Last October 4, Newsweek published a piece on how to survive the economic recession that pointed to the coronavirus as the biggest threat to the world economy. “The virus risks giving a further blow to a global economy already weakened by trade and political tensions,” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development chief economist Laurence Boone told reporter Dianne Harris. “Governments need to act immediately to contain the epidemic, support the health care system, protect people, shore up demand, and provide a financial lifeline to households and businesses that are most affected.”
Well, we all know now how that worked out. Seven months later, governments are playing catch-up as best they can, and many of us have found that our usual sources of income have, well, receded. The virus and the response to it have turned the Dow Jones into a roller coaster, the roller coasters have all shut down, and there are coyotes roaming the streets of San Francisco.
To varying degrees, the busyness of life, and the getting and spending have taken a sudden, sometimes jarring back seat to concerns about life, health, and safety. Careers are idled and incomes decimated. Meanwhile, we still need to eat and wash, wear at least some clothing at least some of the time. And taking stock of our resources like survivalists washed up on personal islands can be scary. Fortunately, we have a brilliant and nimble network of people organized and striving to make sure everyone gets what they need.
The Hudson Valley struggled long and hard to overcome the void left when heavy industry moved away in the last quarter of the twentieth century—and what has sprung up is a wild and beautiful multiverse of independent and individualistic entrepreneurial energy. We no longer have IBM and Kodak. We have unforgettable venues, splendid spas, potters and painters, designers, builders and weavers, farmers and musicians. (Bonus: the Hudson River’s a lot cleaner now too.) Much of that brilliance will rise again. Many of those people are offering takeout, performances, cool stuff, art, and gift certificates online.
Our Current Situation, Your New Line of Credit
Here at the Hudson Valley Current, our mission of building a healthy, local economy with an alternative tool of exchange has never been more relevant, and we’re involved, along with thirty agencies, in the creation of the Kingston Rapid Resilience Plan. The Current will function as a type of Universal Basic Income. Members were already being extended a 300 Current line of credit; that has been increased to 1,000 Currents, with the stipulation that you tell us two things: what you plan to do with your Currents, and what skills, talents, and services you have to offer to the community, so that others may spend their Currents on those. Nonprofit members are being invited to participate in our Heart of Gold program, which will extend even larger lines of credit to helpful organizations.
“The Current is a community complementary currency. According to the IRS, it’s a form of legal barter called a barter exchange,” explains Current co-founder and executive director Chris Hewitt. “Community currencies are exchanged between members for their goods and services, so that their monetary value stays within the community. This can stabilize a local economy when the national economic system becomes brittle. Community currencies have been used for centuries. We introduced it here in 2013, and I thought now is the time to create a Current Resilience Market to amplify its reach and help our members and the public in this time of crisis.”
Our already-vibrant marketplace is being enhanced by the Digital Resilience Market, where members can order over 50 items—local goods made by Current members including groceries, hygienic products, household supplies, gift cards, and more—from our digital store form and pay with their Currents. The brick-and-mortar Resilience Market, at 628 Broadway in Kingston, is stocked with products from our 450 existing Current members and offers curbside pickup of shelf-stable food, new clothing, hand sanitizers, soap, honey, gift cards, and other goods.
Our health department-certified mobile kitchen—run by our full-time chef, Christine Atkinson, who is also a registered nurse—is sanitized and ready to be used for food prep, food distribution at a central location, or making connections for certified kitchens. We are a paying tenant of the Ulster County Community Action commissary kitchen, and we’ve assembled a team of experienced chefs to bring that large kitchen to life if needed. The Current team is working with Family of Woodstock, the City of Kingston, and Ulster County to ensure that our professional chefs and support staff are prepared to fill in any gaps in the local food distribution system that has sprung to life so beautifully and rapidly.
Our goal is to help Current members maintain income and get the goods and services they need, while building a stronger, more resilient local economy than ever. Having a medium of exchange that specifically builds local wealth creates a scalable supply chain of money, untethered from the larger system as it goes through whatever shifts and convulsions may be headed our way.
A Pause for Reinvention
We’re all feeling at least some frustration in being cooped up, separated, and quarantined. If your job or your business has fallen completely off the map, or even if it’s just on pause, grief, fear and uncertainty are compounding that no end. Give yourself permission to mourn the good parts of the reality that’s just been snatched from beneath our feet. If you need them, over 6,000 mental health professionals are offering their services online for free.
But as the saying goes—if you have to, do the time, but don’t let the time do you. The global array of virtual learning available for free right now exceeds any menu of educational options available at any point in human history. There are free guitar lessons from Fender, free tours of hundreds of museums, painting lessons, coding classes, Ivy League courses, and thousands of offerings at websites like Coursera and edX.
Mike Caslin of the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship in Kingston believes that the fluidity of the present moment makes it a great time to nurture your inner social entrepreneur with a focus on the multiple bottom line: people, planet, profit and place. “We’re going to need a lot of new businesses,” he told the group at an online New Economy Meetup in mid-March. “I’ve been through seven recessions, and while this is a whole new terrain, we do know this day will not last forever. We need to start thinking 10, 12, 14 weeks ahead. If you’re losing a job, embrace it, deal with it, grow through it. Security is an illusion, and so is unmanageable risk. Ask for help, grow your skills, map your talents and motivations. If just ten people create new ventures and employ one person each, that creates an economic engine. Right now, things are spiralling down, but we can build a flywheel that pushes up. Invest in and bet on yourself. The issues we have to deal with today demand entrepreneurial innovation and adventurers.”
In emergencies, we learn a lot about communities, and what is emerging about the Hudson Valley could fill a book, UlsterCorps is organizing volunteer efforts, hyperlocal groups have arisen within the broader Hudson Valley Mutual Aid Facebook group in several towns. On Hudson Valley In It Together, people share and discuss the latest news and resources. Circle Creative Collective has organized Sewing Face Masks For Ulster County, where at press time over 100 crafty members were sharing tips and encouraging one another. If there is something you need, virtually anything, look any of these folks up on Facebook as a starting point. Someone will be right with you, and you will be directed toward solutions.
One can only imagine how economist Laurence Boone must be feeling right now, having tried to warn us all back in October. Few of us can actually claim to have seen this precise thing coming, but many more of us felt the growing imbalance and dis-ease of the conflict-ridden, deeply unjust situation most of us have grown up with. Right now, while the powers that be are distracted; it’s time to flourish and permaculture some changes that work better, in each life and in all our lives.
The Current’s role, in providing a local marketplace where neighbors can deal with one another using complementary currency, offers stability, interest-free credit and an opportunity to help each other stay solvent—and eventually become more solidly solvent than we’ve ever been. The Current Digital Resilience Market is packed with goodies: farm-raised meat and veggies, beans, and hand sanitizer. Joining is easy and a way to stabilize your ship on these stormy seas, connected to your neighbors, helping us weave a tomorrow that actually works and work that is, as the poet says, love made visible.
Learn more at hudsonvalleycurrent.org/current-resilience-marketplace.