“Local” has become a buzzword. Today there’s eco-localism, local food and local farming, local media movements, as well as regional, state, and even national ad campaigns urging us to “eat local” and “buy local.”
Local’s gone global, but what exactly does the term mean anymore?
David Levine, of the American Sustainable Business Council, discusses the “triple bottom line” of social, environmental, and economic impacts. “Local by itself is not enough,” he tells Yes! Magazine. Levine does not want, for example, people buying “local first” from a locally owned sweatshop, toxic chemical plant or dirty manufacturing facility.
Add some democracy to your localism
The goal is having community-led, community-controlled economies where the decision-making is by those who are feeling the effects of the decisions that are made. This type of development comes under the rubric of what is becoming called Commonomics — economic democracies that foster local self-reliance.
Farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry defines economy this way
I mean not economics but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth; the arts of adapting kindly the many, many human households to the earth’s many eco-systems and human neighborhoods.
By now, we all know the signs of a human household that’s been hollowed out.
We’ve seen the food deserts and the chronically vacant homes, the ghostly downtown storefronts and the municipalities being courted by sweet-talking corporations that suck up public resources and then run away. We’re familiar with the tension in towns where the only thing that the rich and poor have in common are the roads. We know what it’s like to be close, everywhere, to the same chain coffee shop and two hours away from the “local” hospital. We see the sprawl that’s eating the woodlands.
Developing wealthy communities isn’t the answer either as they, traditionally, aren’t noted for their embrace of inclusiveness. The wealthiest “local” economies are surrounded by locked gates and privileged status that excludes less affluent residents.
An alternative to selling out
Commonomics, on the other hand, intends to open the dialogue to the people and groups who, when it comes to sustainability and localism, have often been excluded from the policymaking and the debate, and yet who may have the most rooted and innovative ideas for building steadfast resilience.
Rural areas are often so hard hit economically that they grasp at straws, allowing themselves to become sacrifice zones for non-local corporate interests. These corporate entities are insufficiently vested in the rural community and, thus, do not meet Levine’s “triple bottom line.”
One solution for rural areas is the passage of ordinances or community bills of rights to help build democratic local economies.
By asserting the right to local self-government and refusing to let their towns become sacrifice zones for corporate profits, communities can begin to develop Commonomics — the essence of a regionalized effort that is not just a “local economy” but a structure that extends to social, environmental and economic inclusion.
— Sherry Ackerman, Transition Voice