By Dada Maheshvarananda
One year ago, a group of 15 Proutists scattered across the United States (and me in Venezuela) began organizing a conference on Economic Democracy. Believing that the demand for economic democracy that economically empowers people and communities has the potential to unite people around a common cause that replaces the tyranny of corporate power, our goal was to “unite the moralists”. We chose Madison, Wisconsin as our site and created a web site www.economicdemocracyconference.org with all the 12 talking points written by Proutists to convey our ideas. Many of the inspiring presentations can be found there.
Over 200 people attended the October 11-14 event, about half from the Madison Area and half from other parts of the country, including 35 Proutists (about 15 percent). Well-known keynote speakers included The Nation correspondent John Nichols, Gar Alperovitz on cooperatives, Ellen Brown on public banking, David Cobb of Move to Amend, and David Schweikart, author of another book called After Capitalism.
In her welcome, Beth Wortzel, the hard-working conference chair, said, “I truly believe the time is at hand where, by joining our intentions, our talents and ideas, our practical strategies and resources we can create a powerful force for liberating ourselves from the grip of corporate capitalism’s dying empire. Thank you for being here and for being part of that force for change.”
In her inspiring opening talk, Nada Khader said: “Shrii Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, the founder of the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout), said that we must elevate the status of agriculture, that agriculture and agricultural work should have the same status as industry. Think about the automotive industry and how, over time, auto workers accrued decent compensation packages, worker protections and benefits. Imagine how our food system would be transformed if we applied the same standards to agricultural work. We need federal and state policies to promote the welfare of family farms and agricultural cooperatives which will enhance food security for all.”
A total of 38 workshops took place on subjects ranging from cooperatives to grassroots organizing, from indigenous rights to community gardens. Seven Prout workshops were offered: “Prout: A Holistic Approach for Social and Economic Empowerment” by Nada Khader, Mirra Price, Ame Johnson and Tapan Mallik, “Changing what we Measure from Wealth to Well-being” by Tom Barefoot, “SEED: Solidarity Economy and Ecological Design” by Jason Schreiner, “The Ethical Need for Revolutionary Change” by Bill Ayers and myself, “A Comprehensive Framework for Universal Economic Empowerment” by Ron Logan, “Close Your Eyes and Open Your Mind” by Dada Nabhaniilananda and “Health Care for All” by Dr. Steven Landau, who wrote and circulated an excellent “Prout Medical Manifesto”.
In my workshop, I said, “There are three main ways that you can respond to injustice and exploitation. The first one is silence–I’m not going to speak out when I see racism, sexism, injustice or exploitation, either because I’m afraid, or because I’m afraid of losing my personal benefits. The second possible response is reform–I want to change things gradually. The problem with this one is that everyone on the planet who you want to help will probably be dead by the time we finally get the reforms. People also adopt this strategy out of fear of losing their privilege. A third possible way of seeing the world is as a revolutionary, to courageously end exploitation and save lives as fast as possible. That’s my position, as well as Sarkar’s, and I think that fits a lot of people in this room. ‘The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire’.”
The Saturday night cultural program was superb, with seven acts that each lasted 15 minutes, with perfect timing. Dada Vedaprajinananda, the excellent Master of Ceremonies, opened with jokes and his own songs about social justice and “Trickle Down Economics”. Fourteen grandmothers in The Raging Grannies sang funny, radical political songs. The hilarious Forward! Marching Band got everyone on their feet and dancing. Karen Libman was an incredible story-teller who told about “Naked Truth”. The Master of Ceremonies and the first act was Dada Vedaprajinananda who sang about “Trickle Down Economics”, and the finale was Dada Nabhaniilananda who gave the world premier of his new composition, “A Revolution of Love”.
Sunday was the Action Summit with 70 enthusiastic participants trying to create and implement a cohesive master plan for Economic Democracy. Five professional filmmakers came from around the country, including Ed Glassman from Denver, to film all the keynote addresses as well as some of the workshops. They recorded 2 terrabytes of film and did several interviews that they are now editing and will later post on the web. The conference organizing committee has transformed itself and opened its arms to interested individuals and organizations, becoming the Alliance for Economic Democracy that is now planning conferences in other cities.