AUSTIN, Texas — Boycotts are a powerful tool in the arsenals of those seeking justice and a better world.
And while financial divestment from corporations can successfully pressure them to change their most harmful practices, divestment represents just the beginning of the long, difficult work of building a new, alternate economy that puts people and sustainability first.
“What we’re trying to do is encourage people to be more aware of and reflect on how we’re all invested in a war-like, violent, capitalist economy,” Mendoza Castillo, director of Economic Activism at CodePink, told MintPress News in an interview about her Local Peace Economy initiative.
CodePink is well known for protesting war in all its forms, and for supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which puts economic pressure on Israel to end its apartheid practices. Castillo’s Local Peace Economy project is an extension of that work which aims to raise awareness of the part everyone plays in the military-industrial complex.
Castillo described a multi-faceted approach, noting: “We find out which are the actions each person can take and find ways to invest in a regenerative economy.”
— Peace Economy (@PeaceEcon) July 13, 2016
“That can be building sustainability in your community in different ways, or supporting other organizations that are already doing sustainability work, or relating more with your neighbors — all of which create some of the conditions that we need to create life.”
A ‘culture shift initiative’
For Castillo, a lot of this work is about bringing increased attention to existing organizations which are already working to support their communities. She said:
“We see this initiative mostly as a culture shift initiative. We’re not starting anything new. Many communities have used a peace economy or a just economy to sustain themselves and to create resilience. What we want to do is just encourage people to realize how we are investing in the violent economy in many ways and try to stop doing this and instead support all these projects that are already happening.”
She leads the Just Transition Discussion Circle, a series of monthly meetings which started this summer in Los Angeles. One of the major aims of the meetings is to identify community organizations which can benefit from their support. Among their early efforts, they’ve helped provide food to a Black Lives Matter encampment outside Los Angeles City Hall, where activists are demanding the resignation of Police Chief Charlie Beck.
“I really admire the Black Lives Matter movement because they are trying to go beyond what many groups have done in the past and trying to envision black communities needs and how to create black futures,” Castillo told MintPress.
“That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do in the Local Peace Economy initiative: trying to envision a better world for everyone and trying to figure out what are the steps that we need to take to actually get to what we envision together.”
For activists outside of Los Angeles, the initiative’s website offers a small but growing map of peace economy supporters around the world, and an introduction to leading efforts to build peace economies in new communities. Visitors can also sign up to receive daily email updates.
Transforming corporate power ‘into a power for good’
Another organization working to encourage the growth of a new, more humane economy is the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), an NGO established by the Quakers, a religious community with a strong tradition of opposing war.
Dalit Baum, director of Economic Activism at the AFSC, told MintPress that peace activists need to become more aware of the influence of corporations on creating global warfare and instability.
“It’s not that all corporations are evil, it’s just that they really play a very central role in our lives, not just in providing services but also in having a political power and political effect over the decisions that are made around them,” she said.
— Investigate (@InvestigateTool) June 7, 2016
Under Baum’s guidance, AFSC created Investigate, a tool which helps consumers and investors identify companies which support Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine or the prison-industrial complex, including immigrant detention centers.
While there are several popular apps, like Buycott, which help consumers make more conscientious shopping choices, Baum identified Israel/Palestine and the prison-industrial complex as two areas overlooked by existing programs.
“There are all these companies that sell information about corporate behavior around human rights issues, but for some reason they have avoided looking into corporate behavior in Israel/Palestine for a very very long time,” Baum said. “I think this is changing, but it is changing thanks to people like us and other people like us who are trying to push the topic.”
Additionally, while prison reform activists have launched divestment campaigns against major private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America or GEO Group, Investigate goes a step further by highlighting corporations which also reach into the consumer market. Some examples include 3M, a maker of many consumer products, which also offers surveillance systems to prisons, or CenturyLink, the home and business telecom provider that also provides overpriced phone services to inmates.
“Our mapping of the prison industry shows all the companies involved in providing services to prisons, in overcharging for these services from prisoners and their families and their communities,” Baum told MintPress. “And that gives us leverage in changing the way they treat prisoners and their communities.”
Like Castillo, Baum wants people to go beyond boycotting or divesting from companies by taking an active role in shaping a better world. A boycott, she said, “might make people feel better about their consumerism, but it will not solve anything. People have to organize and create new alternatives, engage with the companies.”
It’s not ‘necessary for local communities to support human rights violations’
While speaking to MintPress, Castillo and Baum both emphasized the importance of starting to build a peace economy at the local level. Baum said:
“I don’t think our cities should be invested in big weapons corporations, in general. It doesn’t matter where these weapons are being used around the world. I think the cities can find very good investments in developing housing alternatives in the community, and that could be a good investment. Or in schools. I don’t think it’s necessary for local communities to support human rights violations overseas.”
She also highlighted the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly the Movement for Black Lives platform, a policy document co-sponsored by dozens of organizations working to improve the lives of people of color. One of the most controversial portions of the platform is the Invest/Divest section, which endorses not just the BDS movement, but the larger idea of moving money out of the military and militarized policing, and back into local communities. The platform reads:
“We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.”
“The idea is that it’s not just that you pull away from some industries,” Baum said. “You pull away from some industries in order to support your own community.”
— Peace Economy (@PeaceEcon) August 2, 2016
Castillo urged peace economy activists to start by building power at a hyperlocal level, by first organizing among their neighbors, while also being careful to involve diverse voices from neighboring communities as well.
“We can’t do things by ourselves,” she said. “We need a community to come together to be able to create things. We need everyone’s voices to make this work for everyone.”
Research shows that close-knit communities are better able to survive severe weather events, but Castillo also emphasized that social connections help members of communities weather personal crises.
“If you can get the support from your neighbors when there’s a crisis happening that’s going to create resilience in the community. The weather is very obvious how that support can create resilience, but also different forms of violence, including domestic violence, if you have the support from your community you’ll be able to overcome or feel more secure.”
Just transitions and a ‘revolution of value’
Peace economy activism also has to take into account the fact that different people are able to contribute in different ways and to differing degrees.
“We want to encourage people to be aware of what’s your privilege and how can you use your privilege for other people who have less privilege or less rights,” Castillo said.
The Local Peace Economy initiative is also part of the larger A Just Transition movement, which is growing in popularity among climate change activists and unions as well. The idea is not just to divest from fossil fuels, prisons, and other socially and environmentally harmful industries, but to create new opportunities for those workers in more humane forms of employment.
— Peace Economy (@PeaceEcon) August 17, 2016
“There’s a lot of resisting and a lot of divesting that we need to do, but there’s also a lot of creating and supporting and building that we need to do,” said Castillo.
A new peace economy must also be more diverse than the existing one, reflecting investment in oppressed communities traditionally faced with rampant, systemic inequality. She said:
“We believe that the new economy needs to be relational, it needs to be cooperative, and also it needs to be led by people of color and other people that have been left out of the big picture. When we’re divesting, at the same time we need to be supporting communities that have created peace economy projects that have helped them survive.”
“We believe that we need a revolution, but we need a revolution of value. Our strongest point of divesting is actually divesting from the values that support the extractive system we live in in order to build and grow the values that create regeneration.”
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