CommonBound Conference Inspires Thinking

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Tompkins Weekly         8-8-16

By Maribeth Rubenstein

There is a thought that has been in my head for the last month or so from Movement Generation’s Strategy Framework for a Just Transition – “If it’s the right thing to do, we have every right to do it.” Once I heard the words, the idea seemed obvious, yet I had never really thought of systems change in that way before. Where did I hear this idea that has been resonating so deeply with me? At the CommonBound conference in Buffalo.

From July 8-10, the Board of the Green Resource Hub of the Finger Lakes (the HUB) attended CommonBound where we de-colonized our minds and considered a world that puts people and the planet in the center. Here’s a spoiler: it’s a pretty great world. But what is CommonBound (

The New EcCommonBound Conference 2016onomy Coalition (NEC) and Buffalo’s own Crossroads Collective organized the conference. NEC defines the new economy as “an emerging vision for a just, sustainable, and democratic future.” NEC is a network of organizations from across the United States and Canada creating deep change in our economic and political systems. The Crossroads Collective is a Buffalo-based alliance of grassroots movements fighting for community justice. Together, they produced this year’s CommonBound conference, themed “Another World is Possible.”

CommonBound brought together almost a thousand community organizers, thinkers and activists for an international gathering where leaders shared creative, forward-thinking frameworks, strategies and actions for realizing profound systemic change. It was about decentralizing political, financial and social systems. It was about thinking creatively about needs, assets and relationships. It was about reclaiming our culture, our purpose, our labor and our environment. It was about relationship-building and holding safe spaces for each other. It was about developing a sense of place. It was about daring to have an audacious vision and learning how to work together to realize that vision.

These ideas and strategies were shared through workshops in many ways – through panel and group discussion, story-telling, video, poetry and music, on tours of Buffalo neighborhoods creating Green and Just communities for themselves, and through formal and informal social gatherings. One theme that emerged early on is that systems change is a time of experimentation. As Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

The conference presented so many different workshop tracks, stand-alone workshops, activities, and dedicated activists that it was almost overwhelming. Topics included democratizing energy systems, racial and social justice, creating community-based economic systems, developing vibrant local economies, and cooperatives as vehicles for democratizing the economy. There were nightly plenary sessions with speakers and panelists to try to place the work into larger themes such as Achieving Self-Determination and Sovereignty for Our Communities, and Taking our Visions to Scale. Throughout the weekend, eclectic live music would pop up in all different types of spaces from rap to klezmer and from country to punk, thanks to the Buffalo Infringement Festival.

Ed Swayze, David Gower, Amanda Postma, and I were far from the only Ithacans in attendance. We encountered Krys Kail of Greenstar Cooperative Market and DE Squared helping to coordinate the day-long gathering highlighting the New York Cooperative Network and its efforts toward building the state’s economy through cross-sectoral collaboration. Bob Rossi, owner of the CommonSpot and Director of the New York State Sustainable Business Council (NYSSBC), was one of the panelists. We saw panelist Scott Morris, founder of Ithacash and Reed Steberger and the members of the Ithaca Youth Organizing Fellowship. We spotted Sara Hess of Social Ventures, Town of Caroline Councilmember Irene Weiser, Elan Shapiro owner of Frog’s Way B&B and Theresa Alt who were there as representatives of the Coalition for Sustainable Economic Development (CSED) and other organizations. And still, I know that we didn’t see everyone who was there from Ithaca and the surrounding communities!

What was the HUB Board doing at CommonBound? We attended the conference because we wanted to dive into New Economy thought, and connect with and learn from other organizers. The HUB has been working since 2006 to expand the marketplace for sustainable living and to support a more robust regional economy. We have done this through consumer education, policy forums, green certification coaching for local businesses, developing a network of local businesses and entrepreneurs (The SEEN) who believe in the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit), peer-to-peer knowledge transfers, and more. CommonBound sounded right up our alley.

Our next steps will be to consider and act on how the HUB and other local organizations will apply what we learned during this inspiring weekend. We hope you will join us and other Ithaca-area attendees for a panel discussion as we consider that topic. For more information about the upcoming panel discussion or for the latest HUB and SEEN news, please go to or or like us on Facebook.

Maribeth Rubenstein is President of the Green Resource Hub Board


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