Jeanné Lewis
Jeanné Lewis

Paid for by The Committee to Elect Jeanné Lewis

Every candidate this election cycle is offering solutions to recover from the economic and health fallouts of COVID-19. Most ideas depend on trapping already marginalized residents in unstable social safety nets, rather than promoting empowerment by building sustainable wealth within a community. I believe it’s time to stop letting spreadsheets determine the type of support people receiveand start trusting the leadership of residents in their communities.

A few years ago, on the first Saturday of the month, I went to the Safeway in Good Hope Market Place on Alabama Ave., SE. Despite this being a typical heavy shopping day, there were only two cashiers open and the lines were stacked down the aisles. Several items I was looking for were sold out or not available.

I angrily assumed it was evidence of poor management in the store. After speaking with a regional representative for Safeway I learned about the budgeting formulas that Safeway uses to determine the staffing and stocking allocations for particular stores. In short, if the local sales and average income of the surrounding area don’t meet a certain threshold, the stores won’t get more resources.

This is why as your next Councilmember At-Large I will focus on supporting cooperative business models that invest in the Black and Brown communities and close the wealth gap.

Cooperative businesses contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of a community. DC has a legacy of cooperative businesses including daycare centers, art galleries, and energy cooperatives, some of which are still in existence. Shortly after that Safeway visit, I joined the Community Grocery Cooperative (CGC) – an effort to open a full service grocery store cooperative East of the River, where I live. The CGC is building on a legacy of cooperatives in DC.

The DC Council must fully explore all of the ways these models can close equity gaps in our city.

Cooperatives create healthy competition for corporate chains, demonstrate a business case for the economic power of a community, and provide residents with more options and power to negotiate. With the right support from local government, which we’ve seen historically in DC and in currently in other cities around the country, cooperatives can successfully support wealth creation for marginalized communities.

Examples of worker cooperatives in Cleveland, OH, and in New York City show the longer term effects of stabilizing their communities beyond economic growth. These models have contributed to home ownership, job placement for returning citizens, and financial skills training and development for workers.

Below are some key proposals that I would present if elected to Council. This model of building wealth addresses the long-term poverty created by systemic racism and sexism.

Signature Policy Proposals:

Provide necessary training and resources to facilitate the development of worker cooperatives within the District. Since this is a unique approach to small business management, I  propose that the city provide educational and training resources, such as general information sessions, individual and group coaching on financial literacy and best business practices, assistance with applying for licenses and permits, and financial support for newly developed cooperatives. This support will be crucial in the start-up phase of new worker cooperatives and will beavailable for up to five years for each business.

Implement innovative revenue earning initiatives to support the development of worker cooperatives and the sustainability of other small businesses owned by Washingtonians. High start-up costs are one of the most frequently cited reasons for not starting a business, especially for an untraditional business model such as a cooperative. Consequently, there must be a dedicated source available to meet this need. I propose a program of mini bonds sold to DC residents with revenue earmarked to support pre-existing businesses in their conversion to cooperative models, as well as newly developed co-ops. Funding from these initiatives will also be used to support traditional small businesses in D.C. that are owned by Washingtonians.

Create special incentives and funding for worker cooperatives. In order to ensure their lasting sustainability, I propose special incentives for businesses that implement a cooperative model. This includes granting them preference in competitive bids for city goods and services. Also, to ensure that all groups are duly represented, funding for these efforts will be set aside specifically for groups that are underrepresented in small business ownership, such as women, Black and Brown people, and immigrants. A dual-approach of incentivizing members of underrepresented populations to start small businesses following a cooperative model and setting aside funds with the sole purpose of helping them achieve this goal would drastically improve the District’s ranking in women-owned and minority-owned businesses as compared to MD and VA.

We need an innovative vision for our economy that doesn’t rely on poor people staying poor.

Our social safety net is more crucial than ever, but preserving the safety net does not require sacrificing vision for a more empowered community. If elected officials are serious about ending poverty in our city and preserving DC as a home where everyone can thrive, it’s time we invest in a vision for equitable economic development that includes the empowering aspect of cooperatives.

The excuses that larger corporations offer as to why they can’t risk investment in marginalized neighborhoods – low tax base, high crime rate, lack of staffing pipeline –become less important when the owners and operators are residents.

The profit from the business is circulated within the same community it’s generated. Crime is less likely when local people are owners. And operators of cooperatives gain skills that can be applied to advancing their careers.

These are the types of innovative policies we need right now to close the equity gaps in our community, increase access to home ownership, invest in small businesses and build wealth in Black and Brown families. I look forward to the opportunity to join the DC Council and promote policies that empower our communities. That’s why I am asking for your vote for Jeanné Lewis on November 3rd.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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