A show of HANDS
An alternative currency known as HANDS has been in use in Nelson’s Golden Bay for 23 years.
MWith every HANDS transaction, I am building my community.
y decrepit old laptop turned into locally grown vegetables. And new hems on my favourite corduroy trousers. And a month’s supply of firewood from a neighbour’s woodlot. Interesting alchemy. How do I know? By reading my account statement on HANDS, Golden Bay’s alternative currency network. Years ago, when I first heard about community currencies, sometimes known as LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems), I wondered: “Well? How revolutionary is that? You can create your own local money system if you want to, but it’s still money, isn’t it?” Isn’t a HAND just a dollar in more colourful clothing?
Well, it is and it isn’t. HANDS (How About a Non Dollar System) is more than a convenient acronym; trading in our local currency feels more tangible, more human, than using dollars. With every HANDS transaction, I am building my community. I notice the difference when I look at my balance statements online. When I log onto my conventional bank account, there’s a slight yet palpable cringe, as my slow rural broadband ticks along and I wait for the account balances page to load. As I scan the screen, I feel the cultural anxiety that for many of us creeps in around money. Where’s it all going? When is my paycheque coming? How expensive were the groceries? When we participate in the money system, whether we appear to be winning or losing, we buy into a giant global game in which some power broker rigging the rules in New York City can have a devastating effect on returns to farms here in my own community, without any of us fully understanding what’s going on.
When I log onto our HANDS website, in contrast, my richness is not about the number hovering at the bottom line of my account. Instead my sense of abundance comes from being connected to so many valuable people. In the debit column, I’ve used HANDS to pay for sauna sessions, visit local healers, buy seedlings from fellow gardeners, get help moving house and hire a neighbour to repair my fences. I’ve paid for it all by selling things I don’t need (such as the aforementioned laptop), using my writing skills and subletting my home. The HANDS member directory, indexed by both offerings and neighbourhoods, tells me which of my neighbours has a trailer to help me move furniture, or who might be growing a surplus of organic persimmons. Members offer everything from farm equipment repair to computer help; childcare to “dreadlock maintenance” – skills that often fall off the radar screen of our traditional economic system.
For some people here in Golden Bay, where high-dollar jobs aren’t easy to come by, HANDS are easier to earn, so HANDS are more willingly spent. Or maybe “spent” is the wrong word – for when I put some beautifully decorated HANDS notes into someone else’s palm, those HANDS don’t disappear; that other person merely gains the potential to exchange the energy elsewhere within our community. That’s all that money is, after all: a way of exchanging energy. I like knowing that mine is cycling right here around me.