Reflections from CommonBound 2018

Frankie Pondolph
August 16, 2018
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Written by Rose Smith, Megan Straughen and Frankie Pondolph

Cover Photo Credit to CommonBound.

On June 22-24th workers-owners of Equal Exchange Frankie Pondolph and Rose Smith  along with Action Forum member Megan Straughen attended New Economy Coalition biennial conference, CommonBound. This year the conference was held in St. Louis, Missouri bringing together individuals over the course of three days to work towards owning our collective power and building the seeds for a new and transformative economy both locally and internationally. Below both Megan and Rose reflect on their experiences at CommonBound and what they learned to build capacity, tools and resilience for the future.

Megan Straughen

Equal Exchange Action Forum member

I was extremely grateful and honored to be invited to join Equal Exchange in St. Louis at the 2018 Commonbound Conference as a member of the Equal Exchange Action Forum. As a big believer in Equal Exchange and their mission, I’m happy to seize any opportunity in which I can spread their message a little bit further. In addition to being able to hand out tasty fair trade mangoes and nuts to grateful conference goers, I was also able to make time to attend a few sessions.

The Plenary “Owning Local Power” drew on the experience of community organizers working in different contexts to discuss strategies and approaches to building local power. It was very interesting to learn about how activists across the globe are leveraging impact to make big change. The most powerful experience I had was attending a screening of "Whose Streets?" followed by a panel discussion with community members and activists. The documentary recounts the uprising in Ferguson, MO in 2014 after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and is the only documentary to do so from the perspective of someone from the area. The panel discussion that followed the screening was intimate and powerful; it was incredible to hear about their experiences and what life has been like for them since 2014.

Megan (L) and Frankie (R) pictured above.

I found myself reenergized to do this work after spending time with Equal worker-owners Frankie and Rose, meeting amazing folks at the conference who are committed to building an inclusive economy, and attending sessions that taught tangible skills that can be applied in the field immediately. I was also lucky enough to connect with several folks doing amazing work where I now call home, New Orleans. Thanks to Equal Exchange for this incredible experience!

Rose Smith

Cafe Barista + Shift-Supervisor, Equal Exchange

Attending CommonBound was a wonderful experience for me. I attended several sessions with topics ranging from developing worker cooperatives to inclusive governance to feminist economies and housing justice. It was incredible to learn how well these were all connected to each other. There was a focus on the intersections of different issues and how no issue of social justice can be discussed as completely separate from any others. I learned about movements I was unfamiliar with, and the ways in which grassroots movements are enacting major change.

Rose pictured above secound from right with CommonBound attendees.

One theme throughout the discussion was learning about Just Transition. Just Transition is a model that ensures our transition into a new economy is intentionally aware of marginalization and injustice, and that every step is one that encourages equity. I was happy to participate in conversations with others where we acknowledged our privileges and discussed with those who are systematically denied access to capital how we can best reallocate resources for a more fair economy. I also want to highlight that the conference organizers devoted a lot of resources and time to the history of St. Louis. Attendees could participate in local outings that focused on art, history, and education efforts rooted in the city.

pictured above are three CommonBound organizers closing out the conference. 

CommonBound was an incredible experience that connected me with amazing resources around the country, furthered my understanding of various social justice issues, and reminded me that there are so many of us out there fighting for a new world and it feels possible.

For more information on New Economy Coalition visit https://neweconomy.net/

For more information on the Equal Exchange Action Forum visit http://equalexchange.coop/action-forum