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A Call to Action: Building Local Wealth and Resilience

COVID has changed us. The global pandemic has hit home — for many of us, quite literally, in sickness, death of a loved one, loss of a job or business, or drastically different daily realities. We are hopeful to see vaccinations and signs of reemergence, but many of us are still grieving, exhausted, and wary of an uncertain future. For Black and Indigenous people, people of color, and poor and working-class people, the impacts have been felt even more acutely, as was true of the recession a decade ago.

And yet at this time, we must look forward. There is no going back to normal. The damage has been too deep, plus normal wasn’t very good for many of us. COVID has revealed much; as Rhode Islanders, no longer can we claim not to see the disparate outcomes and burdens that persist across our society, fragility of neighborhood businesses, ways systemic racism has been baked into our economy, and even unintentional effects of misguided actions or failures to plan in ways that support all members of our community. And the full economic impact of the pandemic has yet to be felt; there are more challenges ahead for small, locally owned businesses. 

This is our moment to move toward a stronger future, to build deep and wide community wealth and resilience. Wealth allows us — individually and collectively — to control our own economic destiny; it is necessary for resilience: our ability to withstand challenges and persist, adapt, and transform ourselves.[1] Building community wealth and resilience starts small and local. It will require deep stores of imagination, agility, collaboration, patience, persistence, and courage.

A large influx of stimulus money is quickly arriving, and we need to be prepared.[2] Learning from the past, we have an opportunity to ensure that the coming economic recovery period is more just, more inclusive, and better able to build sustainable, shared prosperity for all Rhode Islanders, especially the most vulnerable. In that spirit, we humbly offer the following eight principles to guide Rhode Island’s path forward. 

  • People and place at the center. Regardless of race, gender, class, or zip code, people should have power, choice, and ownership.[3] Wisdom and resilience abound within communities who have faced oppression. Prioritize places that have experienced decades of disinvestment, and let the people who live in those places guide decisions. 
  • Local first. New and existing programs, policies, and spending should be designed and implemented to connect and build upon the assets we already have: the small businesses that drive our local economy, places that make our state special, and groups working to make our state better. 
  • No silver bullet. Economic self-reliance requires a diversity of sectors, size of companies, and types of jobs. It also requires an ecosystem of supports. 
  • Define value. Markets aren’t neutral or inevitable, and all economic activities aren’t equal in value. Our policies and programs should incentivize environmental sustainability, inclusivity, racial justice, and innovation — and we should be able to see these benefits in our community.[4] 
  • Ownership is fundamental. Wealth comes from ownership of assets. Local ownership means local decision-making and local benefits; studies have shown that money spent at local businesses generates as much as a 76% greater return to the local economy than money spent at national chains.[5] Policies and programs should prioritize ownership of assets and invest in locally owned enterprises.
  • Collaborative governance. Too much done under the cover of economic development is about exclusion. People know best what they and their communities need. Decisions for how resources are allocated should be made as close to the ground as possible. 
  • Reclaim finance as a tool for community. Most of our financial investments don’t touch  the businesses and communities we care about. Nationally, Americans invest nearly $56 trillion in stocks, bonds, and other funds, almost all of it in global corporations.[6]  Let’s develop new ways to connect capital to our own communities.
  • Assume abundance rather than scarcity. Focusing on and building the assets in our communities, we can grow an inclusive economy and shared prosperity. 

We offer these principles to help spark a new conversation. We’re committed to listening and learning, and we hope our public systems, institutions, and every household will join us. There are appropriate roles each of us need to play. Rhode Island has been here before, in this moment between crisis and recovery. We have the opportunity to learn from our past experiences and prepare for a better future. 

Signed,
Local Return Board of Directors
Sue AnderBois, Josh Daly, Jessica David, Carmen Diaz-Jusino, Raul Figueroa, and Lisa Raiola

Local Return seeks to build community wealth in Rhode Island, particularly in neighborhoods that have experienced historical disinvestment. We are a new organization focused on building the local community investment ecosystem, advocating for local policies and practices that support a vibrant and just local economy, and increasing community consciousness. 


Footnotes:

[1] Our gratitude to Marjorie Kelly for this definition of community wealth-building
[2] H/t Bruce Katz, Colin Higgins, Andrew Petrisin, Michael Saadine
[3] Our gratitude to Common Future for this apt aspiration
[4] H/t Mariana Mazzucato
[5] H/t Institute for Local Self Reliance
[6] Thank you, Michael H. Shuman

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