The following is a transcript of the video above, from our webinar on “Remaking the Economy: Owning Our Future.” View the full webinar here.
Esteban Kelly: We took this question—“what would it look like to really explore possible futures?”—looking at a roughly 15-year horizon for a democratic economy in the US, and not just take that as a question of scale but to look much more broadly at the potential impact on our society. In doing so, I think some of the rigor that [we] wanted to apply was around not just assuming one future or painting one vision, but to actually explore plausible solutions or futures and possible ones, whether they’re good or bad. And also, to not bias or lean too much into optimism or pessimism, but actually to apply all of the above. What we did was we took out of the easily imaginable, the easily plausible futures. We looked at one that was a little more pessimistic, where there was continued obstruction from elected officials, from misinformation/disinformation, and where any of the work that we’re trying to do is stymied in different ways … What would that mean for organizing? What would that mean for groups in the third sector, for our communities? Even there, we saw some amount of progress happening.
The other plausible scenario is what most organizations would consider their “vision.” If you’re doing a retreat or something like that, where you say, okay, we’re not going to be wildly speculative and imagine that everything’s going to go our way. We’re also not going to imagine societal collapse. But we’re going to take our preferred future and lean into that one. So, one of the scenarios—there were four total—that we illustrated was looking at one where there is limited progress, where it’s not ex machina; suddenly, there’s this transformative prison abolition and everything else. What could some real progress look like if things move forward, if we unlock the relationships, the allyships. We got pretty specific about it, even if it was speculative. We were like, okay, here’s what this might look like on the ground in a place like Colorado or in other places.
Then we took the back half of that exercise to look at possible scenarios, so things that weren’t completely implausible, but also required a little more imagination, whether that was optimistic or pessimistic. We called one of those scenarios collapse, looking at the impact of the climate crisis or attacks on democracy in the US, and of a lack of partnership and support from government agencies who we see as playing a key role if we continue the momentum that has been building for the last couple of years in how we deal with small business and other kinds of lending, to finance the transitional scale that we think needs to happen. In that scenario, it really seemed to us like there’ll be much more mutual aid, some of the kinds of activities that you see in the aftermath of things like Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy, the wildfires in California, the water crises including the one that’s happening now in Jackson, Mississippi. How would the Solidarity Economy and cooperatives be seized upon in those moments as a tool to take care of our people?
Lastly, we did want to have that one that asked: what if our wildest dreams did happen? And so we did take a look at that. I think the purpose of framing out all four is because the reality of whatever ends up happening usually is a mix. It’s a combination of all four of those things. There are things that are plausible, that are pessimistic, that are optimistic, that are transformative, and that are wild. And because building out scenarios and visions of the future involves so many different things around social things—political, technological, ecological, institution building, contingency—it turns out that reality ends up being a little bit of all of those things, including those wildly speculative ones.