Testimony of Richard Hobbs, Esq., Executive Director of Human Agenda Before the California Assembly Committee on Labor Employment

Testimony of Richard Hobbs, Esq., Executive Director of Human Agenda

Before the

California Assembly Committee on Labor Employment

Ash Kalra, Chair

Assemblymember, Twenty-Seventh District

Taking Ownership: Worker Cooperatives and Shared Prosperity

Friday, August 16, 2019

10:00 am - Noon

San Jose City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose, California


Assemblymember Kalra, Chair of the California Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment; Assemblymembers; legislative staff; distinguished speakers and invited guests.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak in fervent support of worker-owned cooperatives in the State of California.  

I’m Richard Hobbs, currently an immigration attorney and Executive Director of Human Agenda, and formerly Director of Citizenship and Immigration Programs of Santa Clara County and Director of the Office of Human Relations of Santa Clara County.

Early this morning my law office and the office of Human Agenda were broken into and my briefcase, personal laptop, and today’s presentation before this Labor Committee were stolen.  Nonetheless, I will give a brief overview of why worker-owned cooperatives are critical to transitioning our State toward a more democratic, participatory, and sustainable economy. 

The vision of Human Agenda is based on a comprehensive identification and analysis of human needs.  The “work” of meeting those needs is best described as human need-fulfilling activity (HNFA), not labor, as labor carries the connotation of remunerated work, and 4 of the 5 categories below constitute unpaid labor. 

From that analysis, Human Agenda has developed a 5-part vision.  The vision recommends that we all have the time, opportunity, and obligation to participate in five key areas of life to meet our needs and reproduce ourselves and our communities. 

First, we need the time, opportunity, and duty to engage in care work.  We need to have the time and resources to take care of ourselves, self-care, as well as the time and obligation to take care of our families and immediate community, however we define them.  This means, for example, instead of the second shift that consumes the lives of so many women, that men and women share the time and responsibility for care work with respect to caring for family members and doing household chores. 

Second, as our duty to society, we all need the time and resources to produce essential goods or services for society at a living wage with reduced work hours.  In order to avoid wasting our time and resources on unnecessary wants or false needs, we need to identify our true human needs--both goods and services.  Human Agenda has engaged in this group identification with over 75 organizations.

Our wages or allocate portion of our labor on behalf of society must encompass sustainable, living wages, so that we optimize, not maximize, what goods and services we need.  Furthermore, any vision for a better society must depend upon reducing our work hours. The progressive realization of reduced working hours is the fulcrum upon which our increased time with family and friends and our continuum of learning, democratic decision-making, and free time depends.

Third, we all need the time and resources for lifelong learning with accurate information. 

Fourth, from the family unit to the United Nations, we need the time and resources to engage in democratic participatory decision-making.  The family, the workplace, the neighborhood, and all levels of government should be sites for optimal forms of input and decision-making.

Finally, sitting at the apex of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we all need the time and the resources for self-actualization, or socialized self-realization. 

The time and access needed to complete each of these critical aspects of human life should not only be a human right, but also a sacred duty. 

But how can we get to this vision? 

We cannot meet the needs of human beings and the planet based on our current dominant institutions. 

I frequently speak in human rights classes and I ask if new students are aware of ESC, or Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a covenant ratified by the United States in 1966.  Most are unaware of the covenant.

Unfortunately, the United States and California are suffering from another ESC: our corporations are based on exploitation, our financial institutions on speculation, and our electoral system on corruption.  This ESC of exploitation, speculation and corruption is all legal in the United States of America according to our laws, our Constitution, and the Supreme Court. 

We need different values.  Using the acronym DECKS, we need the values of democracy, equity, cooperation, kindness and sustainability.  I often ask groups if they think our current multinational corporations, private banks, and electoral system possess these values.  Are Monsanto and Wells Fargo democratic, equitable, cooperative, kind, and sustainable? 

No, based on values of democracy, equity, cooperation, kindness, and sustainability we need new economic, financial, and political institutions.  We need to support worker-owned cooperatives, public banks, publicly financed elections, Medicare for All, public education, land trusts to create cooperative housing, and much more. 

The way an economy is structured is fundamental to how people live, work, and play, and worker-owned cooperatives should play a fundamental role as a key economic institution to transition to a more fair and sustainable society. 

Cooperatives are more democratic.  With one worker one vote they are the epitome of participatory economic democracy, deciding on all major decisions of the enterprise. 

Cooperatives are more equitable.  With the difference in highest to lowest paid 1 to 1, or 2 to 1, or even 5 to 1 like the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain, they create fair salary standards.  This stands in sharp contrast to the 400 to 1 prevalent in high tech companies in Silicon Valley.  They seek fair and modest levels of consumption, not conspicuous over-consumption. 

Cooperatives are more cooperative by their very nature.  They make all important enterprise decisions horizontally and collectively, not hierarchically and coercively.  

Cooperatives are more kind.  By working together the members resolve problems through dialogue and participatory mediation, not adversarial confrontation. 

Finally cooperatives are more sustainable.  Cooperatives not only optimize instead of maximize consumption, lowering the carbon footprint of co-op members, but they also seek to reduce or contain the number of working hours, to address the alarming alienation that plagues Silicon Valley and beyond.  They also make environmental decisions that won’t negatively impact their workplace or their immediate community.  

 Human Agenda helped create the Smart Yards Cooperative in 2015, to create a democratically run and operated cooperative that converts water-guzzling lawns into gardens with drought-resistant native California plants.  We currently operate a legal collective which incorporates DECKS values to defend immigrants from deportation who are suffering deep trauma under the Trump deportation machinery.  In addition, Human Agenda is working to create four immigrant-led worker-owned cooperatives: promotoras (health educators) in San Benito and South Santa Clara Counties, Thai massage therapists, my law office, and a janitorial company recently subjected to an ICE audit. 

It is incumbent on the State of California to enact laws to promote the development of worker-owned cooperatives as recommended on this panel by leaders from the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Project Equity, and the Democracy at Work Institute. 

Clear the Decks for Eco-Humanism

Clear the Decks for Eco-Humanism

“Not only isn’t there a widely-shared flexible and adaptable vision of what we are fighting for…there isn’t even much debate about such a thing…activists rarely put forward even the barest hints of an institutional vision, much less a compelling, well-worked out formulation that could inform strategy and provide hope and orientation.” [i]

The specter of Trump cries out for systemic guidance for the flourishing of planet and people, concrete eco-humanist envisioning, conceptual readjustment, messaging, and strategy.  The nomenclature of eco-humanism allows us the laser-like focus on the planetary needs and human activities that make us healthy and whole, answering the critical unanswered query laid out a century and a half ago: “These questions about the system of needs and system of labors—at what point is this to be dealt with?”[ii]

System of Needs

The methodological point of departure for any systemic and therefore revolutionary, stable and healthy eco-humanist vision must begin with identifying human needs, since humans will decide the fate of the planet.  A vision of human value, not capital value, must fully encompass the totality of life’s true needs and all necessary labors to achieve those needs. 

In the past 14 years Human Agenda[iii] has asked over 70 groups—young old, US-born, immigrant, in three different countries—to identify their true human needs and the human needs of any social formation in any period of history[iv].  Asking what it would take to survive alone and what any social formation would require to reproduce itself, the results of these inquiries are outlined in the human needs chart.

These are the needs of the social individual, human needs.  Although such a composite typology may be incomplete or imperfect, as a starting point it provides great methodological strength and theoretical purpose, knowing that at least for over 1000 individuals, no fundamental aspect of the human condition has been overlooked.  Meeting all of these needs for every individual on planet earth is the object of the next system.  

Focusing our understanding and attention on the system of needs is quintessential for six purposes.   

To read more click here. 


Thirteen Bad Omens Harming Immigrants  & Immigration Legal Service Providers




Trump administrative policies are not only strangling immigrants seeking to work and live in peace, but also putting a choke hold on immigration legal service providers--making their job extremely more difficult in the coming year.  Some of these directives have taken place recently, including one on August 16.  These policies should be taken into account by elected officials, funders, governmental agencies, foundations, and of course immigrants and legal service providers. 

Early in his administration President Trump proclaimed that all undocumented immigrants--as well as legal immigrants with criminal backgrounds--would be an enforcement priority.  Instead of the 2.8 million undocumented immigrants who were removal priorities under the last two years of President Obama, all 11 million undocumented immigrants suddenly had targets on their backs.  We are returning to the déjà vu time frame when then deporter-in-chief Obama deported more immigrants than any President in history. 

To give an example of impact, 1 out of every 10 residents in Silicon Valley is undocumented (an estimated 188,000 in Santa Clara County).    

The following 13 policy changes have not only put a choke hold on immigrants that seek to regularize their status, but also have exponentially increased the legal risks, challenges, and time commitment of legal service providers as they work to provide legal remedies for immigrants in California and the United States.    

1.      The ending of TPS for 6 countries.  Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal, and Sudan is scheduled to expire on dates between Nov. 2, 2018 and January 5, 2020.  Approximately 200,000 immigrants who have been in the U.S. for about 20 years each will need to seek alternative forms of relief such as political asylum or cancellation of removal before the immigration court.  They have 270,000 US citizen children who are in danger of being separated from their parents. 

2.      The DACA dilemma.  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is currently a political football where existing recipients do not know if they will be able to renew and newly qualifying immigrants do not know if they will be able to apply.  One thing is sure: President Trump has announced the end of DACA that will throw as many as 700,000 young people under the rug searching for alternatives including deportation defense and adjustment of status.

3.      No more advance parole.  Under President Obama DACA recipients were able to travel abroad under emergency circumstances (e.g. the death of a sister or parent living abroad).  By returning to the United States with inspection, such DACA recipients were able to adjust status and gain lawful permanent residence inside the United States.  This humanitarian policy exists on paper but no longer in practice under the Trump administration. 

4.      No more prosecutorial discretion.  In the last 2 years of the Obama administration out of 11 million undocumented immigrants, 2.8 million were deemed to be a priority for removal.  Immigration attorneys routinely requested prosecutorial discretion (PD) for immigrants who were in removal proceedings but not an enforcement priority.  Based on humanitarian criteria, their cases were administratively closed (placed in a suspense file) and they were not removed from the country.  Prosecutorial discretion is a fleeting memory under this administration. 

5.      No more administrative closure.  Similarly, the administration announced that immigration judges no longer have the authority to administratively close cases.  The stated purpose?  To increase the “effectiveness” of the immigration judicial system.  The real purpose?  To deport as many of the 700,000 immigrants currently under removal proceedings in the United States as quickly as possible.  By taking this discretionary tool away from judges, not only has judicial independence been severely hampered, but immigrants with a legal remedy are being removed to “clear the court docket”. 

For example, prior to this decision immigration judges routinely granted administrative closure to applicants for a U visa who were victims of serious crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, or attempted homicide.  Now these same victims may be removed to their home country, potentially separating them from their children. 

6.      Disfavored continuances.  In Matter of L-A-B-R- issued on August 16, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided that continuances in immigration court--often the only remaining tool available to judges to prevent the immediate removal of an immigrant with potentially favorable immigration remedies--should be made extremely arduous if not impossible.  The vast majority of immigrants in removal proceedings are not represented by legal counsel and will not know how to meet the high evidentiary standard to request a continuance. 

Former immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) protested this decision the day after it was issued, including retired immigration judge Polly Webber, former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and partner of Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. 

In their statement they wrote the following: “Facing the imposition of unreasonable case completion quotas, many Immigration Judges presently feel forced to double-book hearings.  One of our members who recently left the bench states that judges at present may receive ten to fifteen motions for continuance a day.  Sessions’s latest decision would force each judge to write lengthy, highly detailed decisions for each of these while still trying to complete three or more full hearings a day.  Of course, the implementation of this latest decision is entirely unrealistic.  Furthermore, the decision imposes no such requirements in instances where DHS seeks a continuance…” 

With administrative closure and now motions to continue hearings effectively off the plate, immigration attorneys and legal service providers will need to present more creative arguments to permit allowable legal remedies, and they will be forced to painstakingly document each request for a continuance, never required before.

7.      Quotas for judges.  Immigration courts are part of the Justice Department, and the Attorney General has the power to set rules and change precedent for immigration courts.  This spring Jeff Sessions decided that to get a "satisfactory" rating on their performance evaluations, judges will be required to clear at least 700 cases a year and to have fewer than 15 percent of their decisions overturned on appeal.

The National Association of Immigration Judges, the union that represents immigration judges, warned that quotas erode due process rights and undermine judicial independence.  Immigration lawyers also criticized the decision.  "Decisions in immigration court have life-or-death consequences and cannot be managed like an assembly line," said Jeremy McKinney, secretary of the AILA. 

The result of quotas for judges is that immigration legal service providers must provide much quicker, well-argued cases when they appear in court, more often.

8.      The unmitigated disaster of Matter of A-B- for asylees.  No case has been met with more anguish by asylum seekers and their legal representatives than Matter of A-B- , issued by Attorney General Sessions on June 11, 2018.  The Attorney General’s decision overturns established asylum law protecting survivors of domestic violence and gang-based persecution.  Using sweeping generalizations unknown in international refugee law, the Attorney General argues that “private actors” can never be perpetrators of violence that would amount to a claim for political asylum. As a result of this decision all immigration attorneys representing asylum seekers who enter at the southern border or elsewhere will need to make innovative arguments with respect to the five enumerated grounds for asylum and will need to litigate and appeal the case of practically every asylum applicant. 

 9.      New guidelines on public charge.  When applying for lawful permanent residence either through adjustment of status inside the United States or through consular processing abroad, each immigrant (with limited exceptions) must provide evidence that she or he is not likely to become a public charge.  In practice, the submission of a qualifying I-864 Affidavit of Support has historically been sufficient to meet this requirement. 

Under the Trump administration, the I-864 is now considered a factor, not the factor in deciding whether or not an immigrant is likely to use federal means-tested benefits in the future. This change signifies that immigration legal service providers must now complete an extended and full analysis of public charge for each applicant for a green card, not the case before. 

Furthermore, a draft rule from the Department of Homeland Security shows that DHS intends to broaden this “inadmissibility” ground for obtaining permanent residency.  The March version of the DHS draft rule, if kept as is, could affect 47 percent of noncitizen applicants for a green card, as opposed to the current 3 percent, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.  

10.  No second chances beginning September 11.  The denial of immigration filings “lacking required initial evidence” will take effect September 11, 2018, according to a recent July 13, 2018 policy memorandum from the USCIS.  Immigration benefits for employment visas, green cards, citizenship, etc. will be denied without giving applicants the opportunity to respond to a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID).  Instead of allowing immigrant applicants the chance to cure a mistake or provide a missing document or translation, the USCIS will outright deny the application. 

For every case submitted on September 11 or thereafter, legal service providers will be required to check, double check, and triple check each submission or lose the filing fee and request for a remedy of their client. 

11.  Placed in deportation when application denied.  What’s worse, on July 5, 2018 USCIS issued new policy guidance that mandates that the agency issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) when an application or petition for immigration benefits is denied.  This shifts USCIS from a benefits organization to an enforcement agency like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  By knowing that an application is denied (see #10, above) and the applicant is undocumented, USCIS is now required to place the applicant for an immigration remedy into deportation proceedings.

Henceforth every person who submits an application for a green card or similar remedy will be at risk of deportation, and the stakes for legal service providers to submit a complete, perfect, and winnable application will be extraordinarily high.  If the application is denied and the immigrant is placed into removal proceedings, legal service providers will need to represent the respondent in immigration proceedings.  If the immigrant does not attend the removal proceeding, she or he will be deported in absentia.

12.  Deportation proceedings for employment-based visa applicants. The H-1B visa program for temporary professional and skilled workers has been dramatically affected under President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order.  The rejection rate rose from 14% in the third quarter of 2017 to 20% in the fourth quarter--a 40 percent increase.  This rate was even higher for Indian nationals, jumping from denials of 17%  in the third quarter to 24% in the fourth quarter.  All of these denials will now be subject to removal, per the USCIS July 5, 2018 NTA policy. 

Worse yet, in the fourth quarter of 2017, 61% of H-1B applications for noncitizens were met with requests for evidence (RFEs) and now these will be treated as denials (#10, above) and placed into removal proceedings (#11, above).  

As H-B applicants are denied a livelihood but present in the United States, they will increasingly require deportation defense.  The private bar that provides legal services for employment-based applicants generally does not engage in deportation defense, and low-income unemployed professionals will likely seek out the services of non-profit legal service providers as never before. 

13.  Stripping U.S. citizenship. The Trump administration is digitizing fingerprints collected in the 1990s and comparing them with more recent prints to see if there is evidence of fraud.  If so, U.S. citizens may be placed into denaturalization proceedings.

The net effect of the above 13 Trump administrative policies and procedures is the erosion of due process, severe limitations on legal remedies, the need to exercise extreme caution by immigration legal service providers, the complication and intensification of legal work, and a chaotic future which demands day by day practice guidance. 


August 24, 2018

Richard Hobbs, Esq.

Executive Director, Human Agenda

Attorney for the Human Agenda Legal Collective CLARO

50-Mile Rule Waiver is a First Step

Julie Solomon, Ph.D.

President of the Board of Directors

Human Agenda

For decades, a California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) regulation called “the 50-mile rule” has required the residents of California’s State-sponsored migrant farmworker housing centers (currently, 24 of them) to move at least 50 miles away in the off-season. This has caused great disruption to farmworkers children’s education, as the children leave their schools a few months into the school year and return near the end of the year, resulting in educational failure, social challenges, and continued poverty. Recently, an exemption to the 50-mile rule, authored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), was approved as part of the State’s budget “trailer bill”. This is an important step—but only a first step—toward ensuring equity and opportunity for the migrant farmworkers who provide the residents of California (and beyond) with an abundant and steady food supply.

Migrant farmworker parents, like any other parents, want their children to receive a quality education and to have the occupational, economic, and social opportunities that are associated with such education. Human Agenda, a human rights- and human needs-focused organization based in San Jose, became aware in the 2000s that migrant farmworker children were being denied access to quality education because of the 50-mile rule. In 2010, Human Agenda worked with then-Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) to introduce AB2010, which sought to keep the State migrant housing centers open all year long, so that child residents could stay in the same schools, and they and their families could have safe, subsidized housing on an ongoing basis. However, California was in a budget crisis at that time, and the fiscal implications of the bill prevented it from advancing past committee.

In 2014, with funding from the Castellano Family Foundation, Human Agenda collaborated with the Center for Farmworker Families to implement semi-structured interviews with families in the four largest State migrant farmworker housing centers in California (Williams, in Colusa County; Ochoa, in Santa Clara County; Buena Vista, in Santa Cruz County; and Parlier, in Fresno County), to learn more about the effects of the 50-mile rule. Residents of 217 units (55% of occupied units at the time) were interviewed, including 133 units with children ages 4-19. The overwhelming majority of households with children (91%) reported that they believed that the 50-mile rule was affecting their children’s education, and 97% reported that their children would benefit from the ability to finish the school year in the same school.

During subsequent years, Human Agenda, the Center for Farmworker Families, the Food Empowerment Project, and other organizations and individuals pursued both regulatory and statutory routes to eliminating or creating a waiver for the 50-mile rule. The recent approval of the State budget’s “trailer bill” included a 50-mile rule exemption, authored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). This will permit the migrant farmworker housing centers to request a waiver from HCD’s Office of Migrant Services (OMS) allowing up to 50% of housing units to be exempt from the 50-mile rule, if the residents of those units meet certain conditions, in turn permitting those residents to live locally—and thereby remain in the same school districts—in the off-season.

While this represents an important step toward supporting the migrant farmworker children’s right to have equal access to a quality education, it is only a first step. Currently, how the waiver will be implemented remains unclear. OMS has indicated that it will require 60-90 days to issue guidance for migrant center operators on how to request a waiver. Residents of the housing centers will need to be educated about their right to participate in the waiver and the procedures for doing so. Moreover, it appears that no funding has been allocated to keep the housing centers open year-round. Residents who obtain permission to remain locally will need to move out of the housing centers in the off-season and pay market rates for housing. With average annual earnings of just $17,500 per worker from agricultural work, most migrant farmworkers are unable to pay market housing rates in the local areas where their migrant housing centers are located.

It is high time for all of the stakeholders who benefit from migrant farmworkers’ labor, including (but not limited to) the growers who employ migrant farmworkers and the members of the public who consume agricultural products grown in California, to come to the table to develop and implement equitable and humane policies and programs that support migrant farmworkers’ rights and opportunities.



1. Ibarra N. (2018; July 6). ’50-mile rule’: migrant farmworker housing policy changed to allow children to stay in California schools year-round. San Jose Mercury News. Accessed July 30, 2018 at https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/07/06/50-mile-rule-migrant-farmworker-housing-policy-changed-to-allow-children-to-stay-in-school-year-round/.

2.Written summary of findings available on request from Julie Solomon, Ph.D.: jsolomon94022@yahoo.com.

3.Martin P, Costa D. (2017; March 21). Farmworker wages in California: Large gap between full-time equivalent and actual earnings. Economic Policy Institute. Accessed July 30, 2018 at https://www.epi.org/blog/farmworker-wages-in-california-large-gap-between-full-time-equivalent-and-actual-earnings/.

Human Agenda Summary of the US Social Forum in San Jose and Its Role: Hungry to Fight, Hungry to Build

The United States Social Forum (USSF) in San Jose, CA from June 24-28, 2015 showed that serious social activists are hungry to fight the deep deficiencies of our current economic and political system…and hungry to build an eco-humanist alternative to it, to meet the true needs of our planet and humanity. 

Hungry to Fight

Stating its belief that “there is a strategic need to unite the struggles of oppressed, exploited, and dispossessed”, the USSF created a space for learning, dialogue, tactics, and intersectional joint action to take on the malaise that affects the bulk of society: the exploitative, oppressive, and alienating capitalist system. 

Workshops, People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs), plenaries, films, and cultural events addressing the ills of our current system dominated the US Social Forum in San Jose.  The USSF thus confronted the exploitation of workers and the oppression of people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, women, the disabled, seniors and youth.  It attacked blunt police brutality, the effects of life and death militarization, and the grinding poverty of the homeless and of the dispossessed. 

Human Agenda, for example, in its workshop “Immigration: What’s Next?” analyzed how economic boycotts may be an effective tool for change.  Human Agenda was also able to persuade UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta to the USSF.  With Phatima Paulino, moderator Michelle Cordoba, and attorney Ruth Silver-Taube participating in the same plenary, dozens of tactics  and strategies from the past and for the present were offered up as methods to advance the struggle for human rights of women, people of color, and immigrants, in particular.  Dolores Huerta received a standing ovation by the 140 people in attendance for her 85 years of constant struggle to advance human rights.  

Human Agenda Board Member Fhatima Paulino and Executive Director Richard Hobbs with Dolores Huerta.

Human Agenda Board Member Fhatima Paulino and Executive Director Richard Hobbs with Dolores Huerta.

Dialogues on inaccessibility to quality health care, food, housing, education, and culture were held side by side with numerous workshops and actions on the destruction of our environment, from pollution to fracking to pesticides to predatory water usage.  

Electoral and legal strategies including the election of candidates, electoral campaigns, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, constitutional reform, and proportional representation accompanied calls for strategic and tactical actions such as labor and community organizing, ending racism, boycotts, direct action, tax and debt resistance, and non-violent communication and resistance, using such mediums as the internet, art, the spoken word, radio, theater, and diverse forms of cultural organizing and expression.  A direct boycott action at Costco yielded immediate success. 

Noting the global and systemic nature of the current neoliberal capitalist economic system, internationalists took principled positions seeking justice in Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, and Palestine, and sought support for the democratic and egalitarian experiments taking place in Venezuela and Cuba. 

The myth that the current economic and political system in the United States is sustainable, democratic, and egalitarian was shredded like beef in a meat grinder.  Concrete analyses and actions to debunk, confront, and overcome the myth were the order of the days, on June 24-28, 2015, in San Jose.

Hungry to Build

A smaller but equally significant segment of the US Social Forum addressed the fact that unless we create new alternative structures and institutions, we simply re-produce the harmful structures of our current economic and political system on a daily basis.  What structures and institutions can we build that actually incorporate our values--institutions that are not exploitative, inequitable, uncooperative, unkind, and unsustainable? 

Relevant dialogues and presentations advocated for the rights of nature; for building local peace economies; for creating a financial system for the benefit of the public, not for private profit; for co-learning and co-creating our future; for a path to a sustainable and just economy; and for political action for systemic change. 

Clear the Deck

Four Human Agenda board members played a key role in four different PMAs and plenaries to promote the notion that truly, “Another World Is Possible”, the name of two of the PMAs in which Human Agenda participated.   



The Human Agenda vision and values for a better world, CLEAR the DECKS, were widely commended, with scores of participants (of the 140 attending these events) requesting further information.  The human needs-based CLEAR vision of equal gender participation in CARE work, of responsible human activity through LABOR producing goods and services truly needed by society with reduced working hours at a living wage, of EDUCATION for life with reliable information, of AUTONOMY in democratic  participatory decision-making in all important spheres of life, and of REALIZATION of self and therefore society by having time and resources for our passions, was widely accepted as a way to reduce oppression and alienation and create the conditions for a well-rounded life.  While all of these constitute human need fulfilling activity, only one (labor) is deemed worthy of value (remuneration) in today’s society. 

The DECKS values of Human Agenda, as the basis of new economic, political, and social institutions, were also well-received.  Institutions and actions that are Democratic, Equitable, Cooperative, Kind, and Sustainable are seen as having values that are the antithesis of the values of Wall Street, multinational corporations, and our federal electoral system, the key institutions that dominate our lives today. 

A Way Forward: Eco-Humanism

In What Then Must Be Done? Gar Alperovitz analyzes economic institutions in the U.S. that have democratized wealth and areas that could be democratized.  These include (1) socialized enterprises and services (e.g. GM in 2008; the need for single payer health care), (2) public banks and financial institutions (e.g. the Bank of South Dakota), (3) the commons (e.g. federal, state, and municipal ownership of land, natural resources, utilities, and services), and (4) worker-owned, union, housing, and consumer cooperatives. 

With respect to cooperatives, the Mondragon Cooperatives in Northern Spain, the new service and industrial cooperatives in Cuba, the cooperatives in former Yugoslavia, and the Arizmendi Bakeries in the Bay Area were showcased at the USSF as successful examples using DECKS values. 

At the final PMA of the USSF on June 28, after reviewing a precise and comprehensive list of true human needs, participants were asked what it would take to build new-eco-humanist institutions (that meet the need of the planet and of people) in five areas.  Incorporating the criteria of social ownership, DECKS, and individual responsibility, small group dialogue led to entirely new institutions for the United States in the areas of food, housing, education, water, and local energy. 

It was concluded that we need to build and advocate for new institutions based on a new vision and new values that re-create our society and planet to make our society and planet healthy.  To do this, to the extent that each one of us can, we need to need to move our human actions from fight to build.  After creating that other world we will no longer need to fight, but rather live in the fair and cooperative world we seek. 

Planting the Seeds for the Future

While participating in the “Conscious Consumption, Conscious Living” PMA it became clear to Human Agenda that to be effective agents for change, serious activists need to operate on multiple levels.  It is quintessential that we change our daily habits of how much and what we consume in order to save our planet, but ultimately saving the world requires much more, a deep and solemn commitment to transform ourselves and our current social reality. 

The theory of change which emerged from the 4 PMAs in which Human Agenda participated prior to the US Social Forum, and which was widely affirmed at the US Social Forum itself, includes the following: 

Struggle against oppression and build movements. Fight against existing oppression at all levels. In a multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-sectorial struggle led by the most oppressed and alienated, we need to build a powerful movement of movements of conscious organized individuals connected to a common vision. 

Envision the new society.  Clarify and champion a CLEAR vision based on a revolution of DECKS values:  Democracy, Equality, Cooperation, Kindness, and Sustainability. 

Eco-humanize our structures and institutions, brick by brick.  New economic, political, and social institutions incorporating social ownership, DECKS values, and individual responsibility need to be developed like cooperatives, public banks, commons, the state sector, land trusts, deep democracy, and true cultural freedom.  Specific new institutions need to be developed to meet specific human and planetary needs.

Democratize political power—and then keep it.  Creating trust over time, consistently build the foundations and power of participatory democracy in all of our institutions.

Socialize the self. Be the change we want to see.  This includes conscious, optimal, solidarity consumption from DECKS-valued institutions; the transformation of the daily institutions we participate in to incorporate DECKS values; the creation of new such value-based institutions; and caring for ourselves and our loved ones so that we do not burn out. 

Challenges and Opportunities for the United States Social Forum

The 2015 polycentric United States Social Forum was a huge success given the titanic challenges it faced.  With virtually no institutional support to carry forward the US Social Forums of Atlanta in 2006 and Detroit in 2015, thousands of activists in Philadelphia, Jackson, San Jose, and Mexico gathered to learn, dialogue, strategize, vision, and plan struggles against the current juggernaut and to create alternatives to it.  The lack of institutional support led to delays and contradictions in planning and execution of the USSF, but on the whole the USSF provided thousands of young and committed activists the experience and space for regeneration and focus in the fight for people’s hegemony.

In 2016 as the US Social Forum moves forward with its Assembly of Assemblies, and as the World Social Forum convenes in Montreal, let us rely upon the trust, energy, and experience we have built in 2015 to move us forward.  Another world is possible.  Let’s fight for it, and build it.