On April 25, students, community members, faculty, and staff came together for the Next System Teach-In at the University of Washington. The event was attended by hundreds of voices united in their common cause of creating a more equitable, democratic, and sustainable world.
The Teach-In was structured around a series of short panels, made up of three provocateurs—speakers who provided short and thought provoking answers to the central question posed to each panel [Watch the Videos]:
- How can the economy be equitable and environmentally sustainable?
- What local solutions can become models in a global system?
- What would real democracy look like?
- Can capitalism be fixed?
- How can we move beyond “Economy vs. Environment” and “Democracy for the Few”?
The provocateurs’ included local thought-leaders like Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson, students and alumni like Nate… and Sarra Tekola from Women of Color Speak Out, and Rethinking Prosperity’s own Professor Lance Bennett.
After the panelists shared their thoughts, the audience participants got a chance to discuss their answers as well as the broader question in small roundtable discussions where they could record any key insights from their discussions on sticky notes. The sticky notes were then incorporated into the graphic art recording of the whole event (above). Here is a visual representation of the main points of interest to participants:
The audience comments centered on problems that are contributing to the system failure, questions, and possible solutions or steps towards the next system. The key questions that audience members brought up were:
- Should we pursue reform of the system or system change?
- How can we change the incentives for the rich and powerful?
- What is growth and poverty?
- How can politicians of the City of Seattle improve the local economy so that we can replenish all of our natural resources and use green-only energy alternatives?
- How can we make changes that don’t further alienate people who marginalized?
- How can we set things up so that the easy and efficient thing to do is also the sustainable and equitable thing to do?
Two of the central problems that received a lot of attention from the audience were the current U.S. political system and the global economic system. One audience member noted that the top “1 percent have way too much political power.” Possible reforms that were mentioned ranged included:
- Decentralizing power
- Pushing for campaign finance and electoral reform
- Organizing direct actions
- Running social movement candidates in elections,
- Establishing local neighborhood councils
- Public banks
- Make voting easier and more impactful (e.g. by making election day a paid holiday, lifting voter restrictions on felons and prisoners, supporting national direct vote movements, simplifying voter registration, and providing voting places on campus).
The character of the global economy underscored the need to rethink the current system. As audience members noted, while more wealth leaves poor countries every year than enters them, 40 percent of the world’s wealth is housed in tax havens. Also, one comment stated that the “economic crisis is linked to [the] ecological crisis because [the] economy is all about making money” and not about the sustainable use of our environment and natural resources. To address these challenges, the audience suggested that we need to:
- Include externalities in our economic equations
- Increase the democratic control of economic production, for example by establishing work councils.
- Pass a Green New Deal
- Increase the income tax rate on high earners and provide a guaranteed or minimum income.
- Similarly to the Panama Papers, publicly list the names of the 62 people who own as much as the bottom 50 percent of humanity to encourage better values.
Most importantly, however, we need to build a network to bring together and link groups that are working on the same or complimentary projects and issues (e.g. youth, labor, people of color, environmentalists, etc.) and to encourage solidarity and collaboration between them.
When considering whether system change is possible, one audience member wrote, “big change is possible, but it needs to start at the local level.” Many other commentators seemed to agree as they discussed various types of cooperatives and listed specific examples as possible change agents. These cooperatives can be instrumental in the quest to “reclaim the commons” (e.g. municipal broadband) and to “keep lands from being corporatized.” Some of the examples of cooperatives and “hyper-local decentralization” that were mentioned are the Buy Nothing Group, the Nextdoor app, the Beacon Hill Food Forest, Local Investment Opportunity Networks (LIONS), and the Northwest International Communities Association (NICA.NWCommunities.org). One comment suggested that there should be a reality TV show about cooperatives to make them more popular. Finally, an audience member noted, “local development should prioritize local companies and socially responsible business when possible.”