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A Q&A on movement building, racial equity, and community wealth with Ronnie Galvin, the new VP of Engaged Practice at The Democracy Collaborative

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John Duda

With Ronnie Galvin joining The Democracy Collaborative as our new Vice President of Engaged Practice, we thought we’d sit down with him for a quick Q&A about the perspective he brings to community wealth building:

John Duda, Director of Communications: There’s a lot happening right now to be outraged about—what about this historical moment makes you excited to focus on helping build a more democratic and inclusive economy? And what personal experiences make this work meaningful to you?

Ronnie Galvin, VP of Engaged Practice: First of all, thank you, John, for the opportunity to sit and reflect on these issues with you. I have been an admirer of TDC’s work for quite some time. You have to know that I am excited about joining the team of folks at the Democracy Collaborative who are fighting for the future of our economy and the democracy at-large.

I contend that it is not an overstatement to suggest that we are literally fighting for our future. In fact, we are doing so at a moment when it seems as if we are moving further away from the possibility of having a political economy where everyone can thrive. To be clear, the challenges that we are seeing in this moment are not new. They are rather the result of generations of decisions, policy making, and public will that keep in place systems that privilege too few at the expense of too many.

We cannot avoid the reality that we are indeed in a fight—one that TDC is positioned to engage at the levels of ideas, moral imagination, experimentation, and growing the public’s will for a new structure of community and economy that serves us all.

John Duda: Racial equity has always been an implicit foundation of TDC’s vision of community wealth building—but do you think it’s important to make this more explicit? How can this commitment be deepened, and what does that mean for the way we work with partners on the ground and the kind of solutions we help design?

Ronnie Galvin: John, thank you again for this question. I contend that it goes to the heart of the important work that we are doing at TDC and with our partners around the nation and even the world. Years ago Angela Glover Blackwell, Manual Pastor, and Stuart Kwoh wrote a book entitled Uncommon Common Ground. In that book they assert that racism stands as the defining rubric for how oppression happens in America. Their position resonates with my own analysis of oppression, injustice, and inequality in our nation. Women, youth, LGBTQ folks, differently abled people, and other people of color have embraced this analysis in political and popular education spaces as a basis for the kind of solidarity we need for social change. I look forward testing this possibility with the TDC and our partners in the network.

But to answer your question directly—yes—we have to be explicit in our efforts to reckon with this nation’s history and current reality of racial injustice. It is self-evident that the persistent quality of life gaps that we see between racial groups is due in large part to this nation’s unwillingness to account for the history of racialized violence and exclusion that has been directed against Native and Black groups (and extended to others). To the extent that we courageously account for this history—and its continued impact on us today—we then are poised to create the kinds of equitable solutions that move us toward an economy and democracy where everyone can thrive.

I joined the TDC team with the expectation that racial equity would become a more explicit part of our work. In my conversations with our President Ted Howard, members of the Board of Trustees, and several staff members, it is clear that TDC is committed to do so. Indeed this is a moment where we are going to have to lead by example. We have to build our own internal worldview and capacity for engaging matters of racial equity before we can ask our partners to do so. Furthermore, I suspect that there are numerous partners in our networks who are already moving along this path. This is a moment where we can also learn from and with them.

To be sure, racial equity isn’t something extra that we need to add to our work—it is at the core of our work. The economic solutions that undo the harm done by generations of racial inequity are in fact the solutions needed for an entire nation and economic system that is in crisis. Finally, in order for us to have the kind of democratized economy that we envision,TDC and our movement-building partners have to be much more strategic and energetic about grounding our work in the reality of real people and popularizing our work with constituencies who rarely have the possibility of building wealth—community wealth. I’m excited and humbled to be a part of TDC team—an organization that has the kind of convening power that can help rally the country around a shared commitment for racial equity, inclusion, community, and a democratic economy.

John Duda: It’s easy to see community wealth building as a set of technical solutions to the problems communities across the country face, but we’ve always understood the larger and trickier challenge as how to bring community stakeholders together in an organizing process around these solutions that’s bigger than a single project. As someone with a deep background in community organizing, what would you say about how we move from just “what works” to what truly builds power in communities?

Ronnie Galvin: Throughout my career I have had the privilege of working at the intersection of community building and community organizing. I’ve seen what’s possible when people from different backgrounds, business sectors, and (sometimes!) even political ideologies come together to build a shared analysis and vision for change. However, the best practices for convening people and building coalitions will fall woefully short until we are able to find the capacity to affirm the worth and dignity of each person’s humanity. The Xhosa people of South Africa call this “Ubuntu.” It means “people are people through other people.” In other words, my humanity is inextricably linked to the humanity of every other being on the planet. I cannot thrive unless my neighbor, and my neighbor’s neighbor, is also thriving. When collective well-being becomes the basis of our work, finding the place of shared interest and amassing the power we need to move our ideas becomes a forgone conclusion. In a sense we will be building an economy centered on social capital and how we relate to each other.

John Duda: And what does a community wealth building movement look like? How does the energy at the local level start to connect with a broader sense of shared momentum?

Ronnie Galvin: The good news is that a sense of movement is already afoot in the country. Movement moments such as Occupy Wall Street; the steady rise of the Immigrants Rights Movement and The Movement for Black Lives; the millions of women who took to the streets after the last Presidential election and in the spirit of #MeToo; young people who entered the public debate about gun control; and most recently the National Poor People’s Campaign attest to this fact. More people than ever are living their lives with their backs against the wall, and as a consequence they are rising up to fight for a political economy that shifts from merely serving the interests of a privileged few to serving the interests of the majority of Americans.

Add to this the compelling community wealth building experiments that TDC has been growing with grassroots and grasstops leaders in locales all over the country—and even in other parts of the world—and it’s easy to see that we already have the scaffolding for a broad based movement that can shift the nation’s paradigm for how wealth is generated and should be shared.

Even with this sense of momentum, we still have significant “growing edges” that need to be addressed if we are going to achieve a movement that has power at the scale of the challenges we are confronting. TDC (and our allies) will have to become much more explicit about matters of equity. I emphasize racial equity, but I am mindful that we cannot leave behind equity and justice issues related to gender. If we are to have a democratized economy, women also have to be at the center of our analysis and solutions.

Also with rare exception, those of us working to popularize community wealth building in the public’s consciousness have been largely absent from the political arena. The careful and innovative leveraging of nonprofit c3 and c4 platforms during elections and between elections will help to amplify the power of our ideas and our movement. The fact that the ideals of community wealth building appeal (albeit for different reasons!) to both conservatives and progressives makes it even more imperative that we make the political public square an essential part of our movement building work.

John Duda: In what I believe is a true first for The Democracy Collaborative team, you are also an ordained minister, working with Covenant Baptist UCC in Southeast DC. What role do you see for communities of faith as part of the movement to build community wealth?

Ronnie Galvin: Throughout history religion, faith, theology, and spirituality have been key informants in the shaping of a people’s consciousness and the political and economic operating systems that govern public life. In fact, the current political economy that emphasizes individualism, winners and losers, exploitation of the planet, White and male supremacy, nationalism, and wealth as a mark of divine favor are the direct result of religious framing and interpretation. The fact that these destructive ideologies continue to persist is a demonstration of the efficacy of matters of faith on the public’s consciousness and will.

Today a growing number of faith communities across traditions are pushing back against these narratives and the operating systems they amplify and from which they derive. They are exciting and inciting a new sense of national moral imagination that is centered on collective well-being, a bias toward those who are struggling the most among us, shared power, reparative justice, and the healing of the environment—all which are mission critical for the movement building work I look forward to growing with the TDC team.

Beyond shifting the public’s sense of moral imagination and will, faith communities are also places that are ripe venues to support the advancement of community wealth building projects across the country. The relationships, social capital, and amassing of grassroots power that can rapidly expand our community wealth building efforts is already present. Faith-based community organizing groups such as the Metropolitan Industrial Areas Foundation, the Pacific Institute for Community Organizing (PICO), and the Gamaliel Network are all already in motion. Further, many individual faith communities and the denominations, communions, and the networks they belong to are in control of their own land and possess an admirable level of spiritual, social, and material assets that could be leveraged in service to local and regional community wealth building projects. Organizations and faith communities like the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the National Council of Churches, the Black Church Food Security Network, and other national denominational bodies are also in motion and poised for deeper collaborations around the work of community wealth building.

John Duda: Okay here’s one final question—I promise! What excites you the most about joining the TDC team?

Ronnie Galvin: Of course grounding our work in matters related to racial equity, leveraging power of faith communities, and growing the efficacy of movement building in our field will be at the center of what I hope to bring to this work. However, since agreeing to join the team I’ve had a chance to scratch the surface of the amazing work that is happening within the Engaged Practice Team. Together they have positioned TDC as a credible and go-to player in the development of the anchor institution strategy as an essential lever for broader community wealth building and community economic development. The connection with the game changing innovations coming out of TDC’s Next System Project team will certainly add catalytic momentum to this work.

Lastly, my own social location as an African-American and the work that I have been privileged to do in new immigrant and other communities of color has exposed me to culturally-based mutual support and asset building strategies. These activities often happen at the subterranean level, beneath the grassroots, and beyond the gaze of the mainstream. I’m looking forward to celebrating and supporting these examples—and adding them to the scalable innovations we need to democratize our economy.

Pumoja Tutashinde! Together We Will Win!