The death of Philando Castile was a turning point for many Minnesotans, who were once again forced to face Minnesota’s structural oppressions and deal with the aftermath of another death of a Black man by police hands. It was a turning point for Me’Lea Connelly, a former security firm manager and single mother who lives in Minneapolis.
“We have to find another tool for resistance aside from the bodies of Black youth,” said Connelly, director of the Association for Black Economic Power (ABEP), which formed after the death of Philando Castile. “What a lot of people don’t know, after the lights went down at the [4th Precinct] Occupation, those kids were psychologically, socially, and physically abused, they were traumatized. We were right in the middle of trying to recuperate from that when Philando was killed,” said Connelly. That trauma inspired Blexit—a Black independence movement conducted through economic boycott—and ABEP.
In the Twin Cities, economic organizing has often taken the form of legislative policy or (successful) efforts to pass higher minimum wages or guaranteed earned sick & safe time. But in the last few years, there has been a shift. More and more low-income communities and communities of color are looking to build their own economic systems in an attempt to build community power and resilience — and maybe even healing.
“The movement has shifted. Five years ago it was income-driven, now it’s about building wealth,” said Vina Kay, executive director for Voices for Racial Justice. That wealth comes in many forms, but at its core it’s about ensuring that Twin Cities communities of color have the resources and assets they need to be resilient in the face of systemic oppression. It is this shift in movement which Blexit and ABEP represent.
Connelly calls this an “invest/divest strategy” and it is the strategy behind the Village Trust Financial Cooperative, the Twin Cities’ first Black-owned credit union. Village Trust was the result of the first Blexit meeting following Castile’s death. Black community leaders envisioned it and organizers began putting the pieces together. The credit union is set to open in North Minneapolis, the former site of the Twin Cities’ only black-owned bank (now shuttered).
“ABEP believes in establishing, existing in, and welcoming people into a new paradigm. The vision for our paradigm is a resource-based economy using the pathway of a cooperative commonwealth to get there. The establishment of a credit union is the first step to get to that.”
While many might think of “food cooperative,” when they hear the word “co-op,” cooperatives actually have a long history in the Black community and other communities of color. Due to segregation, many Black communities were forced to form community collectives and cooperatives around food, banking, and education in order to become more resilient. Today, Twin Cities communities of color are again using cooperatives and other forms of economic organizing to respond to injustice and build socio-economic sustainability.
“Village Trust is a really exciting example of people saying we want to put the money where it benefits us instead of it leaving the community,” said Christina Jennings, executive director of Shared Capital Cooperative. “Cooperatives are profoundly important tools for the practice of democracy. There are far too few opportunities to do this in society. Whether it’s a small or large cooperative, it’s incredibly important to practice this. Most places we don’t get to do that. Cooperatives can be incredible tools for building individual and community power, and for practicing democracy.”
Economic sustainability is only one aspect of the economic justice organizing that’s happening in the Twin Cities. For many organizers, economic justice has just as much to do with healing as with economics.
And for Arique Aguilar, the Woman of Color Organizer with TakeAction Minnesota, creativity and healing have everything to do with this new vision for economic justice.
“I have been honing in on ‘what inspired earned sick & safe time,’ that we can dream so boldly – that imagination is core to economic organizing,” said Aguilar.
As part of Aguilar’s work, women are being trained to be political healers, helping oppressed women and communities work through their trauma while helping them root their work in their own individual and community power.
“The work has to be rooted in a sense of power, no matter what is coming down the pipe. We are bigger still, we are bigger still,” said Aguilar.
For more information on Village Trust Financial Cooperative, please check out http://www.abepmn.org/pledge-now.