45 Years of Building Local Power (Episode 71)

Date: 2 May 2019 | posted in: Building Local Power, Podcast | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In celebration of ILSR’s birthday, hosts Stacy Mitchell and Hibba Meraay talk with co-founder David Morris about ILSR’s journey over the past 45 years. They reflect on the Institute’s growth given changing political, economic and technological contexts. They also discuss:

  • What led to the founding of ILSR and how the governing structure of Washington D.C. played a role.
  • How ILSR evolved from being a neighborhood organization to becoming a national organization.
  • ILSR’s innovative model of marrying policy and practice.
  • ILSR’s work on anti-monopoly issues and what that work looks like at different levels of government.
  • Why it’s important to work at both the national and local levels of policy making and how the two inform each other.

Most people, when they talk about Amazon or Facebook, they’re talking about privacy issues, and those are important issues, but our take on it is that they’re hurting the retail sector, the independently owned business sector. And that’s a sector which, if mobilized, can help change the zeitgeist and can help change the context within which policy making is done.


Stacy Mitchell: Hello, and welcome to Building Local Power. I’m Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and I’m joined today by my colleague Hibba Meraay, who is our communications manager. Hey, Hibba.
Hibba Meraay: Hey Stacy!
Stacy Mitchell: So, we have a special episode, today. It’s ILSR’s 45th birthday, which is kind of amazing. We were born in 1974, and so today, we’ve got a conversation with Hibba and I had with one of ILSR’s founders, David Morris, and I thought it was a really interesting conversation because to kind of see what’s stayed the same and sort of what’s changed and the threads of ILSR’s work and some of the approaches and values that we’re bringing to looking at policy issues, how some of those things have changed and then also some of the ways in which context has changed. What did you find interesting about the conversation, Hibba, especially as someone who’s kind of new to ILSR?
Hibba Meraay: I thought it was so interesting how David talked about how ILSR marries policy and practice and how we’ve been doing that pretty consistently for 45 years. I think as a newer staff member, it’s such a unique model in the policy space that it’s sometimes hard to wrap your mind around it, but we’ve been doing it for a long time, so that was cool to hear about.
Stacy Mitchell: Yeah, I really loved that image of Neil in the early days riding around on a garbage truck to actually understand how solid waste works, and that’s sort of on-the-ground, very direct kind of hands-on kind of experience in terms of shaping, “What would early recycling policy look like? How should cities approach this issue of solid waste?” and also just kind of married with this vision of seeing it as a resource instead of actually a waste.
Hibba Meraay: Yeah, we’ve had Neil on a couple of podcasts and I’m sure folks that are listening to those aren’t surprised by his level of enthusiasm and commitment to the Waste to Wealth work.
Stacy Mitchell: Yeah, it’s true, and you also just see that, I think, across the work, whether it’s the broadband work or, really, any of our other initiatives. You’re very much both on the ground but also working on the bigger picture analysis and the policy development at the same time. I also thought it was really interesting to hear some about the fact that Washington DC where ILSR was founded had really been stripped of any political pounder and that ILSR was founded partly because the city was starting to get some of that political power back, and so there was a real opportunity to take charge, and, what could residents of the city actually do? How could they take hold of their own future?

So, I thought that was interesting to hear about as well and just thinking about how much cities have changed over this period and this relationship between engaging and working on policy issues at the local level and then how that influences and the dynamic with state and national politics, as well. So, I hope everyone enjoys this episode. Without any further ado, here’s Hibba and I talking with David Morris.

David, welcome back to Building Local Power.

David Morris: Well, thank you very much. It’s an honor to be back.
Stacy Mitchell: We’re just about at ILSR’s 45th birthday and we thought this would be a great time to reflect a little bit on the organization’s founding and where we’ve come since and how things have changed. So, let me start by asking you: what led to the founding of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance?
David Morris: The institute was founded in Washington DC in 1974, 45 years ago by several people, Gill Friend, Neil Seldman and myself, and it was a moment where our different paths kind of converged on the need to focus on cities. And, being in Washington DC at that moment in history, for people who don’t know, Washington DC actually had an elected government during the Civil War and just after the Civil War, but when the blacks came north, 25,000 blacks came north after the civil war and they threatened to essentially be a majority and they were beginning to pass legislation related to segregation, the whites took their citizenship away, if you will, and they ended up being ruled by three commissioners, and that occurred all the way up until the 1960s.

In 1964, the people in the District of Columbia got the right to vote for president. In ’68, they got the right to vote for the school board, and in ’72, if memory serves me right, they got to vote for the mayor and the city council, so it was a city that was beginning to regain, if you will, its autonomy and its authority, and that was the environment in which the institute was born, and, of course, it was thinking of becoming a city state in the sense that it was a city that was treated like a state from the federal government perspective.

So, that was one very important, if you will, part of the environment into which we were born. A second part was my own experience in Chile when Salvador Allende was elected democratically in 1970. He led a minority government that wouldn’t pass any legislation, but was making a structural revolution for the common good in a profound way, and I grew up in New York City where we had a population of about 8M people, and Chile, at that time, had a population of about 8M people, and it had fewer engineers graduating from its universities than the city colleges of New York, and, of course, had a gross national product that was less than the city budget of New York and was going about determining its own future as much as it could.

And, when I came back from my visit, my stay in Chile, I found that New York City was declaring itself bankrupt and giving up its authority to three bankers, which it did for a number of years, and realized that there was a conceptual problem here, that, essentially, I had lived in this country that had far fewer resources than New York City to hap into, but they felt that they could make, especially in the face of sort of global embargoes led by the United States and the like, a true structural revolution, democratic revolution, and New York City was in despair. So, you know, that sort of combination of political events, if you will, spurred us to stead up the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and to focus on cities.

Stacy Mitchell: ILSR’s always had this idea about places, cities, towns, communities being … the possibility of them being self-conscious and self directing and that that could be an interesting laboratory for innovative policy ideas and could also create more engaged and more capable citizens, which I think is some of what you’re saying in terms of this context around both DC and New York and the opportunity not to be ruled from above, but really to actually develop democracy and solutions from the bottom-up.

Can you talk a little bit about how ILSR has evolved, since, going from a neighborhood organization in DC to being a national organization, and then also having to think about the ways that some of the models in DC could work elsewhere, but also different levels of government and how that came into play in terms of the organization’s thinking?

David Morris: Sure. We started as a neighborhood organization in Adams Morgan in Washington DC and created … an alternative economy is what we called it, the Washington Free Community, which ended up being about a $5M internal economy with retail stores and trucking, trucking cooperatives and a warehouse and the like. And then, fairly soon, we were focusing on the city itself, and then we were focusing on the region up to New Jersey and we worked in Newark. We worked, actually, up in Philadelphia as well, and so, we began to understand … we began to apply our framework wider, and, as we evolved, we had sort of two, if you will, approaches from the institute perspective.

One was the framework itself, and the framework, which I’ll get into in a second, we applied widely, we applied to all sectors of the economy. And then, the institute created initiatives, and the initiatives themselves were, “Drill deeper down into a part of the economy,” like, for example, broadband. Although, we didn’t start broadband until maybe 30 years later but we started solid waste immediately. We started energy immediately in the early 1970s, and so we had those two perspectives, and the framework was essentially a framework that said … cities have an internal market. They often have enough people that they have an expertise. They have an administrative capability, and in many states, they also have significant authority that they can, in fact, develop the rules.

Admittedly, they are constrained by the state governments, but they can develop rules that channel scientific expertise and human genius and investment capital in certain directions, and we posited a kind of framework of this as the ABCs of self-reliance, which is that we promoted an authority, especially at the local level, the authority to in fact make new rules, and the responsibility to make those rules in a way that honored and cared for the weak and the disabled, the elderly and the poor and the next generation, and that they would develop a competency that is a capability, if you will, a capacity internal to the city, not only an intellectual and a skill-based capacity, but actually a capacity to extract wealth from inside the city. And, that’s a framework that we’ve applied throughout our entire history.

Hibba Meraay: David, you’ve been with the institute since the very beginning. I’m wondering if you could share maybe some highlights or your favorite memory from being with ILSR over the past 45 years. I know at a recent staff retreat, I learned that when ILSR was still sort of like a DC neighborhood group, we had a beansprout operation that we were running from the office. I enjoyed hearing that story. But, really any of the big success stories that you’d like to share
David Morris: Well, I think at the beginning, it was little success stories, and then, as we grew, it was big success stories. At the beginning, we were in a townhouse in Washington DC, a three-story townhouse which was pretty much the architecture, residential architecture in a lot of DC, and we had a … the physical plant itself, we built a greenhouse on the roof, had hydroponic gardening for tomatoes. We had solar collectors, not solar cells at that time, to generate heat. In the basement, we had a Clivus Multrum composting toilet and we also grew sprouts.

The entire … and, it was a small staff of the institute would get together every day and we would bag our sprouts, and then sell them to the local restaurants and to local stores. And, we essentially tried to do that in a way that would allow the institute to, in fact, work in the marketplace, while, at the same time, making us interact with the community at large. But, at the same time that we were doing that. We issued, Bill Batko, our staff person at that time issued a report. I think it probably was the first report on a municipal bank, and it was a nuts and bolts how a municipal bank might be created in the District of Columbia to serve most the low income and moderate income community and workers within the District of Columbia.

And so, those types of things, sort of theory and practice, if you will, policy at the same time as hands-on really has characterized the institute through 45 years. Some of the better examples in the early years were in solid waste. We chose solid waste as one of our initiatives because it’s a sector of the economy over which cities have almost complete authority, and so you didn’t have to convince the city to deal with its garbage. It knew it had to deal with its garbage, and we thought of garbage not as garbage but as materials, and quite valuable materials which could be not only collected and sorted, but also remanufactured for value-added.

And, Neil Seldman rode the sanitation trucks with the sanitation workers at 5:00 in the morning to get a handle on what that meant and was using the little homemade scale a the landfill in Newark in the middle of the summer to weigh the different components of the garbage to get a handle on how much was paper and the like. This was before the federal government and the state local governments were doing that, but at the same time, he and we were working with activists around the country, and we were saying to them, “You can recycle at high levels and it can be part of your local economy,” and, at the time, because of the energy crisis, the larger environmental community, the organized environmental community and many people in the governments were supporting of burning garbage to generate energy, and waste to energy systems.

And, the problem with the waste to energy system is they’re very large, and if you build one of those, you actually don’t have any capacity any longer to do recycling, so, Neil would go in city after city and say, “Look, this is what we want to do long-term. We want to recycle, we want to create scrap-based manufacturing. We want to create a sort of indigenous manufacturing and collection capacity, but in the meantime, we have to fight these incinerators because if they’re built, we foreclose any other development path, and so for the first 10 to 15 years of institute’s work, we were primarily fighting incinerators, and by the late 1980s … I think 1987 was the time where more incinerators were canceled than were proposed, and by 1987, the institute had also published our reports, our case studies that indicated that you could actually recycle half of your recycling stream, at least at that time, which was revolutionary because most people thought you couldn’t recycle more than 10%. So, we’re not talking about something that’s narrow. We don’t talk about something that’s parochial. We’re not talking about self sufficiency. No nation is self-sufficient. That wouldn’t make sense. We’re talking about an interdependence and a cooperative relationship among cities where they in fact trade, but it’s a different type of trade that we have now in the world.

Stacy Mitchell: It’s really interesting how much like an organization’s DNA, if you will, kind of persists over the years. I think it’s, ILSR is sort of unusual, or maybe even unique, in the sense that today, you can come to ILSR and, for example, go to a workshop on how to start a neighborhood composting project in your community, and you take a hands-on workshop about how to do that and work with others in your community to do it, and then you can also get top-notch policy analysis. Those two ends of the work continue to operate in tandem in a way that I think you just don’t really see much at other organizations and, it seems to me, in some ways, makes both ends stronger, so the work that we do really on the ground in communities is informed by having a larger analysis, and likewise the larger analysis is informed by what we’re learning on the ground in communities. It feels like that’s always been part of the story of ILSR.
David Morris: Yes, and I agree with you, Stacy, and you’ve been a part of that evolutionary process now for more than 20 years, and if you look at the Community-Scaled Economy Initiative that you set up, you see those different pieces there as well, where you’ve helped to create networks of independent businesses within cities and so that they become, I guess, I think you call them alternative chambers of commerce, where they in fact deal with business issues the way a chamber of commerce might, but at the same time, they deal with place issues. They deal with scale issues, so they’re not the same as the larger businesses in terms of what they’re interested in, but at the same time as you were doing that, you were working on national policies.

You were working on trying to persuade and enable these independent business associations to act politically in a way that could challenge the Walmarts and now the Amazons of the world so that they would in fact create a zoning code locally that would prevent a big box retail store from coming in and then, later on, more recently, they would work at the state legislatures to stop Amazon from having a tax exemption for selling the same products as they sell that they are taxed on.

The Broadband Initiative is the same thing where Chris is essentially working with cities, working technical assistance, hands on, working with entrepreneurs, working with technical people and experts, in cities around the country, and more recently with rural cooperatives, to enable their work in setting up their own fiber infrastructure, treating telecommunications networks as part of the essential public infrastructure, and at the same time has created two national organizations.

Their role is to essentially fight state preemption and federal preemption that in fact stop cities from having, or strip cities of the authority to create these publicly owned networks and then as well as creating a daily news service to report on, develops, as well as creating reports, technical reports, that can be used by people around the country when the private sector says, “Cities can’t own their own networks. They’re all going to go broke, and we’re terrific.” You have empirical chapter and verse data to refute that. We work at a number of different levels, but at the same time, I don’t think of it as being chaotic in its work. It’s sort of mutually reinforcing both internal to initiatives, and increasingly within, between initiatives, as well.

Hibba Meraay: That’s great. I think one of the strengths of ISLR, like our special sauce that you’re getting at, David, is really that we have this consistent model of marrying theory and practice, but 45 years is a lot of time for shifts to happen politically, economically, technologically. Can you talk a little bit about how the context for ILSR’s work has changed since the founding in 1974?
David Morris: Sure, I can, and thank you for the question. The context has changed dramatically. When we set up, the especially white middle class was fleeing cities, and factories were closing down. Cities were becoming hollowed out, and the federal government was rapidly expanding and providing money to cities and to regions. If a city built a public works project, they could often get 75 or 90% matching money from the federal government to do that, and most all attention was focused on a federal government that seemed to be an enabler. The other thing that was, that at that time, was that the Nixon administration had envisioned, in fact publicly proclaimed, that their goal was to have 1,000 nuclear reactors operating by 1990, and yet there was this sort of embryonic technology where the first company to produce it had just set up, a year before the Institute opened our doors, a company called Solarex to create this new technology to build a solar cell that didn’t have the economies of scale of a nuclear plant and can generate electricity at your house or on your farm or on top of your car, as we’ve found out.

That was just an inkling, just a glimmering, if you will, and the other thing about cities in 1974 is that for most environmentalists, cities were a blot, if you will. Cities were something that consumed far more resources than their carrying capacity, than the land they occupied, and many people believed that one needed to go back to the land or needed to go to much smaller cities and villages if we were going to move towards sustainability.

Now, if you move, fast-forward, you move to a time where the federal government is giving less and less money to cities. You’re also talking about a time now where the federal government is hostile to the exercise of authority at just about any level and in fact is now thwarting and trying to overturn any initiatives for the common good so that now, unlike in 1974, most of the innovative, creative, active people in the country are working at the local level or working at the state level, because that’s the place that space is still available, and they’re working in an opposition to the federal government to delay and disable, if you will, those initiative. It’s completely the opposite of what was occurring in 1974, and we’re thankful that we’ve had 45 years of experience, and that can be useful for that.

The other thing is that the decentralized dynamic of technology, which was just a glimmer in 1974, you had mainframe computers in 1974. You didn’t have laptop, let alone an internet, and now, you’re talking about the internet, of course, being something which has its positives and its negatives, but on the positive side, it can enable a communication, and increasingly, one translated into your own language among peoples in the world and among peoples within a community, and it allows transparency for governance, and it allows people who produce products, especially products that are information products, to sell directly and bypass the middle people in that process, and solar cells are now competitive.

They were competitive with nuclear plants six or seven years ago, but they’re now competitive with coal and natural gas plants, and you now have several million homes which produce enough electricity from their rooftops to provide all of their electricity year-round. Now, they don’t produce it at the specific time that they need to do it, so you’re beginning to talk about storage, and they sell, and they export electricity, they import electricity from the grid system, but nevertheless, you’re now, it’s now mainstream to talk about the possibilities of decentralized technologies like desktop manufacturing tech that weren’t really even thought of in 1974, but it’s the dynamic of the decentralized technology that we promoted and we adopted early on.

There were examples of it, but we thought that technology from the 19th century to the late 20th century was centralizing. When you shifted from wood to steel, when you shifted from wind power to fossil fuels, when you shifted from batch manufacturing to mass manufacturing, inevitably you shifted from small to large, and now the technology is centrifugal. It is now potentially decentralizing. I think that that’s extremely important in terms of the changed context in which we work.

Stacy Mitchell: I want to come back to this issue of technology and policy and levels of government in which we act, but first, we’re going to take a short break for an ad swap.

If you’re a fan of this show, then I think you’ll really like this other podcast I’ve been listening to. It’s called Capitalisn’t. It’s about the ways that capitalism is and is often not working in our society. They cover everything from whether Facebook is a monopoly to how to fix global inequality. It’s a show that really explains what’s gone wrong with capitalism and what we can do about it. It’s hosted by two economists, Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago, and Kate Waldock at Georgetown University. It’s entertaining, smart, funny. I highly recommend it, so check it out. Capitalisn’t, wherever you get your podcasts.

All right, we’re back. David, before the break, you were talking about how technology in some ways today, with the internet, is enabling decentralization. There are also some, of course, very troubling ways in which we now have a handful of companies that essentially control the internet and have become gatekeepers, Google, Amazon, Facebook, in ways that I think you could say, not dissimilar to some of the technologies you named in the past where you had folks who took hold of the railroads and used them to push a particular agenda that benefited the concentration of wealth, and I think you similarly see that today. I also want to kind of come back to this issue of cities in the context of this question, because on the one hand, there is a lot of authority that cities have, but it’s hard to see how we solve some of the biggest challenges that we face, for example, around the market power of a company like Amazon from a city level. I’m curious how your thinking on kind of levels of government has changed and how you reflect on that and ILSR’s work.

All right, we’re back. David, before the break, you were talking about how technology in some ways today, with the internet, is enabling decentralization. There are also some, of course, very troubling ways in which we now have a handful of companies that essentially control the internet and have become gatekeepers, Google, Amazon, Facebook, in ways that I think you could say, not dissimilar to some of the technologies you named in the past where you had folks who took hold of the railroads and used them to push a particular agenda that benefited the concentration of wealth, and I think you similarly see that today. I also want to kind of come back to this issue of cities in the context of this question, because on the one hand, there is a lot of authority that cities have, but it’s hard to see how we solve some of the biggest challenges that we face, for example, around the market power of a company like Amazon from a city level. I’m curious how your thinking on kind of levels of government has changed and how you reflect on that and ILSR’s work.

David Morris: Yes. That’s a good question, and of course, your work on antitrust is, I think, some of the most informed work, primarily because you’ve been working with independent businesses that are hurt. Most people, when they talk about Amazon or Facebook or the like, they’re talking about privacy issues, and those are important issues, but your take on it is that they’re hurting, in fact, the retail sector, the independently owned business sector, and that’s a sector which, if mobilized, can help change the zeitgeist and can help change the context within which policy making is done. I agree that, I mean, municipalities actually can deal with big box retail, but that’s different from dealing with Amazon, which is much more insidious.

States do have antitrust laws, and they can, in fact, make inroads into dealing with these issues, but one thing that you can do at the local level, and I think it’s true about all the issues of the day, is to educate people, is to have a debate with people, is to… The thing about local politics as opposed to national politics is that local politics is retail, and you go door to door. I mean, it doesn’t cost that much money to either run for office or to have a campaign, if you will. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful, but you don’t have to raise $100 million to buy ads on national networks, so it enables things. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy at all.

As I said, internet is potentially decentralizing. It was set up to be decentralizing. It was set up to operate after a nuclear war, but at the same time, it is centralizing in its control of information. What we see there is not only the Facebooks and the Amazons, but China, for example, a authoritarian government that’s becoming increasingly a totalitarian government because of the ability of face recognition, because of the ability of tapping into social media, that is collecting information on every individual citizen. Those are the types of things that one has to deal with, and I think that dealing with that is probably going to be the hardest issue that we’ve had to date, but once again, there are things that can be done at the local level to show people the value of privacy and the value of an ecosystem which is an ecosystem which is not a monopolistic system and a monoculture, if you will. That’s where I see the role being for cities.

You have, in the health sector, which I know Amazon has just gotten into, ACA, the Obamacare program, had a provision in it where, after 10 years, states could ask for innovation waivers. It’s been 10 years, and the idea was that, by many people anyway, was that the innovation waivers would enable a single payer or a public option health system, and that the federal government would allow funds to be used to make that happen.

Well, unfortunately what happened was Donald Trump, and so you now have a federal government that will deny any waiver that enables a public option, that is, enables the public to have control or any more control over the health system, while at the same time, they will approve waivers that require work requirements for Medicaid and the like. There is a neverending dance, or battle if you will, or exchange between higher levels of government and lower levels of government, but I do think that the issue of subsidiarity, which you know, we’ve been promoting, which is you know, allow the local government to do what it does if it’s not hurting anyone, you know broadly, and the federal government and state government can intervene to protect minority rights within those cities, but otherwise should stay out of the way. I think that that educational campaign is extremely important because that’s what will provide fertile ground for the kinds of sort of antitrust, pro privacy legislation that I think you are that you’re working on and I think many people are working on.

Stacy Mitchell: I think that dynamic is really important that there’s this idea, you know, that I think we see in a lot of our work and, and really in a lot of ways throughout American history, the importance of local authority is partly about us becoming citizens, like being able to direct our own affairs, and it makes us better citizens when we engage with higher levels of government too It’s a challenging dynamic, like with the Walmart issue, for example, I’m really very aware that we didn’t win. You know, Walmart captures one out of every $4 that Americans spend on groceries, and although there were lots of communities that fought Walmart and some of them succeeded in keeping it out, that pace of its expansion was really able to overwhelm the power of local zoning laws. Now, at the same time, I also think that people having experienced that and having engaged in wrestling with big companies coming into the community and undermining their wellbeing at least potentially creates a group of citizens who can become effective advocates for things like reviving antitrust policy.

You know, things that could actually structurally shift Walmart’s power, and kind of open up the way for a true reinvigoration invigoration of local economies. So I think part of what something that we’ve learned as an organization is what is the dynamic between those two things, in a way working at the national level only, I don’t think achieve something. But I also think working at the local level leaves something behind too.

David Morris: Oh, I think that’s absolutely true. Absolutely true. I mean the local level has no constitutional authority. I mean the constitution doesn’t mention cities and the supreme court has been very clear about that, that cities are mere creatures of the state as one famous decision said. And you know, and so, in some states for example, New York state, New York City. I mean New York City, nine million people has to actually ask permission from Albany for just about anything that it does, which is astounding. And Boston has to do the same thing for the state of Massachusetts. There are other places that give cities more authority than that, but states, you know, are places where there is considerable authority.

And once again, in terms of the changed context between 1974 and 2019 is that, you know, when we started the idea, I mean the, the slogan states’ rights was a racial slogan. I mean it was a slogan that said that the, you know, state should have the right to deny people the right to vote and discriminate against people. That’s what state’s rights meant. And I think that now, you know, that slogan is probably still pejorative because of its legacy, but the idea that the state should have more authority to exercise for the common good is one that is I think, increasingly discussed and increasingly put into practice. Whether it’s minimum wage or required parental leave or what have you. So the, if you will, the progressive or the liberal or the community that has previously very much opposed states authority, exercise of authority, because it’s been discriminatory, you know, are now looking to the states to provide the authority that cities don’t have to deal with the larger issues.

Hibba Meraay: David, you mentioned earlier how a lot of the work that we’ve done has been really visionary about how ideas have been ahead of our time and now we have the technology to make some of them happen, particularly in the energy field with new solar and storage technologies. Getting back to this vision, what would the world look like if one day we achieved ILSR’s mission and we decided, okay, everyone pack up, we’re going home, we’re closing our doors, we’re done. What does that world look like and what will we have accomplished?
David Morris: Well, I’m, I’m not usually one for what the future world will look like. I will confess, one can be a visionary, but that’s too much of a vision for me. But what I can say is that I would see a world evolving into a confederation of cities and regions rather than a world populated by nation states. I mean, after all, you know, what’s a nation state? I mean, a nation state is a territory that claimed authority over tribes and over people’s within those territories and often the peoples themselves would overlap territories like the Kurds in the Middle East. And so forever having to deal with that. But I think that, you know, the idea of a confederation really does make sense. You know, Switzerland is a confederation, that’s what they call themselves, a confederation.

In Spain right now there are secessionist movements. Catalonia is one, the Bass province is another and so forth. There are secessionist movements at the regional level, but more recently there are groups that have gained power in cities, larger cities like Barcelona and Madrid. And they are talking about the need to have confederations of cities within Spain, and not to essentially talk about a region uncoupling from a nation state. And that would allow for you know, a more democratic structure and also a more cooperative structure. And one of the good things about modern technologies is that you, you can in fact have discussions, you know, between cities that are stored and you can also have a competition between cities that is not the same as a competition in the private sector.

I think for example you know, the competition of sports teams from city to city is a much more welcome competition than the kinds of things that, in terms of the dog eat dog of the marketplace. So a confederation would be the structure of the future. I would also see that people would be capable of surviving if there were a cutoff of some sort of basic source for at least a certain period of time. There was a biologist whose name I forget, but he was talking about that self reliance is not self sufficiency but it is the potential for self sufficiency, short term self sufficiency in certain situations. And so you know that in terms of resiliency in the face of a hurricane or a tornado or a flood or you know, a larger corporation deciding that they don’t like what you’re doing.

And so you know, that would also be something that would be built into the future. But I don’t envision a future where there’ll be no strife and where everybody will love one another and you know, things will be at peace and the environment will be protected completely. And you know, so I’m not Pollyanna-ish about that. And the institute, you know, works often at the nitty gritty levels, at the day to day levels and when we look out, we often look out to ten years because, you know, for us, if you can achieve something significant, you know, in ten years, the rest in some ways takes care of itself. If you were talking about 50 years, your kids aren’t going to be around or they’ll be so old that they won’t be around to see what happens in 50 years, whether it was a success or a failure.

Hibba Meraay: I know you gave a little disclaimer David, in saying that you were aren’t a visionary about that sounds like a great vision to me. I really like that vision and it sounds we’ve got a lot more work to do, folks.
Stacy Mitchell: That’s right. David, always a pleasure to have you on the podcast and I feel like every time I learn a little bit more of ILSR’s history, so it’s great. So thank you.
David Morris: Well, thanks for inviting me. I’m so thrilled that you’re the head of the institute and that the staff today is extraordinarily capable. If I knew what was going to happen in 2019 institutionally, in 1974 I would have been one happy camper. So thank you so much.
Stacy Mitchell: So you don’t regret it at all?
David Morris: I do not regret it for one second.
Stacy Mitchell: Thanks everyone for tuning into this episode of Building Local Power from the institute for Local Self Reliance. As a reminder, we’d love to get your feedback on this show, so send us an email at podcast@ilsr.org or you can tweet at us @ILSR. Thanks again for tuning in. This show is produced by Lisa Gonzalez, Hibba Meraay, and Zach Freed. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction Al. For the Institute for Local Self Reliance, I’m Stacy Mitchell and I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for the next episode of Building Local Power.


Featured Image: Co-founders David Morris and Neil Seldman pose with David’s partner Harriet Barlow.

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

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Hibba Meraay
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Hibba Meraay

Hibba Meraay manages communications for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She works closely with all of our initiatives to build community power and combat monopolies. A native New Englander, Hibba is a graduate of Boston University. Contact Hibba for media inquiries.