Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Ukiah: Taking Control of Our Common Destiny

In !ACTION CENTER!, Around Mendo Island, Dave Smith on April 25, 2011 at 7:43 am

From DAVE SMITH
Ukiah

In this time of Peak Oil [link], Climate Change, and Disaster Capitalism, we Ukiahans will take democratic control of our own food, our money, and our energy resources, or others from elsewhere will surely succeed in taking that control away from us. Disaster Capitalism takes advantage of short-term social and financial bedlam and turns it into long-term privatizing schemes that convert our democratic control of crucial resources and services — such as schools, libraries, water and waste systems, prisons — into top-down, corporate-controlled, long-term cash cows for the very few. These schemes have utterly failed to become more efficient and save tax payers money. How could they? Profit-seeking constant-growth corporations privatize the profits and socialize the costs to our public detriment. And we citizens, instead of lower-cost, democratically-controlled resources and services, transfer our public money to the wealthy, and pay and pay and pay.

We also find ourselves continuously playing whack-a-mole… fighting off those who wish to impose their private will on our public community, leaving little time to think and act and build a positive inviting future worth fighting for.

There are several things we Ukiah citizens could be doing now instead of waiting for events that force us into decisions not in our common best interests:

1. Corporate Personhood: The state legalizes an activity – such as commercial water withdrawals, or factory farming, or big-box colonizers that take our jobs overseas – and communities are legally prohibited from saying “no” to it. Or, as may happen in our case, we reject by a huge majority vote a zoning change that protects a prime industrial parcel, and also reject by popular demand the closing of our downtown Post Office… but the will of the people is undermined by the will of outside corporate money, subterfuge and bureaucracy… and we lose valuable community assets.

Small towns have successfully passed laws that transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations [link]. Our dear friend, Susan Jordan, along with other locals, was beginning work on this before her untimely death. This project needs energy and legal direction now in order to cope with future monster malls [link] and other assorted horrors.

2. Green Energy/Green Jobs: The Masonite site is prime industrial property to help build our green energy future upon. The City of Ukiah needs to annex this property as soon as possible, and solicit bids to build our own decentralized, solar-driven future with a combination of rooftop and city-owned power. For crying out loud, this is Mendocino County!

3. Local Money: Some baby steps (Mendo Moola) have been taken, but without our own local, democratic, cooperative money system, we are at the mercy of distant economies, centralized power, and undemocratic banking institutions (Bank of America). Crucial to this effort is to have  our own, local, progressive Credit Union. I know, I know, we already have some local credit unions, but they are either not locally-controlled (Redwood) or too conservative (Mendo-Lake) to meet our future needs. Instead, we need an aggressive, progressive Credit Union that will help fund and build our future with community development programs, financial education, individual development accounts and micro-enterprise lending. The models I’m familiar with are the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union [link] and the Mondragon Cooperatives [link].

4. Food Sovereignty: We should “claim the right to define our own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces. 99 percent of food consumed by Mendocino County residents is grown somewhere else. Most prime agricultural land is used in the production of a pair of non-essential, non-food crops – ganja and high-end booze – that are grown almost entirely for export.” [Will Parrish link]

We have some great farmers, gardeners, farmers markets, and food projects that are setting the pace for our future. But there is one project that we as a community can begin together to take local control of our food and our downtown place. And the structure for it is already here. It’s the Ukiah Cooperative Market and it could play a central role in our future (see below).

5. Downtown Ukiah: As our recent community engagement with the United States Postal Service has demonstrated, we love our town and we hate the loss of control of our future to outside interests who are unresponsive and uncaring, and who hide behind privatized charters and distant, faceless bureaucracies. We have begun to take back democratic control of our downtown through form-based zoning [link] and protection from unfair competition by big-box colonizers, chain stores and franchises who use tax breaks, bribes and monopolies to suck out our money for distant investors and CEOs that would otherwise be circulating locally, building our own economy.

As we move inevitably from a car-based economy to a locally-based culture, freeway malls will begin dying off of their own accord. Retail monopolies kill local entrepreneurial spirit and energy. To live interestingly… to be interesting… what we must not do is replicate what is found in every mall and city in America. By “zoning out” the dumb same ol, same ol, and zoning in the smart and local, we give ourselves a chance to thrive as a creative, entrepreneurial small business community.

But we are subject now to the loss of crucial downtown services — the post office and courthouse — that bring people into town who then patronize our small businesses. We have no local, democratic control over what happens next with those services and buildings.

In the past, the locally-owned “five and dimes” and department stores “anchored” local commerce along with government services. Those retail businesses are now owned by distant corporations who move them at will to freeway malls that gut and shutter our beloved downtowns.

Our locally-owned, locally-financed, democratically-controlled Ukiah Food Co-op, buying from local farmers and artisans, could be the anchor store that we invite into our downtown to help us build our walkable, bicyclable future around. Keep the unfair chains and franchises out, bring the co-op in, and help finance local, independent, small-business entrepreneurs and cooperative ventures with our own downtown credit union.

Our co-op, together with our own local farmers and farmers markets, local money, local energy, and local entrepreneurial, cooperative, and family-owned businesses, will allow us to step off the tracks of the out-of-control financial and socially-chaotic train that is relentlessly roaring towards us, and instead, secure our future and the future of our children by starting from and with the local.

If we Ukiahans don’t take control of our own destiny, others will dictate it to us. Those outside, moneyed interests who would control our future for us have been clamoring at our door for some time now, and so far we have been successful at turning most of them away. But they are relentless in their pursuit of private-over-public control, and unfortunately they have local allies who would sell us all out for a farthing. To date, we have failed to provide consistent and reasonable plans and alternatives to offset their constant demands.

We must do so now or we could lose it all.
~~

  1. Thanks Dave for this thoughtful piece.
    Maybe the Co-op should post it on their facebook?

  2. I’m bookmarking this blog. Excellent start, looking forward to more!

  3. Dave your article sounds exclusionary when you use the term “we Ukiahans”. Is there a way to keep this about Mendocino County or is that too big of an area?

    Bob

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