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The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) launches A New Social Contract. Quoting Michael Ratner, NESRI Executive Director Catherine Albisa says, “When change comes, it is unpredictable, but it does not happen by chance,” therefore, we need to build readiness

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

On May 24, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative will launch a new social contract, transformative solutions built by and for communities. This campaign plans to present solutions that localities across the United States are advancing, modeling, or promoting to reduce inequality and guaranteeing human rights for all people. Specifically, the campaign will promote alternatives to poverty, racism, sexism, inequality, and other structural problems from the grassroots. Groups behind this campaign include People’s Action, the Poor People’s Campaign, Race Forward, and Rights and Democracy, among many other organizations, including Resource Generation.

Joining me now to discuss the new social contract is Cathy Albisa. Cathy is the executive director of NESRI, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. Thanks for joining us, Cathy.

CATHY ALBISA: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Cathy. The idea of a social contract in the way that Roosevelt imagined, that as a solution to address inequality, unemployment, poverty, is almost impossible under a free market economy, because we are told again and again that the free market is the solution to health care, to good schools, to banking, to utilities, and to address inequality. Only, they say, if we could get our mortgage defaults under control, or if we could lower taxes low enough to stimulate the economy, and that would solve all our problems. So in this climate, why do you think a new social contract is the answer in this free market economy?

CATHY ALBISA: Well, I think you, you actually in many ways just implied the answer in your very question. That what is being looked for in a lot of these sort of mainstream conversation, is some sort of market corrective, when what we really need to be asking ourselves is the market correct to begin with? Do we want to be in a free market economy? Because it’s not working for most of us right now. And the notion of a new social contract, which is just, you know, it’s not really the Roosevelt notion of agreement between an individual and his government. It has to, I think, be more complex in today’s economy, in today’s world, which is much more interconnected.

But the idea is, really, that we need to articulate a clear alternative to this free market economy. We were just talking, you and I, about Michael Ratner, who, where, it’s really more than a 12-month conversation. But we’re having 12 months worth of events and conversations in part to honor Michael Ratner because he was one of our founding supporters, and a strong, strong voice for economic and social rights. And one of the things he had said that I pulled for this event was that when change comes it is unpredictable, but it does not happen by chance.

So part of why we want to contribute to this larger conversation that a lot of these other groups are having, our cosponsors are, People’s Action and Race Forward, and Resource Generation. The poor people’s campaign is having sort of its own audit and its own conversation and we’ve tried to to align this event within its 40 days.

But why we want to contribute to that sort of larger conversation is because we have to build readiness for when that moment of change comes. And we won’t be ready if we haven’t collaboratively discussed and talked through and tested and pushed and struggled to what, to what the alternatives might be that take us from this market economy, which is not freeing anyone, to a more caring economy, to a community-based economy, to a solidarity economy, to the kind of economy that’s driven by values that are people-centered and not profit-centered.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Cathy. Now, what I love about the thrust of this campaign is that you’re going to be highlighting things that are working at a local level. And these days we have to look more and more at what we can do in local communities, and cities, and municipalities. So I’m wondering if you could sort of spell out what you imagine this new social contract to be and how it will work.

CATHY ALBISA: Well, there are a surprising number of effective transformative solutions that people are modeling on a local level. Some are already being implemented. Or at the state level. Some are, are in process, right. Sort of the model has been built, but we’re still waiting to fully test it. With one exception the, the project is looking at, as you said, local and state solutions that are community driven. So examples include community land trusts, which create permanently affordable housing. Public banking. One state already has it. There are municipalities pushing for that, so that our public money is invested back in communities, and not being extracted to centers of wealth. Community loan investment funds. Worker-driven social responsibility models, which is, which have been really effective in agriculture and give workers an opportunity to realign supply chain relationships so that they can guarantee their own rights. Work co-ops.

The one big picture that seems to be a growing call in the movement that’s national, that we’re we’re also including because it’s so important, is a national federal jobs guarantee, something people weren’t seriously talking about for a very long time, but has been a significant conversation in the Movement for Black Lives platform, and important economists like [inaudible] in the New School had been sort of pushing out this idea. We have lots of movements that know what the solutions are. Universal health care movement has been pushing on the state level for years. We have the California Nurses, who, who have almost gotten, you know, across the finish line more than once. Similarly in the Vermont Workers Center, and rights and democracy in Vermont have been pushing for universal health care financing.

There’s about 11, 12 examples that we give in the report we’re putting out and that we’ll be discussing. But the more important, I think, idea is that these things are already working on the ground. For example, community land trust had the lowest rates of foreclosure of any kind of housing during the foreclosure crisis. Miniscule. They guaranteed stability, they guaranteed permanently affordable housing even during the worst of the downturn. And, and restorative justice in schools. I mean, I, we only have 10 minutes, so I’m not going to be able to tell you about all of them. But the point is, communities who live the problem actually are creating the solutions. And that’s where we need to look to, to build that sort of bigger agenda that can move us from this not so free market economy to something else.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. It sounds like we have to do it in spite of the free market economy. Yeah. Cathy, I thank you so much for joining us, and I know you are launching this campaign on the 24th, and you can count on us being there with you. Thanks for joining us today.

CATHY ALBISA: Very excited. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.

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Sharmini Peries was a co-founder of TRNN, where she harnessed the power and expertise of civil society institutions. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).