How Do We Sense Make Of It All

picture shows large masked crowd at Black Lives Matter protest with most prominent sign reading "No One is Free When Others are Oppressed"
Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire from BBC News

Several years ago, in the aftermath of the protests in Wisconsin supporting labor unions, I wrote about sensemaking and how resilient cooperatives can be in adjusting to the changes in the economy and providing an antidote to the Shock Doctrine. Essentially, Karl Wieck argues that we are constantly building our identities through a process that he calls “sensemaking” and at times a shock can cause this process to founder. When sensemaking breaks down, it can have disastrous consequences. I ended with a quote from Arizmendiarietta, one that I return to constantly in 2020 when working with co-ops (especially those where the membership is predominantly older and whiter):

Our co-operatives must primarily serve those who see them as bastions of social justice and not to those that see cooperatives as refuges or safe places for their conservative spirit.

Don José María Arizmendiarietta, Reflections, 461

This year has created a massive shock to all of our systems:

  1. A global pandemic with a sneaky virus that doesn’t create the physical threat like Ebola, but slowly creeps up with some not showing any symptoms (but maybe have long term health consequences) and others dying.
  2. A global economic shutdown coming on the heels of a recession caused by a trade-war between China and the USA.
  3. A global uprising against the continued attacks on Black people and demonstrations denouncing systemic white supremacy.
  4. New youth leadership and protest methods that break from the polite parades of a previous generation.

In 2012, I commented that our co-ops aren’t facing forest fires, but a new economic challenge. Today, we are facing a whirlwind of change. We need to adapt to that change and this requires us (as co-op leaders, developers, and members), to adapt our organizational and personal identities to be true to the foundation of the Cooperative Identity. Critical Sensemaking offers a methodology to make the change.

. . . critical sensemaking provides a framework for understanding how individuals make sense of their environments at a local level while acknowledging power relations in the broader societal context. The critical sensemaking framework takes a very complex combination of variables including social psychological properties, discourse, organizational rules, and the formative context in which organizations exist and offers an analysis of how these forces combine to allow individuals to make sense of their environments and take action on a day-to-day basis. Critical sensemaking . . .is useful in analyzing the relationship between individual actions and broader societal issues of power and privilege. It also provides a lens through which to view connections between the formative context, organizational rules, and discursive and socio-psychological properties of sensemaking that influence how individuals· make sense of the world around them.

Helms-Mills, Thurlow, Mills (2010) “Making Sense of Sensemaking: The Critical Sensemaking Approach” Qualitative Research in Organization and Management: An International Journal. 5 (2)

The protests for Black Lives Matter along with protests against the right-wing militias have created some significant angst among our communities and has threatened the ability of some co-ops to continue. Part of this is that the nature of the protests are not as polite as people have become accustomed. Statues are being toppled as emblems of racist power, organizations are being expected to do more than simply put of “BLM” sign in their window or issue a board statement that says they support “Black Lives Matter”. It is a difficult time. Co-op leaders are now expected to act, and they should. We can’t just write a statement, we need to be the change.

What I have found disturbing is that a lot of people (mostly white and mostly older) are feeling defensive and challenged. I hear from so many that they are scared to offer an opinion for fear of being called “racist” or that they will be pushed out of the organization that they love and care for. It is a scary time–behavior and language that might have been acceptable just a decade ago is no longer acceptable. For them, I have to tell a secret: it was never acceptable, but no one on the receiving end of that behavior or language felt that they had the ability or the power to challenge it until now.

I should own that I have definitely used a lot of words, made jokes, and engaged in behavior that I regret–I don’t want to sound like I figured it all out. I often have flashes of memory that cause me to want to just hide in a closet in shame, but self-flagellation doesn’t make the world better. Change makes the world better and adjusting one’s identity with the new information helps make the change real.

Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrong-doing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.

Aldous Huxley, (1947) Forward to “Brave New World”

The current protests are rooted in three of the Co-op values: Equality, Equity, and Solidarity. The system that our society has lived under since 1492 attacks these values every day and it is our obligation to support and nurture these values in ourselves and our organizations. These values were present in the founding of Rochdale in 1844 when only white men who owned property had a voice in government. These values live in the Black co-ops formed in the United States during Jim Crow, and these values are at the heart of every worker co-op and solidarity co-op.

As cooperators, we have the set of values, ethics, and principles to adjust to the demands of the world today. We, on paper, exist as a place committed to social justice through caring for others, concern for community, and social responsibility. However, some might be going through an identity crisis and the staff and membership of every co-op will need to figure out how to work through these issues. Those of us who have been around for a while (2-3 decades) need to learn new ways of engaging. We need to adapt our personal identity to the changing world around us. We need to trust the people coming into leadership. They have a lot to offer just as we did in our 20’s and 30’s.

One of the thinkers that I follow likes to say “good decisions come from experience and experience comes from bad decisions.” In that sense, I have always believed that people are only free when they can make mistakes. The role of older co-op leadership should be to offer our experiences and help use that information to make a good decision while recognizing that the world we live in today has never existed before (economic collapse, pandemic, and revolution against white supremacy all at the same time).

People don’t have to be part of the physical protests to make a difference. Due to issues around the pandemic, I have only attended one demonstration in person and it was a youth of color led event that organized it in a manner that it centered the discussion physically with black and indigenous people in the center surrounded by other peoples of color and white people on the outer ring. It was a very powerful and emotional event. There are plenty of places for people to be of service to building a better world.

What we can do is work to build that same energy in our co-ops–recruit youth and youth of color into leadership, review policies with an eye towards decolonizing the process and language, be willing to step into a support role over a leadership role, and challenge ourselves to adjust our identities based on the information of today.

To refer back to the Mann Gulch Fire, we need to either drop our tools or jump into the fire circle. We need to recognize that the events of today are outstripping our experience. If we can’t do that, they we need to step back from leadership positions. For many in the Boomer generation, this might sound familiar in a more musical context:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A Changin'”

I know that am being a little tough on “the olds” in this post (and I consider myself in that category). It is my hope, though, that people who are experiencing issues in their organizations take a moment to understand that the older generation in their co-ops might be undergoing a crisis of their own that they may not recognize. Part of the very values and principles that cooperatives embrace should also guide us as we try to address people who should be allies (and likely believe that they are allies). We should try to meet people where they are and help them manage this process in sensemaking. In some ways, I think that people are in a grief process for a world that they knew that is dying. This world needs to die, but it is a world tied to their identity and it might need grief counseling or therapy (and I’m not being flippant).

Our organizations should be centered on social justice and building a resilient society. Ultimately the arc of history moves towards justice, I hope that we can bring as many people with us, but a change is going to come.

Recommended Reading:

Jacques, Roy (2005) “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Reflections of a Pale, Male, Stale in Managing the Organizational Melting Pot: Dilemmas of Workplace Diversity. Sage Press

Posted in 2040, Co-op Blueprint, Human Relations, Pensimientos, Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abolish The City

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed how the co-op model might change policing in the immediate wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Since then, the US has seen over four weeks of consecutive protests, calls to de-fund and abolish police departments, the tearing down of racist symbols of the Confederacy. NASCAR has banned the use of the Confederate flag at its events and on its properties. Old racist brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are being discontinued and a majority of US residents now believe that the NFL owes Colin Kaepernick an apology. It is a fundamentally amazing time to be alive and seeing the “arc of history” actually bending towards justice right before our eyes.

It has been a little difficult to compose my thoughts with regards to these events. I definitely come from a privileged place having grown up in a wealthy, white suburb of Toledo, Ohio with its own k-12 school district and all of the other benefits of white privilege. The cooperative movement in the US also tends to be segregated and has not always been very good at engaging the values and principles of cooperation to decolonize and challenge systems of oppression. My ideas expressed here are mostly about my thinking through our structures and how to make systemic change, but I would never presume that I am correct, and always welcome the opportunity to learn.

In saying “abolish the city”, I am not striving for hyperbole. I really mean let’s get rid of our cities. The modern city is a social structure created and developed in the feudal Europe and then transitioned to capitalist engines and exported through European imperialism and cultural hegemony. These structures are not designed to support humans, they are designed to control people for the benefit of the few. The architecture even aims to minimize us as people while elevating institutions of power.

What would replace our cities? What would a more human community look like? Our cities should not exist to govern people but to administer to the needs of the people who live, work, and visit them. We need a completely new concept of community that combines a modern economy in a way to facilitates the best of human life in harmony with the ecosystem that supports human life.

There are many options and attempts to rethink cities and even larger communities. Rojava, Cooperation Jackson, for two and we can even looking back at how indigenous communities managed these lands before their sovereignty was usurped. Cooperation Jackson seeks to build a community and a new society. It imagines more than a few co-ops, but a society of worker cooperatives and other democratically managed enterprises combining the values and principles of cooperatives and Mondragón, and based on the Jaskson-Kush Plan. Cooperation Jackson has inspired similar efforts across the country.

Rojava is another example of one way that this could work. Rojava is a Kurdish autonomous region along the Turkish and Syrian border. It is focused on direct democracy and combines commune and cooperative models. As I understand it, to join the commune means contributing and participating in a cooperative that works to meet the needs of teh community. This keeps the workers providing services from exploitation by the larger community. I don’t know enough about Rojava to say this is a working model, but it has shown that the traditional Eurocentric concept of the “city” is not the only way.

One source is a very controversial thinker: Thomas Jefferson. The former US Senator Gary Hart provides an stimulating discussion in his book, Restoring the Republic, which is largely based on Jefferson’s concept for what a new democratic nation would look like. Jefferson, while authoring the Declaration of Independence was in France during the drafting of the Constitution and had little input into it. Jefferson, of course, was a slave owner and a hypocrite. In fact, he knew that he was a hypocrite. As Hart acknowledges, Jefferson could have only become “Jefferson” because of slavery. He lived his life on stolen land supported by stolen people. However, his words inspired the following generation to due what he could and would not attempt.

Jefferson actually coined the term “American” which so many non-US citizens despise. Unlike today, the word was not meant to be a synonym for the United States, it was to create a response to the aristocracies of Europe. Hart goes into the details of Jefferson’s ideas of creating a basic unit of community at 5,000 people with expectations that these would be largely autonomous entities that would interact with nearby communities to meet common needs. Jefferson’s concept quickly starts to look like a sociocratic governance chart or even like the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation. Jefferson saw the military then, as a collection of militias from each of the communities.

But that is enough about Jefferson, I just wanted to acknowledge that this isn’t a new idea. We can abolish our cities and replace them with small interconnected communities. There are modern examples and efforts that we can draw upon.

These communities could be solidarity cooperative societies in which different groups of the members of the community have equal representation in the functioning of the co-op, the services of the co-op for its members might include education, healthcare, transportation, mutual aid and security, housing, etc. It could be a type of intentional community or it could have independent businesses–it would depend on what the co-op members wanted. The solidarity cooperative societies could join federated cooperatives societies with representation equal for each member co-op (this would eliminate states as we know them) or remain independent.

All three of these examples (Rojava, Cooperation Jackson, and Jefferson’s townships) promote direct democracy and community democratic control and democratic operation of the community. The purpose of these communities are not to foster and protect private ownership, but to build a life-affirming and human-centric society based on solidarity, equality, equity, and democracy. The examples show that the model of governance that we use for our communities and economy are not the only way or even the preferred way for many people. We can build a better world based on people not wealth and profit.

On the Olympic peninsula here in Washington, many of the modern cities started as cooperative communes (again, co-ops have not been good on decolonization). I am now writing outside of my knowledge, but I understand that indigenous nations of North America and South America also managed alternatives to the top-down hierarchy and extractive nature of the European feudal-capitalist model.

I recognize that there are some problems to think about (mobility and the freedom of movement for one); however, what would a community look like where its success depends on people working together, engaging each other as equals, and replacing the profit motive with a drive for mutual aid, meeting common needs and aspirations. But our current system is broken and takes power away from the majority and gives it to a small group easily manipulated and controlled by special interests.

In Olympia, 52,000 people devolve all their power to 5 elected council members. What if Olympia became a federated co-op of 10 semi-autonomous solidarity cooperative societies with representatives using consent as a decision-making model or the New York City metro area a collection of 3,761 semi-autonomous solidarity co-ops each with the individual right and responsibility to manage their own affairs? What would cities look like if more than 1 out of 10,000 people actually had the power to make decisions?

It wouldn’t magically erase racism or other forms of societal oppression, but it would create a different way of living that values our humanity in each person. A core problem is the segregation of the United States territory since the arrival of slavery. Our neighborhoods and communities have been designed to separate us and without some means of accounting for that and making changes that don’t further attack or traumatize people, it will be difficult to break down these barriers. Because of this, though, segregation and some of the hard racist attitudes won’t simply disappear. Over time, natural movements of people would change the cultural foundations that have created the world that we live in today.

Workable? possibly with a well thought out structure and agreement between societies. Obviously, this isn’t a blueprint, but more of a concept. Possible? yes, but I wouldn’t pretend that this is more than a thought experiment; it would be exciting to see a demonstration project and it might require a lot if support (and maybe therapy). Would it change the way that we engage with each other? Absolutely, instead of farming out the work of governing and administration, people would be doing themselves with each other. To paraphrase Arizmendiarrieta, “each is responsible for all” or Robert Owens’s slogan “one for each and each for all”. Over time we could create a more human system of governance in which centers on the human being and acknowledges the core solidarity that every human should have with each other.

Abolishing the police ultimately requires us to change the culture and that requires us to re-think how we organize our lives as humans. The European city model is designed to create consumers who interact with other consumer and work to earn money to consume. A different approach could focus on people working together in a democratic community to meet their needs and common aspirations. It would be more work that just consuming in isolation from each other.

A month ago, I would not have conceived of ever seeing what I have seen happen over the last three weeks. This is a time for people to think big, not just practical. To paraphrase an old adage whatever is not impossible, no matter how improbable, is entirely practical.

Posted in American Dream, Human Relations | Leave a comment

How Do We Change the Police?



The rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans. This is a non-comprehensive list of deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. since Eric Garner's death in July 2014.
LA Johnson/NPR
The rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans. This is a non-comprehensive list of deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. since Eric Garner’s death in July 2014.
LA Johnson/NPR

The above image comes from NPR’s Codeswitch and a show entitled “A Decade of Watching Black People Die“. A similar report from The Guardian based on 2016 numbers also notes that people of color are generally significantly more likely to be murdered by police.

Like all of us, the events of the last week since the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer and his accomplices (also Minneapolis police officers), have been heartbreaking, illuminating, infuriating, and demanding of a new paradigm. I have read posts from many people that I know and respect who are in local government wondering how to change this. George Floyd was not the first black man or person of color murdered by police and these demonstrations are not the first time that agent provocateurs have spurred violence to discredit protests. Most of the discussion of political leaders centers on policy and comprehensive plans, but as the adage of one of my favorite management icons notes:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Peter Drucker

We cannot create stronger cities through policy, we need to fundamentally change the culture of how our cities manage the needs of the community. Local elections generally pit those who own property against those who rent property and the property owners almost always win. Seattle, for example, is a very “progressive” city with socialists on its council, but only one member of the council is a renter. Why is this important? I offer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s motif in A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich that has been my true north since reading him in 10th grade:

“A [person] who is warm can never understand a [person] who is freezing.”

Solzhenitsyn

Our cities are built to grow and protect wealth. They are not built to be human places, but economic engines. As long as this is the basis of cities, we will never escape that the role of police “to protect and to serve” is focused on property not humanity. Added to that is the historic culture of the United States that sees certain people as property and completely devalues labor, and the result is a toxic culture. To change the police, we need to fundamentally change the organization of city government.

To do this, the worker co-op movement offers a number of lessons: flattened hierarchy, openness and transparency, and accountability structures that operate in a 360 degree manner. We need to rethink cities as solidarity cooperatives in which the residents control and operate the functions of the city.* Such a model would focus on the needs of the community as opposed to growth and creating business opportunities.

What would this look like in terms of the police? Using sociocracy or dynamic governance as a model, it would create significant community engagement with an entity that today seems, even in the best communities, an occupying military force. The first thing that I would suggest would be to change the name of “police” to something aimed at a community support concept such as “stewards”. A mission statement created by the people who live in the city. A redefinition of the job to focus more on community support and stewardship rather than finding “bad guys”. Imagine an oversight board elected by the community but in a way in which it represents the diversity of the community (the different sociocratic circles appointing a representative) and from this group a Police Leader is elected for a set term, with a representative elected up from the police force. The leader of the police might not have police experience, but great management and empathy skills. A hiring circle made of up civilians and active “stewards” to focus on ensuring that people hired align with the mission of community support.

Of course it can’t be just the police that changes. The idea that the police are a separate and unique part of the local government needs to be destroyed. The role of the police should be equal in power to that of sanitation and transportation. The entire city government needs to divorce itself from hierarchy and adopt a cooperative model of governance and management that combines citizen engagement with the people doing the work. This creates a stronger new culture of community.

Instead of electing a council and managing through an adversarial hierarchical structure, what if the cities were grouped into to circles that aligned voices of the community: a small business circles, a renters circle, a homeowner circle, a houseless circle, demographic circles and , yes, even a landlord circle. From these circles, they could appoint a council circle that would elect an administration circle leader (mayor). This would create a larger council, of course, but it would be one that would bring all of the voices into the actual governance and management of the city.

I am going to end with a quote from Mondragon’s spiritual founder Arizmendiarrieta. He understood that the co-op model could not simply replicate the system of oppression that the workers were attempting to replace. As with Irish rebel James Connolly, who argued in Let Us Free Ireland!” that having an Irish sheriff evict a poor family was cold comfort.

A society that seriously intends to plan the development of human greatness needs to be able to count on a staff of competent persons who are willing to assume positions of high responsibility and quality. This can be accomplished only if these capable people do not demand, as individuals or for their families, a superior level to that of the rest of the people.”

José María Arizmendiarrieta, Pensamientos #468

We can’t fix a problem 400 years in the making through policy and comprehensive plans. We have to fundamentally change the culture and that means changing how our cities govern themselves and prioritize value for the citizens. If all that comes from the protests today are hearing and a couple of convictions, we will all be back here again in short order. We need systemic change in our culture.

*I 100% support city residency requirements for city employees, especially for the police. We don’t need paid mercenaries patrolling our streets.

Posted in American Dream, Conversion, Human Relations, Management, Pensimientos, Reflections | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Solidarity: We Don’t Need to be Perfect

Is there anything in the world of work that at this moment that is required more than unity? And is it possible to consider unity rather than trying identify ourselves with the values that are already universal?

José María Arizmendiarrieta, Reflections

Recently Brian Donovan, a fellow traveller and co-op thinker, wrote about interdependence and the survival of humanity. His article discusses the special need right now for unity across the globe.

In Pendlum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, the authors Roy Williams and Michael Drew discuss a cycle of human behavior and thought that moves from the “Me” to the “We” based on the Strauss-Howe “Generations” or “Fourth Turning” concept. We are a couple years away from the zenith of the current “We” generation (2023). Corresponding times in this concept would be 1940 and 1860. Other years in when the world seemed to be both falling apart and coming together. We are in the moment that Williams describes as “I’m not OK, You’re not OK (we are both broken)” and approaching the zenith (“I’m OK, You’re not OK”). The good news (assuming Williams and Drew are correct), is the the era of 2033-2053 will be “I’m OK, You’re OK (Rainbows and Unicorns): think 1953-1973, marks being half-way down a “we” and half-way up a “me period.

The Pendulum of Generations

The period that we are in, 2013-2033; however, is different. It is one marked by “witch hunts”. Witch hunts (a problematic phrase in its own right) mean dehumanizing people to achieve short-term gains in power and the wealth that comes with it. Williams and Drew predicted the 2012-2033 period as such:

Yes, “working together for the common good” can quickly become self-righteousness. In the words of novelist David Farland, “Men who believe themselves to be good, who do not search their own souls, often commit the worst atrocities. A man who sees himself as evil will restrain himself. It is only when we do evil in the belief that we do good that we pursue it wholeheartedly.”

Of course, we can’t simply wait and hope for the best until 2033. In many ways, this “we” generation has a greater ability destroy itself than any before it. The combined effects of climate change and politicization of the most dangerous pandemic to affect humans in over a hundred years creates a special existential crisis for us.

We need to avoid the temptation to join in the witch hunt, engage in ideological purity, and otherwise dehumanize those we might be in temporary disagreement. Cooperatives operate on a foundation of values and ethics. These values in a worker co-op create a workplace based on human dignity, solidarity, and social responsibility.

I’m not arguing for any of us to ignore bad actors and people seeking to manipulate the genuine fears of people right now for their own power and wealth. Any value based system needs a form of accountability. This begins by creating a culture of communal support (mutual self-help) and transparency. I think that Arizmendi’s argues wrapping ourselves in our values as a means to judge others, defeats the very act of solidarity.

To refer back to Brian’s post on Medium, we as cooperators need to recognize the human even in people with whom we disagree. For those engaging in the unproven hypothesis (sometime pejoratively called “conspiracy theories”), we need to understand the “pull” of those narratives (because the “We” generation is about a strong “pull” while the “Me” is all about the “push”).

Cooperatives offer a different view of the world that is based on mutuality and society. We have a great moment now to act as a “we” that focus on our humanity and prepare for the coming era of “rainbows and unicorns” by building a solid foundation that will create communities that can resist the worst effects of the pendulum (the witch hunts of the “we” and hero worship of the “me”).

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The Weeks of Decades Is Upon Us

The sign of vitality is not to endure, but to be reborn and to be able to adapt.

Don José María Arzimendiarrieta

There are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen.

V.I. Lenin

The worker cooperative community was already having a “moment” before the pandemic hit with all its fury. The aging small business owners were starting to see the value of their employees as potential successors and the offer of worker owned businesses as vehicle for their own ability to retire safely. Efforts to create local cooperative economies sprung up out of Occupy and organizing to build a solidarity economy. One example is Cooperation Jackson (which has strong roots in the Jackson-Kush Plan) but there are many other models to create a version of Mondragón in the US. Symbiosis is a congress of municipal movements bringing many of these local organizations together.

Of course, it is not just the worker co-ops and solidarity economy seeking to make fundamental changes in our society. There are others that also want to make changes that would revert our economy to the era of The Gilded Age. That is why our co-ops and support organizations need to be agile and move quickly. This can be difficult. Part of the difficulty is that many worker co-ops are just trying to survive until they can re-open and until the pandemic dies down enough for people to feel safe in public. There is a level of paralysis that I have seen a result of isolation. Co-op and community development is a face-to-face process at some level. We might be able to have a mass meeting on Zoom, but we lose the humanity of those meetings.

In addition, in some ways we have already been socially distancing ourselves. Part of this is from the use of social media to present “hot takes” with little discussion. A cute meme or picture only feeds into confirmation bias. One of my frustrating issues arises from privacy rules. While those rules are in place to protect us from bad actors, they also make it very difficult to organize. How can you organize a group of people if you have no way of contacting them? Of course, you can use paid advertising and other top-down organizing practices but this is a difficult and expensive process.

As Arizmendiarrieta reminds us, it is not enough to “endure” we must adapt and become re-born.

That all said, the use of technology is providing a moment for national and international connections and development. Next Friday (May 15th), I and many others will be participating in the Worker Co-op Weekend. Normally, this UK event is outside of my orbit, but we can participate this year on-line. Later this fall, the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives will hold their National Worker Co-op Conference on-line. The USFWC also has a number of councils that meet regularly to help people interested in building an economy based on human dignity. Conferences and council meetings, though, are just the beginning. We need to take the energy from those events and others like it and begin putting plans into action.

If you have an idea for a worker co-op, the time to start creating it is now! I have been fielding a number of calls from people who are seizing the moment to create new structures such as a food delivery system in a way that connects small farms, unemployed chefs, unemployed drivers, and consumers. There are co-op development resources available and while it helps to have someone help, people have been creating co-ops for centuries all by themselves. The most important thing is to begin.

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.

Marshall Rosenberg

We are essentially in the chrysalis right now and while the old economic patterns dissolve before out eyes, we need to focus on the work required to emerge as a new and wonderful community.We don’t have decades to build an economy based on the health and well-being of humans and the planet. We have weeks. I hope that when we look back on this era, one of the great stories will be that of the beginning of the Cooperative Century.

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May Day 2020: A Day of Solidarity and Support

Normally, I see May Day as the international workers holiday. It would, in my view, be an international paid holiday where nobody labors and celebrates the value of people. A number of worker co-ops close to celebrate (Rainbow Grocery Co-op and Olympia Food Co-op to name two of them). This year, however, I think that we need a different way to celebrate especially since many workers have been idled and many worker co-ops are struggling to survive.

Celebrate May Day by supporting worker co-ops or co-ops that include workers as owners. Celebrate businesses in your community whose workers are unionized and let those union members know that you have their back.

For the co-ops, do what you can. For instance in Olympia, people can order coffee from Burial Grounds, order a meal from New Moon Café, order a book from or join Orca Books Co-op, support home care workers like Capital Homecare and keep entertainment venues like Le Voyeur on life support. In Astoria, OR, Blue Scorcher Bakery offers incredible bread, chocolate, and more! You can probably google “co-op” to find co-ops in your community but you can also access the US Federation of Worker Co-op’s Directory. The Federation also has a page for co-ops seeking support.

What else can we do? Write a letter to the editor of your paper supporting workers, write/call your elected representatives AND their opponents in the fall election: those on the front lines helping us shelter from the virus and those hoping that they can manage the economic crisis that will follow the virus. Let’s make worker co-ops and worker dignity a major campaign issue this fall.

I say this in all seriousness, but one of the most formative books in my childhood is Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day“. At one point, he proclaims “Everyone is a Worker”

Why Does “Busytown” Love Bernie?

Of course, “almost” everyone is a worker. People who don’t produce, manufacture, provide a service aren’t workers. We need to create an economy that values the workers and the humanity that they represent. People who spend their day to make something of value or provide a service to others are the heros*. Our economy should be built around the value of their humanity.

Can May Day 2020 be the beginning of a new labor movement? A labor movement not divided by credentialism, artificial class divisions* and other systemic systems designed to divide us? I hope so. I think that this is a generational moment. We have a pandemic that cares little for people’s identity and we have had to rediscover the concept of mutual aid and support to manage through it. Perhaps we can keep this energy moving, growing, and creating a new world.

Let’s make this May Day the beginning of a new world.

*people who provide capital stolen over generations from laborers and then extorting contemporary workers (including small business owners) to get access to it are not providing a service. Theft is not in my definition of work.

**imho a “small business” means that the owner works on the line with the people that they hire in addition to managing the business. They may take a draw or a wage, but they are actually working, not idling away on a golf course or beach.

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Help Support Co-op Development

On May 5-6, the Give Big WA event will happen. This is an annual event similar to #GivingTuesday that highlights Washington non-profits and helps them raise funds to continue their mission

I am engaging in a peer-to-peer campaign as well and hoping that 49 people who appreciate the co-op movement, or maybe just like reading my posts on this blog will join me with a $10 donation! So far, I have raised $55 towards my $500 goal. If you donate before the 5th, then our numbers will show up on the page with other early donations on May 5th.

Northwest Cooperative Development Center is hoping to raise $25,000 on this event. Anything from $10-$25,000 will be appreciated!

You don’t have to donate to my page, you can give directly to the NWCDC Page . Those numbers won’t show up until May 5th when the event begins. I would love to see NWCDC get to 10-20% of its goal by May 5th.

Almost everyone I know has benefited from either a co-op or a credit union and these organizations succeed when they do two things: engage with the cooperative community and obtain co-op specific technical assistance. When the pandemic ends, the hard work of rebuilding our economy will begin–in fact it is already starting! Organizations such as NWCDC will be vital to building a resilient economic community. Please join me (and Chuck, Cathy, Kristy)!

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Becoming Human Through Cooperation

“Work is, before anything else, both as a service to the community and as a path towards personal development.”-José María Arizmendiarrieta (reflection 263 from Pensamientos)

As a member of a worker cooperative and as a co-op developer, there are few quotes from Mondragón’s spiritual founder that resonate as much as this one. The quote expresses my lived experience. I have heard people in the co-op community also express this concept such as Tracy Holland Dudzinksi, a founder and long-time president of Cooperative Care in Wautoma, WI. She had a great stump speech entitled the “Mouse that Roared” about her personal growth that came about from being part of the Co-op. But her story is one of many and these stories are what makes the worker co-op model so amazing.

Of course, I think that the concept of “work” that Arizemendiarrieta refers to is work that is meaningful and aligned with human dignity. What is meaningful, to me, can be defined on an individual basis. Turning a crank or working on an assembly line may not seem meaningful to many, while being a transplant surgeon might; however, the task doesn’t make the work meaningful. If the assembly worker enjoys their work, has a voice in the planning and operations, has a work environment that encourages collaboration, it is meaningful.

At Union Cab, I saw people change as they become more involved with the management and governance of the cooperative. For some, it may have been a natural progression in their lives as people who grew up in privileged communities (like I did) and they may have had a predilection to moving into leadership positions, but for others, especially in the working class world of cab driving, the co-op model provides a paradigm shift. People change because they are suddenly in an environment that values them as human beings, not as a means to generate profit.

As a developer, I see the paradigm shift happen with conversion projects and it is amazing. One group that I worked with had a fair amount of fear about how they would manage. The sellers were in a horrible cash flow battle (it wasn’t dangerous, but it wasn’t healthy). However, once the workers took over the shop, their productivity spiked and suddenly the cash flow problems disappeared. Something happens to people when they quit being an “employee” and become an equal member of an organization. We, as a movement, should create a word for it!

At the same time, it is also interesting to watch people who were the principal owners change as well, almost always for the better. The reduced stress and the realization that they can now explore other paths in their life is remarkable. A sense of ease comes over them.

I spoken mainly about the existential shift that occurs at the moment of becoming a member. However, another important part of the quote refers to the nature of co-managing that develops new skills with people. People are perfectly capable of managing themselves and do not need professionals (or a boss) to do it. I imagine that most people reading this, already believe that statement, but many don’t. Many business owners believe that their employees could never manage the business–this is actually one of the reasons why business owners don’t sell to their workers.

Worker co-ops give people the opportunity to learn new skills and develop their perspective. This isn’t just about reading spreadsheets, it is also about creating relationships, building communication skills, and developing empathy. Engaging in a democratic workplace helps people become more engaged citizens in their communities (adding a second meaning to the “service to the community” concept expressed in the quote).

Worker co-ops benefit the community by creating jobs at a living wage or better in a safe, humane, and democratic environment. This model benefits the community not just through better compensation but also through acknowledging and enhancing the humanity of its members, which creates a cascade effect through the community served by the cooperative.

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The Resilience Doctrine

My good friend, Dr. Zoltán Grossman, just posted these videos from his contribution the “Pandemic Academy”. If you share, please give him credit. . .

The Resilience Doctrine: Disaster Cooperativism in the Climate & Pandemic Crises (Part I: Individualism & Community)

The Evergreen State College in Olympia WA is holding a “Pandemic Academy” lecture series in spring quarter 2020. On April 7, Dr. Zoltán Grossman (Member of the Faculty in Geography and Native Studies) here presented “The Resilience Doctrine: Disaster Cooperativism in the Climate and Pandemic Crises,” as two narrated powerpoint presentations. This Part I (26.5 min.) examines the question of “Individualism vs. Community” (https://youtu.be/9iP-HCloTPs ) and Part II (31.5 min.) looks at “State Authority vs. Mutual Aid” (https://youtu.be/dlIR8UVoN9g). Links that appeared in the presentations are available at https://sites.evergreen.edu/zoltan/The-Resilience-Doctrine Please feel free to share the videos, and comment here or on on the youtube channel.

The Resilience Doctrine: Disaster Cooperativism in the Climate & Pandemic Crises (Part II: State Authority & Mutual Aid)

Dr. Grossman holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Wisconsin. His expertise is in political/cultural geography and Indigenous Studies, and he twice co-taught “Catastrophe: Community Resilience in the Face of Disaster.” He was co-editor of Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis (Oregon State University Press, 2012) and author of Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands (University of Washington Press, 2017). His faculty website is at https://sites.evergreen.edu/zoltan

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Get Ready for the Recovery

“The old temptation of Esau, who sold his birthright for a plate of beans, is something that is something that is constantly being offered to people. Workers, with their hope and right to a new order, have the same temptation in front of them: the options to obtaining immediate advantage.”–Don J. M. Arizmendiarrieta

It may not feel like it, depending on where you live, but the efforts to flatten the curve have begun to take effect although as a friend of mine, The Evergreen State College professor Zoltan Grossman points out, there is still a long way to go: “Even if the slope has become a little less steep, the toughest part is still ahead, when we’ll be most out of breath—figuratively and literally. We’re not yet at the top, the point of maximum human suffering, and only then will we start to descend on the other side, and it will take a while to go down.”

Nevertheless, co-op people, and especially those of us working with co-op people need to think ahead to when the stay at home orders get lifted and the rubble of the economy can have our full attention. As Naomi Klein documented so well in Shock Doctrine, not planning for the recovery now may allow the worst aspects of humanity to jump into the void to seek their advantage. The vulture capitalist class likely already has a plan.

As the quote suggests, of course, people are in a tough position and it may be tempting to take the short term hand-out ($1,200) instead of pressing for change. We need to be formulating plans to help workers buy their companies as co-ops (not ESOPs). We need to create new financial instruments to help homeowners collectively buy their homes as limited equity co-ops not condos. Most importantly, we need to be ready for the next time–we need to create solidarity funds wherever we can create them.

Our CDFIs that service co-ops could dedicate a percentage of the interest to a solidarity fund that would protect those with existing loans. Co-op networks such as the US Federation, NCBA/CLUSA, NCG* could build funds into their membership program through their dues structure and our insurance mutuals could provide a backstop for extreme once-in-a-century events (like a global pandemic that forces 1/2 of the world’s population to shelter-in-place).

More importantly, though, we need to create some messaging for our co-op members and workers in the non-coop workers, that this is, despite how horrible it may seem, a moment of opportunity to change our economy to one that values human life and a dignified workplace. There will be all sorts of calls to “return to normal”, but I don’t recall that “normal” was all that great. The siren call will be that people need to enjoy life again and get back into nightclubs, restaurants, and the beaches. I agree, and our messaging should reflect that urge. We just should argue that those venues could be cooperatively owned and managed.

The last pandemic on this scale was the 1918 Flu. It also occurred as the most horrific war to that point in human history came to an end. It shouldn’t surprise people that the 1920s became a decade of hedonism that led to a global depression and a war even more horrific than World War I. But that wasn’t the only story. The labor movement gained new life: three general strikes in Toledo, OH, Minneapolis, MN, and San Francisco, CA led to a rebirth of the radical and industrial labor movement. The Harlem Renaissance revived the push for civil and human rights for African-Americans. The decade wasn’t just gambling on the stock market and speakeasys. Unfortunately, the structurally unsound foundations of the system remained intact.

For the last decade, the Co-op community has been saying that this is “our moment”. Now, more than ever, it is our opportunity to claim our moment and make it an era. We can replace the foundation with a solid cooperative model. Between the retiring small business owners and the pressure of the pandemic, there has never been a time to engage in wholesale change of the economic system. To do so, we need to keep true to our values and avoid short-term solutions to long-term problems.

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