What Happened to
by Bob Banner
A number of us came together in 1999 to talk about creating a local currency in San Luis Obispo County. We met with a few people who had started a local currency in Santa Barbara to learn of their successes and failures. We decide to copy the Ithaca HOURS system that at that time was going strong and still is. Bob Metz took over the administrative duties as well as the design and printing of the SLO HOUR bills. (His design and 4 color press job has to be the most beautiful of all the local currencies in the country. He printed it on hemp and 100% organic cotton blend paper.) I was in charge of keeping the list of users and their phone numbers (and trading skills) in the printed version of HopeDance.
We would have periodic potlucks at various Parks and Rec venues throughout the city. Local television station KSBY and local NPR affiliate KCBX ran stories about local currency and featured the SLO HOURS. At one point we had nearly 200 people participating in exchanging goods and services with our local currency.
We used the paper currency (which is legal, by the way, as long as you alter the specific dimensions of the bill so as not to be the same as the US dollar) for books, eggs, goat yogurt, veggies, ads, window washing, and cookies… We even sent flyers to all the members of the local Chamber of Commerce, letting them know what we were up to. But no one responded.
We even showed a 15-minute film about local currency to HopeDance Film goers throughout that particular year to keep interest and education alive. We were invited and went to conferences to spread the meme of the local currency movement. But it pooped out.
Some explained that we weren’t in a crisis, and if people are relatively stable with their US dollars in their pockets, then why bother to alter anything. We insisted that it was not an “alternative” currency but a “complimentary” currency, like coupons and trade certificates. The main idea of the movement was to keep the money (whatever you use) in your local area, to create a semblance of a sustainable economy where people didn’t have to travel too far to supply their needs. Perhaps a bit idealistic in a global economy, but we sensed that our livelihoods were not sustainable and could feel or sense a collapse of some enormous proportions but could not place our finger on it. Of course we were a minority and still are. Plainly speaking, most pioneers are a minority, and it’s often the case that few people recognize a looming crisis. A very few are ahead of the times. So be it.
One of the reasons why Ithaca HOURS was so popular is that Paul Glover, the champion of the local currency in upstate New York, had an incredible passion for it. He also had a printing press and would pour out masses of information and deals and negotiations and a directory with cartoons every month. In one of the films we would show, he would be seen riding his bike around town, talking to local businesses, persuading them of this cool enterprise: the local currency boom. In fact, they even had the hospital and banks involved. The hospitals would buy organic vegetables for their cafeteria and people could use their Ithaca HOURS for various check-ups at the hospital (minimal as they were, but it was a beginning). Banks would accept them for a loan fee; once again minor but a beginning. The mayor of Ithaca owned a restaurant, and he accepted them. In SLO, the owner of Novel Experience, who was featured on KSBY, would allow 50% trade with SLO HOURS on every Monday. It was fun. It was exhilarating. We were participating in democracy; in creating our own money and not slaves to a dollar system that is so corrupt and deficit-run that it is seen more and more as worthless throughout the world. And dare any country to demand oil transactions in euros rather than American dollars. You might just be visited by our tyrannical imperialistic military.
Any pioneering effort to awaken people from their undemocratic slumbers needs tenacity and continual courage and patience. Paul Glover had it. We had it, at times, but inertia hit the fan and SLO HOURS soon went under the mattress, to be saved for a day where we just might want to reissue them, when the demand becomes so large it will reawaken the pioneers.
Wikipedia lists over 70 local currencies in the US. But they still include SLO HOURS, so one needs to be suspicious of the high number. If you wish to see the SLO HOURS Directory, unfortunately it was not online so you will have to locate a back issue (we have plenty of them). The SLO HOURS went on for more than three years, until 2003. If someone wishes to restart the program, there may be plenty of SLO HOURS in circulation to begin anew.
bob banner is publisher of www.HopeDance.org ([email protected]) 805.235.1733