Undoing Silence: Tools for Social Change Writing: Louise Dunlap
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Articles from Harvest Newsletter

Supporting Co-ops for Low Income Women

By Louise Dunlap
October, 1996

Those of us who want to give our business to co-ops have a growing set of choices in the Boston area in a cluster of co-operatives owned and run by low-income women. What about having your next event or party served by an Ethiopian catering co-operative, or supporting a Cambodian sewing co-op, a Latina day care co-op or a Haitian and Cape Verdean women's cleaning co-op?

These four co-operatively-run businesses have started under the auspices of CEW (Co-operative Economics for Women), a Boston nonprofit that helps low-income women and women of color to gain employment, experience, and a co-operative perspective on surviving the era of cutbacks. According to lead organizer Rebecca Johnson, who started CEW, "We strive to create opportunities to generate income, using many of the same approaches that women use in the Caribbean and western and southern Africa." To make these creative ideas work in our cutthroat capitalist society means a transformative training program that combines literacy, organizational skills, the technical know-how to run a business, and--perhaps most important--building trust and community. The women of the co-ops also help run CEW itself, through its board and committees.

We can support low-income CEW women living in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Chelsea by helping make economic power accessible to them. Call the CEW office at (617) 266-1316 to contact any of these four co-ops:

The Morabeza Cleaning Community, a co-operative of Haitian and Cape Verdean women, now cleans for Red Sun Press in Jamaica Plain (also a co-op) and the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, among others. They seek other contracts in both homes and businesses. Morabeza uses environmentally safe cleaning products.

Apsara, a sewing co-operative formed by Cambodian women, makes clothing mostly for the Cambodian community but is now selling silk hats by mail order. For an order form, contact CEW.

The Little People Co-operative...Child Care on the Go! does day care for events and conferences. They are looking for both steady clients and one-time events. Little People's staff is carefully trained to help children learn crafts and have fun while in their care.

The CEW co-op that I am most eager to try is Abbai, an Ethiopian women's catering collective begun by Eritrean and Ethiopian women who had survived famine and refugee camps before coming to urban Boston. Abbai sent me one of their menus, which I have hung on my wall until the next time I am asked to organize food for an event with a small budget. Ethiopian food includes spicy (and milder) stews served on a platter lined with injera, a thin, soft pancake made from the indigenous East African grain, teff. My eye keeps traveling to the Kik Wot (spicy bean stew), the Doro Alech (mild chicken stew) and the Gomen (collards). I just love these foods, and several of my friends have already tried and found Abbai's version excellent. The prices are wonderful; a chicken entree with two dishes (and injera) is $6.50 (or $5.95 for a lunch-sized portion!). Vegetarian entrees cost less while beef, fish, or lamb cost more. I am even thinking of how I can organize a summer "dutch" picnic with friends catered by Abbai.

And there are other ways we can support CEW. A call to the office asking how you can donate time, equipment, or other resources will be much appreciated. If these women's co-operatives can be so creative in discovering ways out of their difficulties, we can surely think of creative ways to support them. The CEW number, again, is (617) 266-1316.

Co-ops Save 2000 Homes

By Louise Dunlap
October, 1996

As we go to press, I am joining dozens of other Cambridge residents in a new, energetic, and upbeat Campaign to Save 2000 Homes. I am also in the soul-wrenching process of moving to a co-op after 20 years in an apartment where I have always felt completely at home. Both efforts highlight housing co-ops as an important option in the struggle to save homes and preserve diversity in Cambridge.

I realize I am one of the lucky ones. The anxiety and turmoil of my move is just a small reflection of the enormous personal upheavals taking place all over Boston, Brookline, and especially Cambridge as the last shreds of official protection for low and moderate income renters unravel in the final months of the year. This large-scale loss of housing security takes place just as social programs are being slashed and decent jobs getting harder and harder to find.

As of January 1997, landlords in Cambridge will be fully able to charge whatever rents they can get. Throughout Cambridge some 2000 such homes are at risk, with public housing and federally funded programs feeling the strain and all of us wondering how the city can keep its much-prized diversity when a two-bedroom apartment rents for $1500 a month.

Enter the Campaign to Save 2000 Homes with a plan to help tenants organize and secure their homes through a mixture of publicity, know-how, nego-tiation, pressure, and whatever else it takes. Activists and city officials have been busy developing options ever since Massachusetts voters defeated the protections that stabilized rents for low income-people in an affluent university city like Cambridge. These options include limited equity housing co-ops. Along with two other alternatives--non-profit ownership and limited equity condos--co-ops are a way of taking housing off the market into what is being called "social ownership." Once off the market, housing remains permanently affordable--but the big question is how to get it off the market.

In the current crisis situation, Cambridge is providing financial and technical assistance, and has budgeted over $2.25 million per year to help tenants take their housing off the market. Activists need to press for more money, with real estate costs so much higher than in 1984, but the money to start the ball rolling is there. The first step is for tenants to organize and claim their right to affordable housing.

Launched at the parade that celebrated 150 years of diversity in Cambridge, the Campaign to Save 2000 Homes seeks to preserve that diversity by helping tenants organize, negotiate with landlords, and gain access to the city's resources and to the widespread support that exists among city residents. If you know of situations where we can be helpful, call the Campaign, which can be reached through the Eviction Free Zone at 868-2900, or encourage tenants themselves to call. We are multi-lingual, and we welcome the participation of everyone in Cambridge who cares.

Skills for Community Activists

by Louise Dunlap
May 1996

During the first week of June, community activists from all over the country will be gathering on the Tufts University campus for the annual Management and Community Development Institute. About 500 fascinating people from all kinds of community organizations--yes, this includes co-ops--come to MCDI each year for networking, inspiration, and the 39 one- to three-day skills courses offered to strengthen and empower our work. Courses include Leadership and Negotiation, Public Speaking for Social Change, Women's Economic Development (cotaught by Harvest Co-op member, Jean Kluver), Resident Ownership and Control Models (in part about housing co-ops), and Powerful Writing (cotaught by your Harvest herb writer, Louise Dunlap). Most faculty are well-known activists, esteemed for their community building and interactive teaching styles.

As a teacher at MCDI for many years, I have taken a number of courses on my off-days. My all-time favorite is a two-day session called Undoing Racism/Community Organizing taught by Ron Chisom and David Billings from the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans. Chisom and Billings--both civil rights veterans and Reverends--are masterful facilitators for the tricky (some would say almost impossible) process of undoing racism, both personal and--especially--structural. This workshop will teach even the most experienced anti-racist something new.

Courses meet from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and cost $150-$175 per day, including lunch, (depending on the annual budget of your organization). Discounts are available when three or more people register together from the same organization--which would include linking up with other co-op members. (Unfortunately the Harvest Times publication schedule has caused you to miss the financial aid deadline on April 20.) MCDI registration deadline is May 17. For a description of courses and a registration form, call the Lincoln Filene Center at Tufts at (617) 627-3549.


Louise Dunlap •
November 9, 2007