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  • Aafia Shabazz

Capitalizing on Kwanzaa Economic Empowerment

Let's be Real African American existence in the last 400 plus years. Had their culture beaten and raped out of them, and those who tried to hold on to the old ways were murdered. Out of fear, they raised their children to accept and practice western ways to stay alive. Those children became your great-grandparents and ultimately your parents. Many Blacks in the Diaspora see Kwanzaa as an alternative to Christmas. In reality, Kwanzaa is not an alternative to Christmas for Pan-Africans. Those who truly separate from alien cultures no longer acknowledge or practice alien holidays that reinforce alien beliefs.

Newly-freed African people used cooperation and cooperatives to survive during and after slavery, pre-and post-Depression, and every decade up to the present.

However, Cooperative Economics is more than "buying black," which is what some people in the movement have been advocating for many years. It is so much more, especially as we become more savvy and understand that just because someone is black doesn't mean that are above exploiting black people, or that they have the interest of the majority of black people in mind when they act.

One good example of this is that for many years Washington D.C. has had black mayors and a majority black council, yet we continue to have poverty and income inequality and a government that provides tax credits to developers while failing to give similar kinds of support to the neediest people in our society.

21 Ways to Practice Ujamaa and Ujima

Here is a list of 21 practical ideas to practice Cooperative Economics. Most of them involve Collective Work and Responsibility:

1. Organize a buying club in your neighborhood, housing co-op or apartment building. Items such as laundry detergent, toilet paper, paper towels, oil, rice, pasta, flour, sugar and seasoning can be purchased in bulk and the cost shared so that everyone gets these items cheaper than what they would pay buying them retail.

2. Get a group of 5-7 people together to start to put money together to loan each other money. Five people contributing $50 or $100 could result in a $250 or $500 loan for each member. This method is practiced in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean and is known as "susu", and by other names.

3. Organize childcare cooperatives in your apartment, housing co-op, street or subdivision. This could significantly reduce child care costs for those who participate, making it more convenient for people to work, go to school, volunteer, or to participate in community organizing.

4. Shop at farmers' markets, support Three Part Harmony Farm or buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture program. There are many black farmers struggling to sell their produce. A city like D.C., especially in communities like Southeast, could have a special relationship with black farmers, or any farmers, locally or from the South, to lessen the costs of fresh food for everyone.

5. If no one in your apartment building or housing cooperative has access to a computer, printer and fax, chip in and buy the whole set up. Set rules for its use, including what happens to it if the group disbands. Make it possible for your building to have access to a computer without having to leave to go to the library. You could do the same for a car, or other equipment that meets the needs of the people organizing.

6. Rake leaves or shovel snow for elderly people and trade them for a cooked meal, childcare, cooking lessons, or some other knowledge trade.

7. Teach young people in your community skills such as basic electrical work, carpentry, machine repair, photography, archiving, cooking, nursing, etc. in return for yard work, childcare, or other services; or just have them read a book and report on what they learn. This way you help young people gain skills -- which could result in employment, or even them starting a cooperative -- and so the entire community benefits because they are contributing to the economics of their family and their community.

8. Investigate how you can buy your apartment building to start a housing cooperative, or help start a worker or artist cooperative to help fill needs for jobs, income, or to take care of other needs in the community.

9. Donate used suits of clothing that you no longer want for a young person to use to go on interviews.

10. Support black and local and independent small businesses or businesspersons, cooperatives, artists, yoga and qi gong practitioners and others who are community- and environmentally-minded.

11. Transact your financial business at a credit union, which is a financial cooperative, and which often are better at providing loans and other financial services cheaply to their members. Some churches have credit unions. If you don't have one in your neighborhood think of organizing one, or asking an existing credit union to open a branch in your neighborhood. Usually you only need $5 to open an account.

12. Join with and support attempts to organize a public bank

13. Get involved in the participatory budgeting process that will be organized soon in your city. to determine how a portion of how your city budget should be used to help and improve institutions and people in our communities. Would you like to see schools be funded more, or, does your community need a recreation center? Make your desires known to your city council and work hard to help achieve them.

14. Learn more about the history of black cooperation in this country by reading Collective Courage.

15. Join with other community gardeners in existing gardens or work with the Neighborhood Advisory Commissions and the City Council to find vacant land or alleys to grow food.

16. Join or work with groups like the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association)

17. Get involved in the rising Solidarity Economy movement in your city

18. Take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally: eat well, exercise, pray, meditate and commune with other people. And if you're an already seasoned (overworked!) activist especially, be sure to balance your life with "fun." The stronger you are, the harder and more creatively you can work to build cooperation through collective work and responsibility.

19. Organize a discussion group around local or neighborhood issues, organize support groups such as for single mothers, those caring for elderly parents, etc. to share ideas and best practices, or to have an outlet for ideas and creativity. Or talk to an elder in your family and learn some of the ways that they survived hard times. Share the knowledge.

20. Spend time alone every day to meditate, contemplate or listen to the voice of the Universe. Great ideas spring forth when you take time out of the Matrix to listen.

21. Read about other struggles and get other ideas from reading articles and stay focused on the future.

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