event firmly grounded itself in the existing economic framework. We were told by several speakers that “competing [with other cities and regions around the country] was no longer good enough – we have to win.” This exhortation to renewed and heightened competition reached a Monty Python-like apex when one individual stated that the competition between the major cities in our area was hindering the region’s ability to compete.

Compete for what, exactly? Many local and state government officials are busy trying to entice businesses to relocate to their areas in need of job growth. As a result most governments are working hard to make their communities attractive to people who do not live in them yet. A huge piece of a community’s wealth is found in it’s “commons.” This is the set of resources, both tangible and ephemeral that we used to protect vigorously for the benefit of ourselves and our neighbors. Today, governments package bundles of these resources and give them to large businesses in the form of tax incentives and free infrastructure in exchange for an investment, a promise of job growth and long-term commitment.

But in a world driven by competition, what value does a promise of long-term commitment carry? Another city or region will merely package a better set of their communal resources and entice that business to pick up and move yet again, chasing a slightly higher profit margin. This happens again and again across the United States and certainly right here in our own community.

An alternative – likely, the only alternative – is cooperation. If local governments took those resources they may give away to attract a business from outside our community to local entrepreneurs right here in our neighborhoods we would see the wealth of our communities start to grow immediately. If we looked to our neighbors to join with us and become the developers of real estate and business we could build the communities we want to live in and retain our wealth instead of facilitating individuals with money and access to power who are not at all interested in long-term community sustainability but only interested in what they can get out of our communities..

I came away from my focus on local sustainability efforts over the past few weeks thinking, I’m not at all interested in competing with someone else for what is clearly a smaller slice of pie. If anyone talks to you about competing for sustainability remind them: races come to an end but cooperation can continue.

Promoting a healthy community

F4DC had the privilege of presenting our work around grassroots economy development to our friends in the Peace and Justice Network and Transition Greensboro at this years PJN potluck dinner.

Ed spoke about using this moment to build a worker-owned economy that will provide stable jobs rooted in local communities as a response to the runaway capitalist concentration of wealth threatening our country’s – and the world’s – future. Dave discussed the amazing growth of grassroots direct democracy around the country that the Occupy Wall Street movement launched. This movement is directly connected to the economic democratization in which F4DC is engaged.

It was a great evening of food, catching up with old friends, welcoming some who are new, and planning for future work together!

Below are the notes from the small group discussions held at the potluck.

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Imagine what a Democratic, Equitable, Compassionate and Sustainable Greensboro would look like


  • Sense of belonging, everyone participates
  • People smiling at each other, less texting, more speaking to “strangers”
  • Peaceful co-existence of faith communities, shared spiritual spaces
  • More organizational cooperation, respect and openness to diverse points of view
  • Build consensus, trust, reconciliation; reduce fragmentation
  • Organize around oppression to build on common humanity
  • Thinking and doing in systems

  • 75% of people vote in local elections
  • Participatory budgeting, participatory taxation
  • Restorative justice models
  • Marriage equality federal, state and local

  • Local currency, bartering, 60%local banking

  • Fair and full employment, living wage
  • Jobs that directly serve the community on all levels
  • Local, worker owned grocery stores, manufacturing businesses and cooperatives
  • Support of local businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Needs based “gift” economy

  • Sustainable waste management: recycle, repurpose and reuse “trash”
  • Greywater systems

  • Sustainable energy program
  • Localized energy sources
  • Homes with local heat (biofuels)
  • Green architecture

  • Bike and pedestrian friendly roads/communities, bike racks everywhere, sidewalks, bus stops, free mass transit
  • At least half the people commute via public transportation and bicycle

  • Food security: access to nutritious local food for everyone
  • Community and roof gardens, local agricultural infrastructure, farmer’s markets

  • Housing safe and affordable, no foreclosures
  • Shelter for everybody

  • Affordable, adequate health care for everyone
  • Available substance abuse treatment and mental health care

  • Education equitable and responsive, 20 students in a class, holistic curriculum
  • Free higher education
  • Community dialogue about education
  • Re-skilling, new ways of learning

  • Parks and recreation: maintained community areas for exercise, gathering, talking together, eating, celebrating, having fun
  • Singing groups
  • Public art and engagement, street performers
  • More shared storytelling
  • Cooperative child/family raising, more active neighborhoods

  • Communication network to access resources that have already proven to work

  • No basic needs unfulfilled
  • No disparate treatment
  • No extremes of wealth and power
  • Immigrants come out of the shadows. No “illegals”
  • Absence of beggars on street corners

What are the first steps to bring our visions to life in Greensboro?


  • Support current local, sustainable programs
  • Create stronger safety net for vulnerable people

  • Focus on possibility rather than problem

  • Foster Greensboro pride and ownership, promote local individuals
  • Acknowledge the Greensboro “Massacre”
  • Choose to read COMMUNITY by Peter Block for our One City One Book project
  • Establish connection/dialogue with newly elected city officials to make concerns visible
  • Communicate with city staff about participatory budgeting, food regulations, zoning and building codes, use of public lands for food
  • Use initiative and referendum process in city charter
  • Create/join in public ritual
  • Support Transition Greensboro
  • A congress for democratic Greensboro
  • Support the YWCA and other organizations that feature social justice
  • Join the participatory budgeting process

  • Support the local currency project
  • Put money in local credit unions and banks

  • Engage in more bartering, trading, sharing resources
  • Support local businesses and farming
  • Support unionized businesses

  • Use underused land for passive solar energy

  • Promote bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, bus service and ride sharing

  • Use underused land for gardens

  • Use underused land and buildings for housing

  • Start neighborhood group savings clubs for particular purposes e.g. health care

  • Teach old skills; skill sharing

  • Convene people more: outreach, dialogue/conversation
  • Find ways to allow entry points, promote inclusivity
  • Establish a local space for ALL people to come together
  • Listen to ordinary folks: know and share our stories
  • Support local neighborhood organizations
  • Build relationships in neighborhoods by getting together to share resources, eat, garden and have fun together

  • Create accessible communication tools for people to share information and insight
  • Research granting sources to support local projects

OUR MONEY, OUR CITY: How do we make the Greensboro’s annual budgeting process more democratic?

Participatory Budgeting Project
Participatory Budgeting Project
Participatory Budgeting Project

In early May, citizens from across our city heard exciting presentations about a method of public budgeting taking hold in the United States and around the world Participatory budgeting (PB) allows ordinary citizens direct control over how to spend a meaningful portion of their tax dollars in their communities. One Chicago district just completed its second successful participatory budgeting cycle, with more than a thousand people deciding how to spend over $1 million dollars on community-based projects! Similar efforts are getting underway in New York City and Springfield, Massachusetts.

The feedback we got in both presentations was overwhelmingly positive. Folks are ready to move from learning about participatory budgeting in other cities to figuring out how to make it a reality in our town. Please join us for an information and brainstorming session on how to bring participatory budgeting to Greensboro, North Carolina!

On June 14th, from 6 to 8 pm, we will meet in the Nussbaum Room at Greensboro’s Central Library. After a short introductory (or refresher) presentation on participatory budgeting, we’ll brainstorm together and build a strategy to bring participatory budgeting to Greensboro. Bring your energy and ideas to help build momentum around this exciting and timely project!

If you were unable to attend the PB presentations in May, that’s ok! We’ll go over participatory budgeting basics and have educational material available. If you attended those early events and felt excited about this project, bring your friends and/or forward this email to them.

Engaging the public in budget-making processes

Participatory Budgeting Project
Participatory Budgeting Project
Participatory Budgeting Project

In over 1,200 cities, towns and municipalities around the world the public is actively engaged in local budget-making processes. Under the banner of “participatory budgeting”, citizens from South America to the United Kingdom and Toronto to Chicago are creating new methods for financial decision-making in their communities.

These efforts are producing amazing results! Chicago’s Ward 49 is in its second participatory budgeting cycle. Last year’s effort was so successful more Chicago city council members and candidates are planning to launch similar projects in their districts. Politicians from across the political spectrum are finding common ground through the fairly old fashioned notion that the people ought to exercise more direct control over the decisions of their government.

The Fund for Democratic Communities is excited to bring two people who are deeply involved in developing participatory budgeting to Greensboro. Josh Lerner is Co-Director of The Participatory Budget Project, a nonprofit offering support, resources, and guidance to local groups and elected officials organizing participatory budgeting efforts in their communities. Maria Hadden is a resident of Chicago’s 49th Ward and a member of its Participatory Budgeting Leadership Committee.

On May 4th they will present a history of participatory budgeting around the world with an emphasis on the United States. Then, on May 5th, they will lead a discussion for people involved with local nonprofits and grassroots community groups on how to integrate participatory budgeting into their funding cycles. See below for the full event announcements.

We expect these will be exciting, educational presentations and discussions and we hope you will consider coming to one or both of these events. No RSVP is necessary, but if you would like to connect with other folks in Greensboro interested in this, check out the Facebook events page for both events (linked below). Feel free to invite your Facebook friends who may be interested too!

For more information, contact me at pbproject [at] f4dc.org.

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Our Money, Our City: Presentation and Discussion on Participatory Budgeting

Connect on Facebook
Wednesday, May 4 · 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Nussbaum Room, Central Library
219 North Church Street, Greensboro, NC (map)

Cities across the United States face tighter funding environments and deeper budget cuts, and Greensboro is no different. In over 1,000 cities around the world, residents are trying a different way to manage public money. Through “participatory budgeting” they are directly deciding how to spend public budget funds. Chicago’s Ward 49 recently launched the first participatory budgeting process in the US, for its $1.3 million ward budget. Other US cities are beginning to incorporate similar efforts into their budgeting processes.

Josh Lerner is Co-Director of The Participatory Budget Project, a nonprofit offering support, resources, and guidance to local groups and elected officials organizing participatory budgeting efforts in their communities. Maria Hadden is a resident of Chicago’s 49th Ward and a member of its Participatory Budgeting Leadership Committee. They will present a history of participatory budgeting and discuss how Greensboro residents might initiate a similar project here.

This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Co-Sponsored by: The Fund for Democratic Communities and the Greensboro Public Library

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Using Participatory Budgeting to Engage More People in the Success of your Organization

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Thursday, May 5 · 4:00pm – 6:00pm
Gateway Center Conference Room (Third Floor)
620 S. Elm Street, Greensboro, NC (map)

The economic reality faced by the nonprofit sector today may be the most difficult in decades. As funding sources erode, nonprofit directors and fund developers need to build stronger relationships with existing donors and the communities they work within. A new tool called “participatory budgeting” could help. In over 1,000 cities around the world, organizations have used it to attract more resources and support for their activities. Participatory budgeting engages community members in directly deciding how to spend budget money in cities, schools, housing authorities, and organizations. Residents of Chicago’s 49th Ward recently launched the first participatory budget process in the United States.

Josh Lerner is Co-Director of The Participatory Budget Project, a nonprofit offering support, resources, and guidance to local groups and elected officials organizing participatory budgeting efforts in their communities. Maria Hadden is a resident of Chicago’s 49th Ward and a member of its Participatory Budgeting Leadership Committee. They will discuss ways to use participatory budgeting to build community trust in your organization, stabilize your funding, and engage more people in your mission.

This event is free and open to anyone with a stake in a local nonprofit.

Fundraising as community building

Like many people involved in work with nonprofits, community groups, and other grassroots organizing efforts, I do not look forward to fundraising efforts. Asking people for money – even when I believe passionately in the cause – is often times a painful exercise that leaves me feeling like part of the “problem” I am seeking to solve.

The Fund for Democratic Communities asked me to attend the annual Money for Our Movements conference organized by the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) in Oakland, California. Over 500 organizers from around the country gathered at Mills College to discuss funding strategies, trade experience, and learn new skills through a number of excellent workshops.

In one of the sessions I attended, a presenter made the statement that fundraising should be seen as an opportunity not simply to collect money, but as a part of community building. One of the GIFT staff members offered that it is not up to us as organizers to decide who can and cannot contribute to our causes. Our job is to build sustainable movements by creating a community that interacts with and supports our efforts.

This philosophy of fundraising as community building stands in sharp contrast to the traditional process of fund development, a process that I am increasingly involved in through a number of organizations with which I work. The traditional process of developing a donor list of mailing and email addresses, sending out appeals to segments of that list defined by economic status, and planing a couple of annual events has the ability to raise large amounts of money. It is not, however, a sustainable model. The targeted donors generally do not become involved with the organization beyond activity on the board or the standard “Friends of…” committee. In the case of a human services organization, it is highly unlikely that donors (especially major donors) will ever come into contact with the people the organization serves. In this way, the traditional fundraising process buttresses the current social structure that promotes social and economic stratification and segregation.

A grassroots fundraising effort can do exactly the opposite. It can include both small donors and large donors in a way that is not demeaning or exclusionary to either. By creating a community invested in a project in ways other than financial, it becomes natural for people to contribute money to the effort because, while they may not be accessing the services or projects directly, they feel some measure of substantive involvement.

This differentiation was discussed in a session focusing on the difficult funding environment nonprofits and grassroots organizations are facing now. DataCenter and the National Organizers Alliance presented the findings of their joint study of how organizations are funding themselves during this economic downturn. While funding is becoming more and more difficult to find, organizations are developing creative ways to survive and in some cases may offer models for growth.

What is clear is that the traditional process for fundraising is becoming less reliable than in the past. Organizers must begin to reorient (if they haven’t already done so) themselves to a grassroots, bottom-up funding structure to survive and thrive in the emerging economic condition. Further, these kinds of funding strategies could serve as a method for promoting wide-spread social and economic re-conceptualizing, something in which the Fund for Democratic Communities is also currently engaged.

Matching Grants now available

The Fund for Democratic Communities announces the availability of matching grants to encourage grassroots groups to build their capacity for self-support. Approved groups and projects will receive dollar-for-dollar matching funds for money raised through grassroots efforts. Funds raised from foundation and government sources are not eligible for matching.

This program is intended to spark sustainable economic development of community groups and nonprofits by promoting fundraising efforts from the ground up instead of traditional top-down, foundation-centric efforts. By engaging the very communities a group comes from to help fund their efforts, social change groups can build stronger public involvement in their projects and programs. We believe greater public involvement translates into greater community organization, action and, ultimately, a truly democratic society.

Key program points:

  • Grants may only be made to registered nonprofits or groups with a registered nonprofit acting as a fiscal sponsor;
  • Funds eligible for matching grants must be raised through grassroots efforts. Funds raised through foundations or government sources are NOT eligible;
  • The matching funds must be used to for projects that align with the mission of F4DC. As part of that, democratic practice must be a key part of the applicant group’s underlying structure or program goals;
  • Priority is given to projects focused on increasing the community’s capacity to speak and act for itself. Service projects are NOT a funding priority;
  • Smaller, less established groups and nonprofits are a funding priority for us.

For more information and to download the information packet and application form, visit https://f4dc.org/grants.