About the Big Ideas That Guide Our Work gathering

We invited a small group of grantees and trusted friends from across the country to spend some time together digging into the big ideas that drive our work and our understanding of how we can best utilize our existing knowledge, resources and capacities to change the world.

One of the founding principles of F4DC is the importance of emergence – it includes the idea that with the right people in the room, guided by a spirit of open sharing in ideas, new understandings will emerge that go beyond what any individual or group of individuals brought with them.

Over the course of a few days in the fall of 2015 we engaged in deep reflection and discussion, inspired by a series of “catalyst speakers.” On this page you will find the video record of these presentations. We hope you find these videos informative, challenging, inspiring and useful.

Framing the Gathering

Ed Whitfield, co-founder and co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities, set the framework of the event with his talk titled “The Power of Ideas & The Idea of Power.”

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Democratizing Community Development

Creating opportunities for the members of a community to meet their needs and enrich the quality of life can be thought of as authentic community development.

This is different from creating more dependencies while increasing consumption without end.

Meaningful democratic development must be inclusive, participatory, dignified and sustainable. When the existing social order engages in what it calls development it is none of these things.

What is called community development is extractive while creating a few winners and many losers. It is dehumanizing.

It thrives on consumerism, enticing us to buy much that we don’t need while it damages the ability of the planet to
sustain our lives.

It does this by piling up mountains of waste, as the result of making and selling mountains of meaningless goods, from which activity mountains of profits are extracted; all while blowing the tops off of real mountains, using up resources faster than the planet can replenish them.

These two speakers share their views, their learning and their experiences of community development through a sustainable democratic lens as well as sharing why this work is so important to them.

Catalyst Speakers

Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Member of Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective and author of “Collective Courage”

Aaron Tanaka, Co-Founder and Director of the Center for Economic Democracy; Senior Adviser for the Boston Impact Initiative

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Democratizing Finance

Scary – that word “finance” – isn’t it? There’s a tendency among progressives to run away from anything to do with finance, or capital, or even anything to do with business, because of all the exploitation, death, and destruction that’s been wreaked by finance in the name of capitalism and so-called “Western-style democracy.”

But if you remember what finance capital is and where it came from in the first place, it makes sense for us to fight to put it under our control, to make it serve our needs, to democratize it.

Finance capital is nothing more than the big pile of money created by the work of all of our ancestors and us. It’s the big pile of money that was accumulated through centuries of theft: Theft of living labor, the products of that labor, and the earth – or as Ed Whitfield would say, “Blood, Bones, and Dirt.

The big piles of money are just stored up measures of the surplus value added by people’s hard labor and creativity.

Given that origin story, we would argue that finance capital should be held in financial commons that are democratically controlled by the very people who created the resource, so that communities can sustainably use that capital to meet their needs.

This is a pretty different picture of capital and its uses than the dominant mode of capital nowadays: the big piles of money that are currently invested around the globe in service to the goal of growing even bigger piles of money.

Like air or water, capital is a resource that should be thoughtfully and democratically used to improve people’s lives and strengthen communities. That’s one of the premises that our next two speakers work from.

Catalyst Speakers

Brendan Martin, Founder and President of The Working World

Marnie Thompson, Co-founder and Co-Managing Director, Fund for Democratic Communities

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Building a Movement

From painstaking grassroots work to major spontaneous outbursts of activity in reaction to attacks from the system, our work requires that we move beyond our individual organizations to building the movements that are powerful enough to win the changes we need. Two highly respected organizational leaders will share their views, growing from very different but intersecting bodies of work, on how to build a movement.

Catalyst Speakers

Melissa Hoover, Executive Director of the Democracy at Work Institute

Umi Selah, Co-Founder of the Florida Dream Defenders

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About the artwork

Original artwork was created by Greensboro-based artist Mo Kessler. It can be seen at the beginning of the videos and at the top of this page.

Artist Statement

Original art by Mo Kessler
Original art by Mo Kessler

We once thought that neurons grew in isolation, that connections were made from one neuron to another & the brain had a finite amount of growth possible. This model of the brain aligns with the narrative of scarcity within our communities. A narrative that supports maintaining the status quo, competitive individuality and social isolation.

New technologies have proven this long held belief wrong. Not only is there an infinite amount of growth available, there is an intricate dance that occurs between our neurons every time memories are formed and new connections are made by reaching towards each other, collectively. This new understanding operates on a micro and macro level. What is inside is outside.

This reality is one that exists in profound abundance. This reality supports a narrative that front-line communities have know in their bones and built generations of resistance on: We are all we need. Just as our neurons dance & grow towards each other with each other, so do we, consistently creating new ways of seeing & being, new ways of surviving and making what we need.

When thinking about our movements & how we find connections, I was fixated on this dance. This dance of new realities and structures we are building towards each other with each other, and the abundance we exist in together. – Mo Kessler