On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers--including artists, critics, writers, and curators--to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Cheryl Meeker, artist and co-publisher of stretcher.org.
Choosing a term buried within one of the summit themes, inequity, I choose to isolate part of that word for the keyword “equity.” In light of the current massive world debt bomb, preceded and/or partially precipitated by the financial meltdown, derivatives explosion and off budget U.S. war spending, the term equity creates an association first with financial equities (stock equities,) home equity (depleted,) and secondarily to the concept of equity in human terms: fairness. Associations with the term extends to the British actors' labor union, Equity, and for those of us who have labored in marketing: the concept of brand equity. Ping-pong-ing between financial instruments and human equality or fairness, the term equity illustrates how deeply embedded in the English language and system of values are the concepts of capitalism and/or symbolic systems of exchange value. Paradoxically, as income disparity increases, the U.S supreme court has indicated that money = speech in the public sphere and it becomes evident that the masses are heard less and less, while those with more money are heard loud and clear. As home equity values are insubstantial or abstract rather than physical, they have been the more easily stolen or disappeared by a system bent on extracting value from those least able to afford defending it. Perhaps we are seeing a new phase in a sort of neo-primitive accumulation of capital. As we see further erosion of the commons by those with the power and capital to control new and old spheres of influence in order to increase or protect their share of equity, the development and/or protection of democratic values becomes more and more fleeting. It becomes evident that there is no easy or natural alliance or equivalence between capitalism and democracy as there was no requisite equivalence between the versions we have seen play out of socialism or communism and an egalitarian society. Capital, powered by the threat of arms and in the hands of the proudly capitalist Chinese regime or by transnational corporations of whatever nationality continues to drive misery as well as inequity in Africa, where mining and disputed dam projects undercut the will of indigenous people whose land is being exploited and whose lives are being cut short while their livelihoods are being eradicated. Capitalism supercharges the wheels of empire and legitimizes it for world financiers whose equity investments benefit from cost cutting on the ground. It appears that the influence of U.S. style “democracy” has not had a democratizing effect on the capitalism that U.S. interests have so zealously guarded and nourished. If zombie capitalist economies are driven to further de-regulate in order to increase the expansion required for economic growth, further endangering humanity and the health of the earth that supports mankind, what will stop this pattern? Perhaps there is a new human equity at work, powered by all of the human dissent that went before us and perhaps it will prevail by building equity that cannot be commodified or instrumentalized.