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The State of Us, based out of Plymouth (UK), draws inspiration from new municipalist movements across the world. Over a series of three events, in April and May 2021, featuring grassroots, national and international speakers we will explore how people are building power and economic democracy in different contexts: our work, in our public spaces and in environmental action. In the fourth and final session, we’ll ask what is next for The State of Us.

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Throughout history, people and communities have strived, fought and sacrificed for self-determination; for enough freedom, power and choice to meet their needs and create meaningful futures.

Recent events have demonstrated that citizens need agency and control, and when they gain this, they in turn create wider, more comprehensive benefits for society.

We need to revitalise our high streets, the public realm, and green spaces. We want better health and well-being, have more productive and meaningful work, to protect our democracy, navigate a looming climate disaster, and to meet our basic needs. To do this, we need active citizens and robust communities.

Though while we seek to create Empowering Places, the pillars of power are increasingly being pulled from us. Constant attack erodes democracy, corporate interests dominate the digital space and mass media, and Covid-19 has not just exposed societies’ stark inequalities but has amplified and accelerated them.

Agency to determine our futures is an equality issue. The economic system is skewed, favouring and giving vast power to a small elite – almost a quarter of the UK’s domestic wealth now reportedly owned by the wealthiest 1% – while citizens and communities are becoming generationally more impoverished and increasingly powerless.

At the same time, there are cities, like Plymouth, that have vibrant social economies. As the UK’s first “Social Enterprise City”, Plymouth has some 200 social enterprises, coops and community businesses, a pioneering Cooperative Council and is one of Power to Change’s Empowering Places. Though with the impact of Covid-19 ongoing and inequalities set to intensify; Brexit a reality and hard-won rights under threat; and the effects of climate change increasingly being felt – this does not seem enough.

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The State of Us is for anyone working on social, environmental, racial and economic justice, democracy and power at a local level across the UK, whether through local enterprise, community organising, activism, third sector, or local government.

We will look at The State of Us and ask, what role do community-focused, economic actors have in building powerful communities?  What is the best practice? Who are our allies and who shares our values? And how can we organise better? What does democracy look like in everyday areas of our economy such as work, public spaces and the production of the goods we consume? How do communities actively create power, within and beyond authority?

New ways of building powerful communities and economic democracy are emerging worldwide. Local enterprises and activists are building new municipal models, alternative forms of power to advance and expand a more democratic regenerative economy in cities such as Jackson (MS), Cleveland, and Barcelona. More recently, mutual aid groups, the Black Lives Matter movement, and new unions are making fresh demands of the state.

Building on a foundation of self-managing enterprise, how can places like Plymouth further foster social, environmental and community resilience, how can we build powerful communities and a more democratic economy – what is The State of Us?

The State of Us is brought to you by: Real Ideas, New Economics Foundation (NEF), Power to Change, Coops UK, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), Plymouth Social Enterprise Network (PSEN), Stonehouse Voice (SHV)

You can book your place now! 

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The State of Us is one conference split four shorter sessions, over four separate days. Participants are welcome to book on any of the sessions individually, though we would encourage you to book on to all sessions, or at least one of the lead up sessions and the plenary, to make the most of the event.

Over three initial focus sessions and a final plenary, The State of Us will focus on critical areas of the economy where citizens are practically building power and ownership: Work, Spaces and Places and Resilience (Making and Production).  Bringing together local, national and international leaders, each session, we will explore grassroots examples of how different communities build power. We will share solutions, create new connections, networks and alliances and co-create practical actions for locations like Plymouth to further their own new municipalism movements.

The State of Us sessions will be open to all.

The conference is across four sessions in total. At each of the three lead up sessions we will hear from four different activist practitioners, presenting their case studies linked to the session theme and exploring different approaches for discussion. The presentations will be followed by a Q&A and break-out sessions. Finally we’ll all come back together for final discussion and to share what we’ve learnt. Each break out room will be mediated/facilitated by a host.

The State of Work – Tuesday 20th April, 14:00hrs – 16:00hrs

The concept of livelihoods is one which we need to revisit as work becomes more precarious and the workforce more fragmented. The State of Work will explore the changing nature of work and show the solutions forged through new business models and enterprises, collective organising and localised support for the self-employed.

Speakers: Lindsey Hall, Real Ideas Organisation; Henry Lopez, IWGB (Independent Workers of Great Britain); Emily Scurrah NEF (New Economic Foundation) & Dorothy Francis, CASE

Read more about the speakers here

The State of Places and Spaces – Tuesday 27th April, 14:00hrs – 16:00hrs

The unequal distribution of ownership and access to land and property is one of the critical areas of structural inequality and exploitation in the UK. With a particular focus on local, migrant and worker-owned businesses, The State of Places and Spaces will explore how citizen-led community and social enterprise counter this and the role local institutions can play as partners.

Speakers: Nudge Community Builders; The SoapBox Theatre; Asima Shaikh Councillor Islington Council; Latin Village

The State of Resilience (Making and Production) – Tuesday 4th May, 14:00hrs – 16:00hrs

Often, environmental sustainability is side-lined for the illusion of economic growth, or set-in conflict with more social outcomes and visa-versa. False choices as climate and ecological emergencies intensify. The State of Resilience will explore how we can ensure sustainability is at the heart of the struggle for autonomy and how community enterprises and initiatives are making this happen.

Speakers: Tomas Diaz, FabLab Barcelona/FabCity Network; Cooperation Jackson; Hannah Harris, Plymouth Culture/Fab City Plymouth; & TBC

The State of Us Plenary  – Tuesday 18th May, 14:00hrs – 17:00hrs

With contribution from municipalist speakers, the final plenary session will bring together the experience of more developed new-municipal movements with learning from the earlier session – growing, summarizing and consolidating collective learning. We will identify new areas of activity, new groups, collaborations and networks and initiate practical next step actions to widen community power and economic democracy.

Speakers: Matthew Thompson, Liverpool University; Barcelona en Comú; Thobile Chittenden, Makers Valley Partnership (Johannesburg); Cooperation Jackson.

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