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Reflections on ONE DC Coop Learning Journey to Red Emma’s

Video Credit: Adwoa Masozi
adwoa@impacthubdc.com

By Julia Eddy & Allison Basile

On March 14th, a group of colleagues, friends, and strangers gathered outside of ONE DC’s office at the New Community Church to embark on a special kind of Sunday spiritual journey. We set out for a lively worker-owned cooperative cafe/bookstore/event space in Baltimore called Red Emma’s Cafe. The idea grew out of organizing meetings for the DC Black Workers Center - a space that will, among other things, promote the creation of worker-owned cooperatives.

I call it a spiritual trip because it seemed from the conversation throughout the day that for many of us coops are a way of feeding the soul, in addition to hopefully feeding the mind and pocket. When I heard the music from the kitchen, smelled the warm roast of fresh fair trade coffee, and saw the mix of meetup groups, piercings, zines, books on revolutionary movements, and overgrowth of community fliers, my spirit felt instantly like it had come home.

Reggie and Josiah, two of Red Emma’s worker-owners, were our guides for the day. They walked us around the space and told us about their stories, the neighborhood, how Red Emma has evolved and operates today, and the transformational experience of being part owner in a collectively run business.

It was humbling and inspiring to hear the case study - how hard and rewarding it can be to create an alternative kind of company and navigate the pressures of capitalism; how humanizing it can be to engage in a truly democratic workplace and grow a radical vision.  Below you can find some collaborative notes we took throughout the day that go into more detail.

I would like to extend my personal thanks to ONE DC for organizing this learning journey and to the folks at Red Emma’s for being open to share so much of their stories.

There are several arms of Red Emma’s:

  • Bookstore, cafe, and event space
  • The Free School offers anti-hierarchical classes and a meeting space. It used to be independent entity, now is nonprofit extension of Red Emma’s. There is a list of classes happening all the time. Folks can submit a proposal for a free public class or rent the space for nominal fee.
  • Thread Coffee is independent coop within Red Emma’s.

History & Current Context:

  • Many people who work there identify as “radical” or even “anarchist”.
  • Original Red Emma’s was funded without any loans. The original worker-owners put in a lot of ‘sweat equity’.
  • They found a viable business in coffee and books and operated out of a basement for ~10 years until recently when they were able to expand into current space.
  • It’s a business AND a political act.
  • Trying to listen to the community and give the community what it wants.
  • Indiegogo campaign and line of credit with a traditional bank helped with expansion.

Philosophies:

  • Worker cooperatives are an act of resistance and rebellion. They are a political statement against market capitalism.
  • Being a part of a worker cooperative makes you feel like you have a stake in the world.
  • We need to infuse cooperative principles into our culture at large.
  • Many progressive/radical organizers/organizations neglect to build their own infrastructure and institutions.
  • Worker cooperatives can't escape capitalism. They have to negotiate with monopoly capitalism, which adds to the challenges.
  • "In a worker cooperative, we can't run to a supervisor when there's a problem. We have to figure it out ourselves!"
  • Regular trainings to support people as they transition from having a boss to having a lot of responsibility and self-reliance is important.
  • At the end of the day, a worker cooperative is also a business that needs to sell things people will buy. It's the way it is operated and owned that makes it political.

Other Nuts and Bolts:

  • $1,000 buy-in for new members - can pay one time or paycheck deductions.
  • Trying to raise salaries and figure out patronage distribution now.
  • People pay their own insurance and social security out of their wages.
  • MD living wage is $11/hr, which is what Red Emmas members make. They are working to raise it to $12.50 and $13.50.
  • Everyone is paid the same wage.
  • They have had a lot of turnover which has been hard.
  • Their first year in a new space it was hard to find that extra time for visioning
  • They are intentional and want to be more intentional moving forward about partnering with other coops - Epicurious Bike Coop, AORTA has done staff trainings for them, Thread Coffee works with international coffee grower coops.
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Join a Lending Circle with the Latino Economic Development Center

A lending circle is where a group of people lend each other money with no interest or fees each month.

The informal lending system, practiced by communities all over the world, is now being recognized by traditional financial institutions. Each payment made into a lending circle acts as payment towards a future loan, providing individuals with the unique opportunity to build their credit.

The Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) is starting a lending circle for community members to build their credit. For more information, please call (202) 540-7401.

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Make DC a Worker Coop-Friendly City!

The DC Worker Cooperative Coalition (DCWCC) is a group of worker cooperative owners, worker cooperative incubators, lawyers, and grassroots organizing groups who support the development of worker cooperatives as a necessary tool for equitable economic development, and who wish to see a flourishing worker cooperative ecosystem in Washington, DC.

Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and controlled by their workers. Studies show that, as compared to other small businesses and traditional investor-owned businesses, they tend to pay higher wages and provide better benefits, invest more in their workers through leadership and skills development, remain in business longer given worker commitment to the businesses, and encourage democratic, participatory and dignified workplaces. There are examples of low-wage workers in New York City who have formed worker cooperatives and have seen their hourly wages increase from $10 to $25 per hour within just a few years.

In recent years, worker cooperative development has grown dramatically in a range of cities including Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago, and Austin, in industries ranging from healthcare to sustainable energy production. Government support has been instrumental. In recognition of the benefits of this business model, in 2014, the New York City Council allotted $1.2 million toward worker cooperative development. Just last week, the NYC Council passed a law that requires the city to issue annual reports on the amount of goods and services it purchases from worker cooperatives, and to provide recommendations on how to lower barriers for worker cooperative participation in city procurement. This year, the Madison City Council committed $5 million over 5 years to worker cooperative development. The City of Cleveland has also been supportive of local worker cooperative development, providing land for a 3-acre hydroponic greenhouse and worker cooperative.

Given DC’s struggles with high inequality and a shortage of living wage jobs, we would greatly benefit from an integrated approach to supporting worker cooperative development. While the benefits of worker cooperatives are well-documented, they are widely unknown and underutilized as an economic development tool in Washington, DC. Supportive policies and legislation could change that.

Below is a list of policy recommendations to the City Council:

1) Pass a local definition of “worker co-op” and support public education on the model’s benefits

2) Equip the D.C. Small Business Development Centers to support worker cooperative businesses

3) Provide city-owned land and buildings to worker cooperatives

4) Provide funding (grants, loans) to worker cooperative businesses and developers

5) Make worker cooperatives a preferred contractor for city agencies

6) Provide tax benefits to worker cooperatives

On Thursday, March 26th, we will co-host the Second Annual Equitable Development Symposium, which will feature New York City Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who championed the legislative effort to support worker cooperatives in New York City. The event will take place at the George Washington University Marvin Center Grand Ballroom (800 21st St NW) from 9am-3pm. We hope you can join us there.

The DCWCC would welcome the opportunity to meet with the City Council and others to explore these ideas and share additional resources we have collected from worker cooperative efforts around the country. We look forward to continuing the conversation and working towards an equitable DC with dignified, democratic workplaces.

DC Worker Cooperative Coalition

Allison Basile, ONE DC

Eva Seidelman

Community Development Law Clinic
UDC David A. Clarke School of Law

Jennifer Bryant
Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) DC
jbryant@onedconline.org

Jeremiah Lowery
Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) DC

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ph.D.
ONE DC and Grassroots Economic Organizing

Josephine Chu
Zenful Bites Catering Cooperative

Melody Webb
Second Chance Legal Project of Mothers Outreach Network, Inc.

Tracy McCurty, Esq.
Black Belt Justice Center

Zachari J. Curtis
Co-Founder
Community Farming Alliance

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Barry Farm Organizers Deliver Their Demands!

Barry Farm Study Circle, Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association, Empower DC, and ONE DC continue to fight to preserve the history of Barry Farm and stop displacement of public housing residents. Barry Farm organizers presented their demands to DC City Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson and City Administrator Rashad Young. Our next meeting will take place onMarch 18th with Chairperson Mendelson, the Director of DC Housing Authority, and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

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HERE ARE OUR DEMANDS:

1. Appeal the approval to demolish Barry Farms (From Zoning Commission, DC City Council, and National Capital Planning Commission) as there are no funds to complete these plans they approved.

2. Halt and suspend moving forward with ANY redevelopment/demolition plans for Barry Farms.

3. Audit of the Barry Farms Redevelopment Process. Audit will consist of:

  • ALL Documents signed by ANY resident council member regarding the redevelopment process.
  • A Funding report to include:
  • Funding necessary to complete the proposed project.
  • Funding necessary to provide for relocation and relocation wrap around services.

4. Analysis of how New Communities works here compared to similar programs in other areas, and how to improve:

5. Answers to the following questions:

a. Why are people relocated en masse long before construction will be complete?
b. Why are replacement units no longer public housing? Why are the leases held by the property's private management company (with hard to meet criterion)?
c. Why are units not replaced? (See Arthur Capper/Carrolsburg, Temple Courts, Lincoln Heights)

6. Immediate repairs made to units in Barry Farms. Fill ALL outstanding maintenance work orders. DCHA is purposefully neglecting this property in regards to maintenance! This is unacceptable!

7. Feasibility study on redeveloping in place to prevent displacement. (This was stipulated in the Small Area Plan approved in 2006 by the Council)

8. Immediate Moratorium on the demolition of Barry Farms. (We are in a serious HOMELESS CRISIS! It is irresponsible and very poor planning for the city to continue with the demolition now!)

9. Meaningful exploration of Converting Barry Farms to cooperative or limited equity cooperative.

Barry Farm organizers also "educated" DC City Council Chairperson Mendelsen on the "myths" of  deconcentration of poverty. Check out a few articles for yourself.

http://www.huduser.org/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol16num2/ch10.pd

http://herbertgans.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Concentrated-Poverty.pdf

http://www.qc.cuny.edu/Academics/Degrees/DSS/UrbanStudies/FacultyStaff/Documents/Myth%20of%20Concentrated%20Poverty%20-%20Steinberg.pdf

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/05/the-problem-with-mixed-income-housing/

http://ssascholars.uchicago.edu/mixed-income-development-study/content/new-public-housing-stigma-mixed-income-developments

http://www.nhlp.org/files/greenbook4/Chapter12/FN%20183%20Schwartz,%20Tajbakhsh%20-%20Mixed-Income%20Housing,%20Unanswered%20Questions%20%281997%29.pdf

http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2003/0703williams.html

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Fueled by reflections from the ONE DC Freedom School, Congress Heights residents testify at Zoning Commission Hearing

On January 22, residents of Congress Heights fought back against development aimed to line the pockets of one of the largest slumlords in the District. The development project seeks to displace families with the intention of capitalizing on their conveniently locates homes near the metro station, demolish 5 rent-controlled buildings, and eliminate an affordability requirement intended to keep eleven units accessible to low-income families. One after another residents testified at a hearing before the Zoning Commission to the deplorable conditions they have been continuously subjected to, and expressed their sentiment that “these slumlord do not deserve to be granted this new property”. Alternative forms of inclusive development were put forth as well: “I would like to see a housing co-op for our buildings” stated one resident. Ultimately, the project was not approved for the time being due to the articulately expressed concerns and ideas of residents, community members, and organizers of ONE DC.

The strength that tenants displayed at the hearing and their ability to stand up and speak the truth regarding the devastating realities of the current development model for poor black DC residents was due in no small part to a change in perspective after becoming involved with ONE DC. In December, a group of residents from Congress Heights attended a Freedom School organized by ONE DC that shaped the conversation by exposing many of those who would be affected and afflicted by the unaffordable, non-inclusive proposed development to other alternatives. Residents discussed the root causes of the hardships of displacement and the hostile living environments they have endured for years, and compared and contrasted the status-quo of capitalist, profit-driven development and “investment” with collective models based on principles of a solidarity economy. ONE DC worked with residents to expose them to the deep-seeded imbalance of power that perpetuates development beneficial only to those most privileged in our society. Together they watched videos and discussed other examples of instances where oppressed people have come together to take back power by realizing their own alternative collective visions of labor, housing, and food cooperatives. These ideas and visions were then applied to the specific situation facing residents of Congress Heights today. Some weeks later, these same residents took what they had learned through this discussion to the floor of the Zoning Commission in the first step of what will likely be a long fight for their housing.

The Freedom School is intended to grow and expand to include, unite, and empower residents throughout Ward 8 and DC to take back the city that is theirs. To this end ONE DC has and continues to work tirelessly to connect with residents and educate them in the fight for a fair and inclusive Washington DC.

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RSVP: Equitable Development in DC: Sustainability from Below

RSVP Here

ONE DC and George Washington University are joining forces for the second annual conference on equitable development in Washington, DC on March 26, 2015. To be held on the campus of George Washington University, Equitable Development in DC: Sustainability from Below will bring together residents of neighborhoods throughout Washington, DC, organizers, students, scholars, elected officials, and others who are engaged in efforts to create more living-wage jobs, affordable housing, and other opportunities for wealth accumulation for residents of traditionally underserved communities, many of which are experiencing rapid gentrification and displacement.

When: Thursday, March 26 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Where: The Marvin Center Grand Ballroom 800 21st Street Northwest Washington, DC 20052

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Mindy Fullilove, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University and author of several books including Root Shock: How Tearing Up Cities Hurts America and What We Can Do About It and Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities, will deliver the keynote address. Two panel discussions will follow; one focusing on national strategies and the second on local initiatives. But the objective is not simply to share ideas and inform the audience. The goal is to stimulate action to create the types of communities that are envisioned. A working lunch follows where participants will engage in further discussion and debate, and where they will be encouraged to join with ONE DC and other advocacy groups to create equitable and sustainable neighborhoods throughout the DC community.


The mood in the room at last year’s conference was truly electric with participants and attendees engaging in intensive conversation hours after the formal proceedings concluded. We anticipate this annual conference will become a national model for community-engaged research, networking, and advocacy for equitable and sustainable development principles and practice.

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City-wide Forum on Barry Farms Displacement

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Solidarity 2: Home is Not a Commodity

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Edo of Sodere Park, Ethiopia, Photo By Dominic T. Moulden

Show Opening & Artist Talk
Friday, February 6, 6pm-8pm


Workshop & Art Conversation
Saturday, February 21, 3pm-5pm


Open Mic Ova East
Saturday, February 21, 5pm-7pm


All events will be held at MICA PLACE, 814 North Collington Avenue.

A home offers the space for nurturing, growth and comfort — a place of heart, family and self. Beyond its physical structure, the health and wellbeing of everyone is shaped by our access to home and place. What is home?  Who owns the land?  Who decides?  

These are topics community organizer and photographer, Dominic T. Moulden addresses in his upcoming photography exhibit “Solidarity 2: Home is Not a Commodity.”  This show provides a worldwide look (South Africa, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.) at the idea of home and the universal human right to accessible housing.  

Dominic brings these topics to his home city of Baltimore, where he invites us to join an ongoing conversation and fight for universal access to fair housing.

In solidarity, the exhibition will also feature the photography of local youth leadership group members of theBaltimore United Viewfinders. Dominic T. Moulden, MICA PLACE and Baltimore United Viewfinders, cordially invite the greater Baltimore community to join us for this exciting exhibit and related conversations.

 

Exhibition Partners
Baltimore United Viewfinders
Baltimore United Viewfinders is a youth driven leadership organization using the digital arts to tell their own stories and home Middle East neighborhoods. These young photographers have documented the changing landscape of their communities over the past five years. Photographs by the youth will be featured alongside the work of Dominic Moulden, thereby providing both a global and local perspective.

Master of Fine Arts in Community Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art

Master of Fine Arts in Community Arts (MFACA) students co-author and implement liberatory, social justice-based art programs centered around the identity, voice, story and interests of community. This agenda is grounded in the principles and power of community-centered identity, knowledge and self-determination. The MFA in Community Arts Program is located at MICA PLACE.


Ova East Open Mic
Ova East is a transformative, critical, social justice-oriented, intergenerational community-based open mic space that functions as a forum through which people from all over Maryland can share their creative passions and talents in/with the communities of East Baltimore. This monthly forum functions as a collaborative and participatory place of convergence that embeds art as a means for community building incorporating themes that are currently relevant to the needs and concerns of the community of East Baltimore — issues of home and displacement.


About Dominic T. Moulden
As a seditious teen in East Baltimore he was introduced to organizing in the late 1970s with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD). Now close to 30 years later, he is still dedicated to a lifestyle of organizing evidenced through his current work with Organizing Neighborhood Equity DC (ONE DC), which focuses on resident-led organizing and leadership development through popular education and consciousness-raising to encourage and incite transformative social change. True to his conviction that social change is both personal and political, he has remained a steadfast student of social movement history and has accrued a wealth of knowledge around topics including but not limited to anti-lynching, abolitionist, women suffrage, black arts, civil rights and human right movements.

“Seeing with a heart when taking photos of people's sacred shelters whether it is made of straw, plastic, wood or bricks require a conscious effort to observe what makes a HOME special. These photos of East Baltimore, DC, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and South Africa are political statements: my HOME is not a commodity; meaning not for SALE and we don't want to be DISPLACED!”

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Nonviolent Direct Action Training for Campaigns

Join this NVDA training to roll up your sleeves and delve deeper into some of the staples for nonviolent action: campaigning and strategy. Rosa and Noor will go through some staples for nonviolent strategizing: brainstorming, power analyses, goal-setting and envisioning, and some of those long-term planning tools that any movement-builder should have a firm grasp on. You'll leave with a better sense of how to push your campaign forward, establish clear goals, messaging and methods of communication, and manage group dynamics across various identities and backgrounds.

Location: Washington Peace Center
Address: 1525 Newton Street
Time: 7pm-9pm

The training will be facilitated by the Rosa Lozano and Noor Mir from Amnesty International USA.
The location is accessible by Columbia Heights Metro Station. We look forward to meeting you all!

For more information and to RSVP, click here

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Towards a New Gentrification Mythology

By Jennifer Bryant, jbryant@onedconline.org

Originally Presented at A.C.T.O.R. Deconstructing Gentrification Panel 1/4/2015

I studied English in college and I’ve always been fascinated by stories. In order to deconstruct gentrification, we first have to start by looking closely at the narratives we've built up around it.

One of my favorite quotes, and the epigraph to the novel I’m writing, is a quote from the Egyptian artist and writer Hassan Khan. He says: “Maybe we’re all guilty of building our own mythologies.” I love that quote because we’re constantly creating myths to make sense of, and in many cases to justify, what’s going on in the world around us.

I want to begin today by deconstructing the mythology of gentrification. There are many pieces to this puzzle but I want to zoom in on one recurring myth - and that is that gentrification is not a race issue but purely an economic issue. I want to explore this myth by lifting up a true story about a house on a tree lined street in Bloomingdale in Northwest, Washington, DC; and then I’ll end by exploring alternatives to our current model of development.

I live in Congress Heights in Ward 8. Every time I’m walking up Alabama Avenue I pass the Jewish cemetery that sits on the side of the road not too far from the metro station. It’s a visible reminder that this wasn’t always a predominantly Black neighborhood. Congress Heights was established around 1890 when Arthur Randle purchased land in the area and laid out the streets. Restrictive covenants were attached to deeds, as they were in many parts of the city, to prohibit the sale of land or buildings to African-Americans. This is why, for many years, Congress Heights was predominantly white.

Restrictive covenants were around for generations until May of 1948 with the landmark Supreme Court case Hurd v. Hodge. This case, one of the most crucial housing policy cases in the nation’s history, involved the issue of restrictive covenants in Bloomingdale right here in Washington, DC. The Hurd case is critical to understanding how race and class operate in DC, and ultimately to understanding how gentrification is a continuation of race-based housing policy.

In May of 1944 a Black couple named James and Mary Hurd bought a house at 116 Bryant Street NW. The home had a restrictive covenant on the deed that, quote, prohibited “the sale of the house to anyone of the Negro race.” A few doors down from the Hurd’s new home, at 136 Bryant Street NW, there was a white couple named Frederic and Lena Hodge. When they found out Black people were moving into their neighborhood they filed a District Court lawsuit to prevent the Hurd’s from living on their block. They argued that Black residents would bring down their property value. Because institutionalized racism is so deeply embedded in the fabric of the American legal system, the Hodges won their lawsuit, and the Hurd’s were forced to move.

Thankfully that’s not where the story ends. Our brilliant radical scholar ancestor Charles Hamilton Houston – a native Washingtonian, graduate of Dunbar High School, and former Dean of the Howard University School of Law - took up the Hurd’s case, took it all the way to the Supreme Court and won. One of his arguments was that restrictive covenants created overcrowding in Black communities which exacerbated the issues of poverty and crime and relegated millions across the country to permanent second class citizenship. That last point is significant, because race-based housing and economic policies continue to exacerbate issues of poverty and crime around the country and in the District.

As many of you know, there is a movement growing right now across the country where people have taken to the streets under the banner “Black Lives Matter”. The Ferguson Action Coalition and organizers all over the country have declared 2015 “The Year of Resistance to state violence against Black lives”. We know that there are gross inequalities in policing, that’s what kicked this whole thing off. But there are also gross inequalities in housing, education and labor. What this movement is doing, that is very important, is drawing the connections between all of these things. So when we say Black Lives Matter, we’re not just talking about state violence at the hands of police. But we understand that poverty and gentrification are forms of state violence too.

In April of last year Salon published a piece by Daniel Jose Older called “Gentrification’s Insidious Violence: The Truth about American Cities”. In it he explains that the violence of gentrification takes four main forms – cultural, political, economic and racial — and that these four pillars lead cities to go to war with themselves. He says:

“It is a slow, dirty war, steeped in American traditions of racism and capitalism. The participants are often wary, confused, doubtful...
To forge ahead, we require an outrageousness that sees beyond the tired tropes and easy outs that mass media provides. This path demands we organize with clarity about privilege and the shifting power dynamics of community. It requires foresight, discomfort and risk-taking. It will be on the Web and in the streets, in conversations, rants and marches. We need a new mythology.”

Many have posed the question, if not gentrification – what? When we step outside of gentrification mythology we see that there are, in fact, many alternatives. The central alternative is this: equitable development rooted in a solidarity economy. ONE DC, the organization I work with, has joined forces with our members who are long-time DC residents, and progressive organizations across the city to create the People’s Platform - our plan for equitable development in the city. The main push is for community control and equitable development without displacement.

This alternative is not only possible, but it already exists. Before I close, I want to lift up two ways equitable development is happening right now in the District.

Washington, DC has the second highest number of limited equity housing cooperatives (coops) in the country after New York City. Limited equity coops are a shared ownership housing model that helps to preserve affordability for existing and future residents. Unlike renting, coops provide direct control over one’s housing. They allow for long-time residents, including those on fixed incomes, to not be priced out of their neighborhoods.

Worker owned cooperatives have similar benefits, providing worker-owners with direct control over their labor. There are many different worker coop models but they are generally all democratically run businesses owned and/or operated by workers. When the business makes a profit the worker owners collectively decide how the surplus should be distributed. This is different than traditional business models that are common in the District which pay low wages and exploit workers. Currently, there are only a handful of DC-based worker owned coops; however, ONE DC has joined forces with Impact HUB DC, COOP DC and others to begin to develop and incubate new worker-owned cooperatives.

The District’s current model of development is not the only way forward. We can creatively and collectively chart a new course for this city – one that makes room for all of us, especially long-time residents. Together we can create a new mythology – one that is rooted in our collective values and honors each of our right to coexist in this city without the threat of displacement.

[1] Source: http://househistoryman.blogspot.com/2008/06/hurd-v-hodge-dc-racial-covenants-50th.html

[2] Source: http://www.weown.net/LimitedEquityCoops.htm

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