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On #newDC, Cooperative Working, And The Evolution Of American Capitalism

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Marcus K. Dowling


Though it may seem incredible, there’s ample reason to believe that America’s hipster-age nouveau riche petit bourgeoisie can save the day in Donald Trump’s America. How? Keep reading…

We’re headed into a place in United States history wherein the impact of the election of Donald Trump may also mean the end of the roughly decade-long digital-first and venture capital-aided era of American economic redevelopment. A socially progressive hipster petit bourgeoisie and entrepreneurial class rapidly establishing themselves in places like Silicon Valley, Brooklyn, Austin, and most recently Washington, DC successfully alienated the blue-collar working class and scions of America’s robber baron old guard. However, with Trump’s ascension, the venture capital-as-perceived true wealth stimulus to this once-ascendant class of new-era worker has dried up to the tune of a 12% drop between January-March 2015 and 2016. Now, instead of economics driven by the giving of a few to empower the will of a what could be described as pseudo-intellectual class, it may be time to consider what a shift back to a smart, sustainable, blue-collar, and truly “boot-strapped” entrepreneurial spirit looks like in regards to America’s future.

Maybe the best example of where work, wealth, boot-strapping and next best economic practices are best seen for America’s future since November 8 can be seen via Washington, DC’s year-old TightShift Laboring Cooperative. As a worker-owned cooperative business comprised of 11 once-incarcerated people and those at-risk of becoming criminals, it truly takes those who have nothing, and empowers them into a situation where everything becomes possible. In providing essential services like moving, landscaping, and cleaning, there’s a one-to-one human element to their work that, in eschewing the digital for the humane creates truly sustainable wealth goals in a country that’s $18 trillion in debt overall and possibly facing tough, “belt-tightening” times ahead.

What’s impressive about this happening in Washington, DC is that it continues in the telling of the story of the Nation’s Capital as an amazing place that’s continuing to find ways to thrive in-between and around the very thin margins for success in recession-riddled America. DC’s a place where a mix of hipster-driven capitalism and gentrification-bolstered economic growth have created a space for cooperative work to exist as a best practice for engaging a lower-to-middle class of DC resident more marginalized than ever before. In other cities, the economic future looks to be a case of yet another era of failed trickle-down theory either creating a temporary job boom or even deeper depression. However, in DC, there’s a potential for a ceiling-free one-percenter upper class growth as well as a wholly grass roots and community-driven lower-and-middle class evolution.

There was once a time in the history of Washington, DC when then still new-to-DC ex-Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee organizer Marion Barry co-founded Pride Inc., an organization that used $17 million in federal government funding to employ 1,400 jobless African-American residents in 1967. Similar to the TightShift Laboring Cooperative in damned near 2017, these were ex-inmates and at-risk of incarceration individuals in the city who did essential human things like rid the city of rat infestation issues.

Similar to Marion Barry speaking to Pride’s cooperative ethos in Ebony Magazine and noting that “street corner winos burst into tears because in 50 years they’d never seen kids motivated by pride in themselves and their community,” Tightshift Laboring Cooperative’s Juan Reid notes to DCist that “[his] understanding of a co-op is it’s bigger than a business,” in that “[they’re] doing a service to support [themselves], but it’s not about money.”

At-present, Tightshift is an 11-person crew. Intriguingly, Washington, DC is presently in a situation where initiatives like Tightshift mirroring what’s previously existed in the Nation’s Capital could be incredibly important to its future. DC’s budget for 2017 is $13.4 billion dollars, and for the second year in a row, is a budget that needs zero federal funding to be achieved. Thus, whereas Marion Barry’s Pride Inc. required $17 million US Government dollars, something like Tightshift could be a more homegrown and home-sustained proposition. To that end, the idea that Tightshift has a YouCaring campaign occurring right now makes sense. In DC alone there’s likely enough income circulating in the streets to allow for the growth of a worker-owned and publicly-subsidized economic opportunity.

We’ve reached an era in America wherein the need to evolve our economies past the digital age venture capital model. As America’s priorities shift towards uplifting blue-collar employees and not forgetting the old money old guard, there’s a window for the creation of safe, yet spectacular local economies wherein the nouveau riche assist in the re-establishment of a separate in relative wealth, but equal-in-societal stature class of cooperatively employed essential service providers. Whereas venture capital and entrepreneurship’s 2010s boom wholly disrupted classic American capitalism, it’s the money now floating freely in the model’s 2016 election-related bust that allows for the creation of a impressive new model that does both something human and something more.

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