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‘The People’s Economy’ community conversation at the Basalt Library
Discussion series focuses on a local sense of currency
peoples economy
Michael Thompson and Signa Strom pose with the display for the three-part discussion series at the Basalt Library. - photo by Jordan Curet

Throughout March and April, a three-part discussion series on local economies will take place at the Basalt Library to open up a dialogue about how local Roaring Fork Valley communities might control their environment, economy, health and educational needs now and in the future.

Signa Strom, Sustainable Communities Advocate at the library, and Michael Thompson, who has been long involved with the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, organized the series after recognizing a disconnect among the nation, local communities and individuals.

“What’s happened is the global industrial movement has tried to make everything into a mass production scenario, which doesn’t work very well for local economies,” Thompson said. “When you have instances like the recession, in which the national economy is in collapse, local economies suffer severely with nowhere to go, hurting the towns and hurting the locals. What if you had an economy in place which did not rely so heavily on the national that met the locals’ needs?”

Local economies, as defined by Strom and Thompson, are how local communities are affected by their surroundings and use those surroundings to make their livelihoods. 

“We all have a recognized form of currency, in which you are paid for your time in money,” Strom said. “But in that scenario, you’re not gaining what you think. It’s not true wealth and we, as a community, are not considering what the true cost of something is. It costs us our connections with one another and our own happiness.”

It serves as a critique to how disconnected individuals have become from one another and how the definition of what community is loses its foundation, according to Strom.

“There is a Facebook group, which has been active for four years now, called Buy Nothing Roaring Fork,” she said. “It’s created a system in which members can offer their time, their talents and give what they can in return. A beautiful example of that is a woman reached out, asking if anyone would like to serve as a surrogate grandparent to her young son. An older woman offered her time and now they have this connection very much like a family. That’s something I think has become lost on communities.”

Another issue is that what may work on a national level may not work on a local level.

Communities and locals living within them are the only ones responsible and knowledgeable enough to know what works best for them. Examples of this are the Maine Food Sovereignty Act, in which a town in Maine established its sense of own currency, which ultimately affected the state legislature or, more locally, a group in Paonia calling itself the “North Fork Valley Community Rights Advocates,” which has written a “Community Bill of Rights,” which claims the right to clean air and water that flows through a coal-mining area upstream and irrigates agricultural crops in their area. These are just two examples of how change happens from the ground up, rather than top to bottom.

“If you had a local economy in place in which community members have developed a sense of currency amongst themselves, and that ability to rely on each other, the ripple effect of that shock will not be as severe and still keep communities working together, as a whole,” Thompson said.

“It isn’t about breaking away from the national, protesting it or rebelling against it,” Strom added. “It’s about the two systems, the two economies — local and national — to work parallel with each other so locals in a community aren’t relying on one more than the other, yet still having their needs met, both physically and socially. By having this discussion, we can work through this together and find alternative currencies to create a local economy.”

The series is meant to be more discussion than lecture, with occasional panelists present to help guide the conversation.

“These discussions are open to everyone because we need representatives of every background and thought process to make it work for everyone,” Strom said. “This is the opportunity to be in discussion even if they’ve never thought about this — especially if you haven’t thought about this!”

“We want alternative points of view to engage every perspective, even if someone disagrees,” Thompson said. 

Strom and Thompson hope the series will encourage conversation about what is going on in the community and what can be done, and create a new community network of people that can evolve as time goes on. 

The first of the discussions, “Roots of Democracy” took place on March 12, serving as an introduction to the topic of local economies. The next talk, titled “Roots of Alternative Economies,” will take place on April 1. The last talk, “Exploring the Case,” is April 18. All three discussions will be held in the Community Room of the Basalt Regional Library from 5-7 p.m.

For more information, please email Signa Strom at sstrom@basaltlibrary.org.

For a link to the live stream, go to:  https://youtu.be/Yl5-JvFwsPo