Valor y Cambio: A Community Currency Project in Puerto Rico

Negron-Muntaner. I am a professor at
Columbia University in the Department of English
and Comparative Literature. And the project that
I’ve been developing is called Valor y Cambio which
is supported by the Center for the Study of
Social Difference. And it emerged from
a working group called Unpayable Debt that
looked at the rise of debt regimes all over the world. But we put a particular
emphasis on Puerto Rico for our research. And the name of our
group comes directly from a speech that the
governor of Puerto Rico gave when he announced
to the island that the government
had accumulated such an enormous amount of debt
that he called it unpayable. If you combine all debt
that the government has, it tops $120 billion. The project, I would describe it
as a art storytelling and just economy project to launch
an island-wide conversation about what do we
value as a society. Introducing a tool,
a community currency, that could be used
for communities that are marginalized
or have little access to the formal economy to
organize their resources and talents inside
their communities through exchange of
a community currency. We also wanted the currency to
tell stories of the past that connected to the present. So we picked figures
and places that allowed us to talk of
burning issues now, like public education, public
health, or access to health. We wanted to talk about
racial and gender equity. I think the most popular bill
was 21, Roberto Clemente, who was a baseball player,
and also was known for his humanitarian work. So the way it worked
was we got an ATM. We added a computer
to the ATM so it could collect the stories. And in exchange
of the stories, we would give the bills to a
dispenser, a money dispenser. We got a number of
small businesses, about 40 small businesses,
to accept these bills. So the idea was that
we would demonstrate through a participatory
process what could an exchange economy not based on profit
or debt or accumulation look like and feel like? We had a very
interdisciplinary group, all of us trying understand,
how did we get to this point? And I think also,
how can research– art, journalism, these various
areas that we were working on– can have an impact in
addressing the situation? And our project is not about
how Puerto Rico is going to pay. What we see is the
crisis is offering an opportunity for people
to rethink politics, to rethink what the
economy should be about. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

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