Colorful. Quirky. Independent. Unapologetic.
If you’ve ever visited Mother Fool’s Coffee House on Williamson St, these are some of the words you might use to describe the décor, the atmosphere, the clientele.
They also capture a little bit of Mother Fool’s co-owner, Stephanie Rearick. Short, dark curly hair and bright eyes sit atop a lean, muscular frame. This is someone who is capable of both physical and mental heavy lifting.
Which, in a way, is what Rearick’s other work, as Executive Director of Dane County TimeBank, relies on: rethinking the basic tools that allow people to prosper based on their own honest labor and community minded-ness. TimeBanking is about how people support themselves and others with daily needs in ways that “the economy” can’t – or won’t.
“We don’t talk about it as a currency, but it makes a lot more sense to people when it’s about identifying who’s in your community, what people have and what they need, then matching them up,” says Rearick.
Capitalism, as an economic model, is supposed to let a market – an aggregate of peoples’ needs and wants – determine the value of every good or service in a community. “Pure” capitalism will, as a matter of course, determine “winners” and “losers.”
Which is fine, Rearick says, if you’re talking about comparing superior and inferior widgets. But not necessarily when you’re talking about needs and human relationships.
“Scarce competitive goods or services can fit in our money system,” she says.
“But it makes sense to shift away from having to get your hands on something scarce in order to take care of someone when they get sick, for example. Abundant, community-based services fit better in a system divorced from price. I see time-banking filling that role.”
Since TimeBanking is an international movement, it comes in a kaleidoscope of different colors and flavors, shapes and sizes. But the essential premise is that each hour spent doing something for someone in your community is counted as a “TimeBank Hour” that can then be invested in having someone else do something for you. The focus is on accessing human resources, talents, and passions on behalf of the community, rather than tallying what one person “owes” someone else.
Since Dane County TimeBank – a largely online database that is used to track individual hours – was launched in 2004, 60,000 hours have been recorded. Rearick guesstimates that that is only about a third of the actual hours that are exchanged, given the lack of emphasis on formality.
“Mutual credit is always sufficiently abundant,” says Rearick, “because if we want to make an exchange, I have a debit, and you have a credit, and it’s just always shifting as long as we want to engage.”
Though Rearick asserts there are definite failures with American capitalism, she’s adamant that she’s not seeking the destruction of the banking system as we know it.
Rather, she is influenced by nature’s patterns of organization for resilience: Nature does not consolidate, it disperses and forms mutually advantageous, overlapping networks.
In this sense, TimeBanking is a complementary piece of how people create community bonds and supports – a system that is not vulnerable to the shocks and surprises courtesy of disembodied corporations and multinational financial transactions.
“I don’t have any problem with people gambling in some Wall Street-style casino,” says Rearick, “so long as it doesn’t impact someone else’s ability to eat, or live in a house. We just need to not be so dependent on that system.”
In addition to overseeing a fiercely independent coffee shop and spearheading a movement to create a vibrant marketplace for people to share goods and services to neighbors, Rearick is also a prolific and wildly inventive performing musician who plays keyboard, trumpet, drums, and sings.
Though these pursuits may seem disjointed at first glance, Rearick’s latest musical experiment may help illustrate the method behind the madness: lately, she says, she is performing as “Stephanie Rearick, Jr.” with nothing but a small Casio keyboard which she loops to provide a cascade of sounds under her energetic voice.
This is loopy music as therapy, tracing lines between the many seemingly disparate facets of Stephanie Rearick’s contributions to Madison, putting her at the center of the wheels within wheels. Ultimately, she’s looking to create a community where she (and others like her) can live comfortably and cooperatively by drawing on human talents – like music-making, or coffee-slinging.
“We have a crisis of imagination in our society; if we could just imagine how it could be different, we’d have a shot at making the changes we need,” she says, looking out the window at Mother Fool’s on a rainy afternoon.
“I feel like there really ought to be an all-hands-on-deck philosophy; everyone needs to be being their own best self right now.”