"The logic of the corporate model after Katrina was to create a predatory community that could funnel local people into low-wage work with a revolving door to deportation or prison without creating a single stable job or career path for the most vulnerable," says Soni. Guest workers from other countries were brought in on temporary visas with virtually no rights in a labor supply chain that left local workers out. Antagonism between groups grew just as plans for the area's reconstruction were being decided, and low-income communities suffered as a result. Over time, immigrant and local reconstruction workers organized together, and started demanding of Congress that the labor abuses be stopped. After some of their demands were met and fines were levied by government, some of those same organizations got involved in housing and local development planning too.
"The other side [of the crisis]," Soni says, "was that at the center of the ruin, a core of resilient people, who were in crisis long before the recession, had the vision and relationships to make a set of economic demands and organize to win them."
What holds people back from doing more themselves is need, he
adds. The low-wage workers he organizes don't plan their lives more
than a week or two in advance. They're not allowed to by the
economy. "They don't know their next shift, their next job, even
the industry they'll be working in next week."
In Soni's world, the measure of a strong and rooted local economy lies in families' and communities' ability to imagine, and plan for, their future. That affects everything, including organizing, he says.
"No one wants a sustainable future and a shareable economy more than the low-wage workers we organize."
You'll be seeing more reports, from Jackson, New Orleans, Pine Ridge, and other frontlines of the "strong local economy" movement right here in Commonomics. And we hope you'll contribute your news and ideas at:www.yesmagazine.org/commonomics.
Laura Flanders wrote this article for YES! Magazine's Commonomics project . Laura is YES! Magazine's 2013 Local Economies Reporting Fellow and is executive producer and founder and host of " GRITtv with Laura Flanders ." Follow her on Twitter @GRITlaura.