In the 1960s and 1970s, white evangelicals looked warily at the American city. The fear, flight, and disinvestment of this period involved not only questions of race, class, and economy. Urban decline was also a religious phenomenon. In some urban neighborhoods, white evangelical congregations liquidated their properties and moved everything – churches, schools, homes – to the suburbs. Evangelical higher education followed this trend. Some white evangelical colleges moved from city centers to new suburban locations, while others that stayed in the city adopted a besieged mentality. In a moment of violence and political upheaval, many white evangelicals viewed the city as a threatening place.
The last decade has seen significant growth in the numbers of, and interest in, forms of ownership that have been variously called, “solidarity economies” or “alternative economies” or “non-capitalist economies.” While there is a lot written about these efforts, there is relatively little that has explored the lived meanings for those involved in such endeavors. The paper will ask how participation in forms of ownership that are different from the norm in American society impacts the political understandings and meanings that are attached to those forms of ownership. In short, does being part of such a form of ownership have political meaning to participants? If so, what are the meanings and how can they be properly understood by those looking to these forms of ownership to be part of a larger socially transformative movement? Drawing on scores of interviews with community land trust (CLT) residents, staff and board members, foundation and government funders, and others, this paper will discuss and analyze the reality that for most of the participants in such endeavors, the political meanings are muted, under-explored, and often fairly minor. It is this contradiction; between the significance of the change in the ownership form and the relatively insignificant political meanings attached to that changed ownership that this paper will probe. It will do so in order to better understand the political potential and limitations of “solidarity economy” forms of ownership, and to realistically assess what can be expected of these forms by those who aspire to have a more just political economy.
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