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The Local Voice: Get Up, Stand Up – The Fight for a Local Economy
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been arrested. No? Me neither. Ok, well almost. I was in eleventh grade, an award winning, budding young writer, inspired by a high school teacher who was pursuing his master’s degree in history and happy to encourage students to speak for ourselves and stand up for our rights. So when our administration decided to cut back our two forty-minute lunch periods, condense our in-between-class breaks, and make 1200 students have one one-hour lunch break, I rallied. Actually someone else rallied first and started a petition to get student support. My small circle of friends was enraged by the injustice of administration making the decision without student input. I complained that the local restaurants surrounding our school could never handle that many students all at once because there was no way we’d all stay in the cafeteria for lunch. Our history teacher suggested civil disobedience, a rally cry to show solidarity beyond a petition. A student walk-out was quickly planned, and off I went to the local newspaper to “leak” the story.
Much to our surprise and delight, the faculty voted against the change, supporting the students. But on Monday morning, on the PA system came the Principal’s voice: “Students. Would the person who went to the press please report to my office. Immediately.” I reluctantly stood up from my computer lab class and strolled down the hall. Suddenly clapping came from the classrooms I passed. Were they clapping for me, I wondered as I approached the Principal’s office? Did my “outing” of the injustice at the local high school in the local press really have this affect? I was floored. At 17, I had no real idea what civil disobedience really was – I was a transplant to the suburbs of Toronto from the backwoods of northern Ontario. What did I know? I knew I’d done something because the Principal had also invited the Vice Principal, and a police officer.
I was not arrested that day. I was threatened with an arrest but the Principal decided that since I had recently won a writing award and represented my high school at a regional competition, surely I couldn’t be that bad a kid. Instead of an arrest record, I was given the opportunity to “explain” myself. And so begins my story of why I have to stand to represent the voice of the under-represented.
The voice of the locally owned-independent business is often underrepresented; it’s no surprise that I landed in a job where I can easily help. Each year when our citizen legislature goes into session at the Roundhouse, the Santa Fe Alliance is there to represent our members on issues that impact them. Since our founding in 2003, we have been involved in numerous local, regional and state issues where our members have had a strong representation: closing a corporate tax loophole that siphons millions of tax dollars out of our state; moving our state’s money out of large corporate banks and into local community banks to strengthen the balance sheets of local banks, expanding their ability to lend badly needed funds to robust local businesses; increased local procurement to give preference to locally owned independent business; supporting climate change policy and legislation that will create more green jobs and allow more homegrown New Mexico businesses to serve the green economy; healthcare reform for access to affordable healthcare for business owners and employees; supporting the film tax incentives to keep movies in NM and keep over 3000 New Mexicans employed and the industry spending at locally owned independent businesses. These are the moving parts in a local living economy and the ways in which we can keep our economy local and sustainable.
Turns out I’m not alone in this phenomenon of high school organizing and civil disobedience. In a recent meeting of 12 of our national network leaders of business alliances, I discovered over breakfast that over 50% have organized student protests in the past. Some rallied against dress codes, some protested the teachers themselves. Others organized students into coalitions of support to change school policy.
None of this surprised us; we do this every day. We represent locally owned independent business owners and organize coalitions around issues that impact our members. We speak for those who have not had the representation of their local business organizations. We plan special forums and press events to get attention for our cause. Santa Fe Alliance member Tom Matthews, owner of Matthews Office Supply, a long time Santa Fe family owned and operated business (with, in my opinion, the nicest delivery people in town!) said it to me best: “In the current economic climate of uncertainty and challenge, it is more important than ever before for small businesses to have a local advocate and partner who can stand with them against the onslaught of global big box corporations. The Santa Fe Business Alliance is a steady, trusted ally who refuses to cave into economic pressures and continues to represent small local businesses as a means of sustainable economic development.” Thanks Tom, for fueling my inner high school rebel.
Vicki Pozzebon is the Executive Director of the Santa Fe Alliance, a nonprofit organization working toward building a local living economy through community, local ownership and advocacy. Visit www.santafealliance.com for more information.
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