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Economic Justice & Development

To create an economy that works better for working people, we need to think about both the big picture and the immediate here and now.

I’ll start by addressing the big picture, then get to the here and now. But if you’d rather approach things in reverse order, just skip ahead to the second section below.

I. BIG PICTURE STUFF

 

Capitalism -- a system in which productive property is privately owned, in which costs and benefits are distributed according to bargaining power, in which systemic risk and harmful "externalities" are unaccounted for, in which massive poverty persists, and in which most of us are condemned to spend our lives following someone else's orders, more for their benefit than for  our own-- is a system that is socially undesirable and ecologically unsustainable. It is based on exploitation. It generates enormous inequality. It rewards antisocial behavior. It constrains human freedom and development. It is hugely inefficient. And it has put us on a path to irreparable ecological catastrophe and the end of human civilization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social justice and human survival both depend on us replacing capitalism with a radically democratic, rationally planned economy. Saying that is easy enough. But making it happen? Not so much.

What exactly should a democratic, post-capitalist economy look like? How can we achieve it? And –most importantly— what steps can we take right now, right here in Athens, to improve peoples’ lives now AND build the revolutionary movement we need?

 

Leftists have been debating the first two questions since the dawn of the industrial revolution. But, in my view, Marxists and Leninists have mostly evaded the issue of what a post-capitalist economy should look like, due to their faith in the notion that the overthrow of the capitalist ruling class will more or less inevitably usher in utopia. At worst, this oversight has allowed privileged technocrats and even monstrous dictators like Stalin to fill the void with new class divisions and authoritarian rule. And even at best, it has prevented successful Marxist-Leninist insurrectionaries from achieving classless, truly democratic systems.

 

Meanwhile, the other major branch of the radical left, comprised of anarcho-syndicalists and other libertarian socialists, has focused on building alternative institutions capable of better meeting economic needs while also maximizing human freedom and solidarity rather than directly confronting and conquering the state. As such, these anti-capitalist radicals have either been crushed by capitalist state violence or relegated to operating in insignificant obscurity, isolated from the mainstream of society.

Yet even as the most successful of these revolutionaries failed in the 19th and 20th centuries, they pushed progressive reformers to succeed. Unfortunately, though, the success of progressive reformers was only temporary. Here in the US, the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s didn’t stop the concentrated power of capitalists from bringing us right back to where we started, with the same levels of inequality now that we had in the 1920s. And even in Europe, where progressive reformers had more success, social democracy is giving way to austerity, privatization, deregulation, and other neoliberal reforms. Thus history has shown that capitalism cannot be reformed, it can only be replaced. And it needs to be replaced ASAP. 

We're now 1/5 of the way into the 21st century and facing not only the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation due to capitalist imperialism, but also the impending collapse of human civilization due to capitalist-induced climate change. And as people desperately grasp for answers to our present state of social decay -- answers that our capitalist ruling institutions and "centrist" political parties can’t provide -- religious fundamentalist and fascist extremist organizations find new recruits every day.

The stakes were high enough when immigrant children were dying in American mines and factories 150 years ago; they’re much higher now that immigrant children are dying in American concentration camps along our southern border, and now that those children’s entire generation the world over is on track to lose a livable planet. As my fellow socialist candidate for Athens city office, Ellie Hamrick, correctly points out, our species may only have a decade to get things right before we pass an ecological point of no return. But to get things right, I don’t think it’s enough to clearly understand the capitalism we’re fighting against – we also need to clearly understand the socialism we're fighting for.

With that in mind, the proposal for a post-capitalist economy I like best is called Participatory Economics. It was developed within the past 30 years by two New Left radicals turned academics and lifelong activists: Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert. Of the two, Hahnel is the better writer, and Albert is the better speaker. So if you want to look into Participatory Economics, I recommend Hahnel’s article and books and Albert’s talks. For now I’ll just mention that Hahnel and Albert argue that 20th century “socialism” and “communism” failed to achieve a truly democratic and non-exploitative society because those systems elevated a class of technocrats to power over workers, they continued the hierarchical corporate management of workplaces, they allocated goods and services through either central planning or the market, they maintained the division of labor between mental and menial work, and they determined pay according to each worker’s bargaining power or contribution to output. So in opposition to those arrangements, Participatory Economics would be based on public ownership of productive property, democratically planned production and consumption, democratic workplace management, jobs comprised of a fair balance of mental and menial labor, and differential pay according only to effort and sacrifice, mitigated by need.

But while I hope participatory planning can completely replace markets (which are horribly anti-social and inefficient devices), I’m not totally confident it can. So in addition to Participatory Economics, I’m also very cautiously interested in some versions of what’s called “market socialism,” such as Erik Olin Wright’s economic model, Real Utopias.

Of course, we’re not going to be able to figure out everything in advance. Social change isn’t that simple (which is why the more straight forward work I do repairing cars, building stuff, and cooking isn’t just my hobby – it’s my therapy!). But just because we can’t draw up perfect blueprints for the future, that doesn’t mean we can’t come together around broadly shared values and keep discussing, debating, experimenting, and reflecting to develop a fairly clear model of the democratic, post-capitalist political economy we want to achieve.

This is why I call myself as a democratic socialist. For me, being a "democratic socialist" just means I want a democratic and equitable alternative to capitalism, and that I want to work alongside of others who want the same, even if we have some current disagreements about the finer points of goals and strategy.

As for how we achieve the post-capitalist world we want, I mostly come from the anarcho-syndicalist tradition that says we need to build participatory control of society from the ground up – in our workplaces, our schools, and our communities – and that we should seek to change society through collective, grassroots, mass direct action.

But I also think we should vote and run for office within our current political institutions, too, as a way of assisting social movements in winning positive reforms.

And if I thought we were at the point where an armed struggle to overthrow capitalist state power could succeed in replacing the horrors of capitalism with an exponentially more humane version of democratic socialism, I like to think I'd do my part. But I don’t think we’re anywhere near that point now. And unlike some leftists, I’m not convinced that strategy could ever work.

Right now, almost all leftists agree that we should be organizing oppressed and exploited people to win reforms that make their lives better now and that teach them even greater changes are possible. The leftists running for office in Athens County this year all think we can help do this by running for office – and by winning. That’s why we’re supporting each other despite some disagreements about the issues I touched on above. And it's why we're all being honest, open, and unapologetic about our politics.   

And other socialists agree! My candidacy for mayor has been endorsed by the Southeast Ohio chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and by Athens Revolutionary Socialists, as well as socialist independent candidate for Athens City Council Ellie Hamrick and socialist independent candidate for Nelsonville City Council McCray Powell.

II. HERE & NOW IN ATHENS

So what exactly do I think we should be doing right now in Athens – and what’s my part in that, if I’m elected mayor?

Athens County has some of the worst poverty, food insecurity, and income inequality in the state of Ohio. Affluent Athens officeholders like my opponent Steve Patterson typically dismiss these figures, arguing that they’re distorted by our the City of Athens' large population of college students. But Jack Frech, former longtime director of Athens County Jobs and Family Services, recently pushed back, correctly pointing out the following in his July 2 Athens News column.

"Most students leave OU heavily in debt, and are poor when they live here. It may not be as obvious as poverty out in the county. That is because students borrow significant amounts of money in order to pay for food and housing, an option that most poor people don’t have."

And furthermore, "The inclusion of poor students in our [poverty] count has the advantage of driving millions of dollars our way due to our designation as a hardship county and as a factor for many funding formulas. Much to their disadvantage, very few of the poverty-related benefits go to students. Most don’t get Medicaid, SNAP or cash assistance. Only a handful are eligible for local social services."

And finally, "If off-campus students were excluded from the poverty count the poverty rate for the city would still be nearly 30%."

So yes, we have big economic problems here in Athens. We need to stop ignoring them and start addressing them.

Because we're not going to overthrow capitalism tomorrow, we need to work within it to improve peoples' lives and put them in a better position to fight for much greater changes.

Ending Union-Busting by City Government

The first step is to stop making it harder for working people to unionize. Over the past 20 years I have supported many unionization campaigns, strikes, and efforts to achieve stronger labor rights. In 1999, I participated in the "Battle in Seattle," the historic mass direct action that disrupted the World Trade Organization ministerial meetings. In 2003, I received training from the AFL-CIO's Organizing Institute. Between 2002 and 2007, I covered regional labor issues as a reporter for The InterActivist, freelance reporter for the Athens News, and columnist for the OU Post. In 2005, I worked with the campus-community InterAct and a coalition of regional building trades unions to try to get OU to adopt a responsible contractor bidding criteria that would enable union contractors to compete with non-union contractors to win contracts for OU construction and renovation projects. That effort served as the model for the Responsible Contractor Bidding Criteria resolution adopted by Athens City Council in 2008 at the urging of former InterAct member and then-councilmember Elahu Gosney.

 

However, earlier this year, the administration of my opponent Steve Patterson chose to ignore the city's Responsible Contractor Bidding Criteria in order to try to eliminate nearly 40 good paying local union jobs with benefits (and derail successful recycling and composting projects) by attempting to take the city refuse and recycling contract away from Athens Hocking Recycling Center and give it to an out-of-town, for-profit, non-union firm that did not provide employee benefits. I was part of the public backlash that forced Patterson to abandon this plan, and I took his administration to task before city council.

 

However, it is also worth noting that Mayor Patterson's right hand man, City Service Director Andy Stone, has pursued union busting outside of Patterson's administration as well. Stone chairs the Hocking College Board of Trustees, which continues to award HC President Betty Young with lavish bonuses for her success at reducing unionized Hocking College staff to just 1/3 its level when she was hired as president.

There is no question that union workers enjoy better compensation and better working conditions than their non-union counterparts. Nor is there any question that countries with strong labor movements have enacted more humane social democratic policies. I believe unions can be an important basis for achieving even more substantial (and perhaps revolutionary) change. As a result, I support unions, while my opponent has shown he opposes them. 

Bringing More Money into Our Community & Distributing it More Equitably

In addition to supporting unions, my short term economic development plan is to focus on our community’s unique assets in order to bring more money into our economy, and to then see that this money is more equitably distributed.

Athens is nationally renowned for our...

  • food and beverage scene

  • music and arts scene and performance spaces

  • cultural attractions through Ohio University

  • ample opportunities for outdoor recreation

  • our progressive politics

By strengthening these elements of our community and doing a better job of showcasing them to a much larger region, we can pull the already thriving tourism economy of the Hocking Hills a little farther south to encompass our city, making Athens a frequent weekend getaway destination for Columbus residents, OU parents, and more.

And we can also make the city government’s promotion of unique, tourism-attracting, independent local small businesses contingent on those businesses adopting more socially and environmentally responsible practices and financially contributing to local social programs, so that the money that flows into our local economy doesn’t just stay local – it makes its way into more local hands, particularly those who need it most. This, in turn, will improve working peoples’ lives and put working people in a better position to organize to increase their collective bargaining power and win an even better Athens.

Also, as I argued in my April 1, 2017 guest column for the Athens News, small, independent, locally-owned businesses are worth supporting over corporate chains, because the former type of businesses provide crucial avenues for progressive community organizing, and also crucial support to our arts & music scene. For more info, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Some aspects of this approach could include:

  • Making it easier for mobile food vendors to access customer demand. The current city government has either opposed or dragged its feet on this issue for two years now. Meanwhile, despite a substantial number of area farmers and the food service start-up business incubation services of ACEnet, many would be businesses are prevented from operating due to landlords of brick and mortar restaurant space holding out for exorbitantly high rents that only ubiquitous corporate chains can afford to pay. So allowing mobile food vendors to access more areas of Athens is a vital way than ever to not only provide residents with a greater variety of food options, but to nurture and grow our nationally renowned, independent, local food and beverage scene -- a scene that in turn vitally supports our arts and music scene (independent restaurants, coffee shops, and bars provide gallery and performance space -- Wendy's, Starbucks and Applebees don't) and our community organizing / progressive political scenes. (Who's got bulletin boards for community events? Who's sold bus tickets for national anti-war demonstrations and collected donations for water defenders? Who participates in Rural Action's Zero Waster Initiative and donates to local progressive non-profits? Again, it's not the ubiquitous corporate chains.) 

  • Seeking to work with the Athens Farmer Market and County Fair Board to transform the farmers market from a 3-hour event that’s outgrown the shopping mall parking lot where its currently located to a day-long festival every Saturday at the fair grounds that includes not only a more substantial farmers market but an arts fair, flea market, food truck festival, concert and performance arts venue, and educational workshop space. An event that will draw a much larger crowd from not only Athens County but far beyond every weekend that weather permits, and to a reduced extent over the winter as well.

  • Creating an uptown local tourism center to distribute literature, organize guided tours, and reach out to other visiting crowds, such as university-organized tours of prospective OU students and their parents, and folks in town for academic conferences and local festivals.

  • Purchase advertising in Columbus and other metropolitan media markets around our state that promotes Athens as a tourist destination.

  • Strengthen local arts by creating a separate municipal arts department and, ideally relocating it to an expanded space at the former West Elementary School.

  • Seek grants and other funding to transform the old Armory building into a community media center and performance space akin to Stuart’s Opera House but also including a public access low power FM community radio station and a video recording studio to record and produce multimedia content, including local public affairs and entertainment programs, as well as recordings of live musical performances, which would make up the radio station’s all local musical content and help build a larger paying audience to better support local musicians and the other performance venues that host them.  

  • Continue to support the expansion of the Athens Hockhocking Adena Bike Path and area hiking trails.

  • Revisit the potential for the city to take over ownership of Strouds Run State Park and, if successful, further develop the campground, and further develop the beach end of Dow Lake to include mountain bike and non-motorized boat rental and food options, making the park an integral park of the Athens outdoor recreation experience. 

Damon Krane (right), then 20 years old, at demonstrations that disrupted the World Trade Organization's 1999 Ministerial Meeting, known as "The Battle in Seattle," where Krane was among tens of thousands of labor, environmental, consumer protection, human rights, and pro-democracy activists who overcame a joint military and police effort against them in which martial law was declared, a curfew was established, checkpoints were set up to separate protesters from Christmas shoppers, 500 demonstrators were arrested, and countless more were subjected to tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and beatings by police. This banner that Krane created was a response to that state violence, and although major media refused to film it, the banner was spotted by famed Port Huron Statement author and then-California state senator Tom Hayden, who read it aloud during an interview televised on CNN. 

Although Damon Krane pays his bills by working for someone else, he also owns and operates Hot Potato Food Truck and is president of the Athens Mobile Vending Association. No stranger to construction work and auto repair, Krane designed and built the Hot Potato Food Truck himself in 2016 and has improved it substantially since then. A longtime food service worker, Krane created Hot Potato's unique, internationally-themed, all-vegetarian menu in collaboration with his wife, Ece, who is also a longtime food service worker (and foodie) currently completing her PhD in film studies. Krane is pictured here with the Hot Potato Food Truck at the 2019 Nelsonville Music Festival this past June, where the truck served more than 800 orders and close to 1 ton of food in 3 days.

Damon Krane has been a journalist for as long as he's been an organizer. During that time he has published the better part of 100 articles, columns, and letters to the editor. His work has included coverage of labor issues, including the 2007 lockout of nearly 300 union workers and public health concerns at one of the nation's top industrial polluters, specialty metals refinery Eramet Marietta. At the time of his articles' publication in The InterActivist magazine and the Athens News, they were most in-depth reports produced on those subjects. Krane also covered ta faculty unionizing attempt at Ohio University for The InterActivist and he lack of labor studies at OU for The Post.

Top photo above: Krane speaks at a press conference following local activist's return from the "Battle in Seattle" in 1999.

Bottom photo above: Krane speaks to Athens City Council regarding local economic and cultural development issues in 2019

In this clipping from the Athens News, Krane speaks to Athens City Council in late May 2019 and calls out leading local Democrats who attempted to pay lip service to unions while simultaneously praising Democratic union-busters Mayor Patterson, City Service-Safety Director Andy Stone, and Deputy City Service-Safety Direct Ron Lucas who, together, in Stone's own words, had managed to create "an impending public health emergency" for the city.