Beginning a Thousand Mile Journey

Let’s forget about tomorrow. Not because, as the song goes, it never comes, but because the election that happens tomorrow will have little effect on the worker co-ops of 2040 (or even 2011 for that matter).

We need to think about our journey. I want to thank Mike for his generous comments and hope that other will join in once the election cycle ends and people can begin thinking again without the screeching of the 24 hour news cycle.

If you believe in a better world, a more sustainable world–a world in which the work of humans (and the human doing the work) has value and receives value from their community, then tomorrow is a day to feed your inner political junkie, but the day after tomorrow is a day to continue the journey that we have been on since the rise of Adam Smith.

Our movement is a movement of small steps with occasional leaps and bounds. A vision of our movement in 2040, whatever it may be, begins with how we all act tomorrow. Some of these steps can be easy, some will take some effort. All will take a focus on the larger vision: creating a co-operative world.

What steps can you take to reach that world?

1. Exchange your CD with a bank (or even a credit union) and invest it in the Northcountry Co-operative Development Fund’s Worker Ownership Fund–or if you are a bit more flush, just invest.

2. Make a point of introducing yourself to your Alderperson and other local officials. Let them know how important your co-operative is to you and the community.

3. If you really want to get wonky, follow the planning commission for your community, attend their meetings and interject your beleifs on co-operatives.

4. Shop co-op whenever possible.

These are only a few small steps, but the hardest part of changing the world is getting out of bed and choosing to do it. It has been said that if we don’t know where we want to go, any road will do. However, even if we do know where we want to go, we need to recognize that we will likely have to build the road as we travel.

Together, we can get there.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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3 Responses to Beginning a Thousand Mile Journey

  1. Thanks for another solid post in the right direction, John.

    Among the great ideas you mention, I know of similar options similar to the CD you cite. Equal Exchange in Massachussetts has made arrangements with a local bank for a CD. I also had kept in mind NCB, the National Co-op Bank, based in Ohio, though I was surprised when I approached their office in New York. In the Big Apple, they deal with other types of business, I learned to some dismay. Still, their Ohio office seems to be true to their mission to a significant degree, with a food co-op start up program and a video online at one of the sites.

    For anybody who still wants to experiment with the stock market’s Russian roulette,
    Green Century Mutual Funds was started by the non-profit PIRG’s, originally founded by Ralph Nader. They do some great shareholder meeting activism, and have managed to stay in the game for years now.
    I don’t want to wrap this point up without mentioning credit unions. There is so much hope in CU’s that Ralph Nader himself wrote an article on them following the 2008 crash. See Counterpunch’s website.
    As for political representatives, I was interested to find that Richard Gephardt of MO wrote a book, An Even Better Place, a little more than a decade ago which talks about the stakeholder issue. He doesn’t get too radical, but goes further than most.
    A strong point of reference is the health care issue, which never gave due respect to the health care co-op model. Still, the NYT did mention it with a backhanded title, while a WI journal did a great job. “Professor Hoyt said she had been a member of the Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin since 1985, and she reported that “the care is excellent.”” At least one of the North Dakota Senators had taken up the cause.

    Don’t forget the hardboiled economists: Ann Hoyt at UWI Madison (and her 2009 co-report on Coops at, David Ellerman at UC Davis, Mark Lutz at U Maine, and Noreena Hertz of U Cambridge (referenced at socprof’s blog here:

    I just got a look at the Hoyt et al report, which aims to support co-op research, and want to follow up on that.

    Maybe some of this info can give more of us a boost out of bed in the morning.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I am a member of Group Health Co-op and can attest to the level of care (my primary care provider even serves on the board which gives me some great access to the governance structure). EE, Willy St. Coop in Madison, and other have started the P6 idea: essentially creating co-op to co-op business relationships. Of course, we also need to change our culture in the US and start being willing to think a bit bigger. The food co-ops have started to come together about pricing and purchasing strategy.

    My comment about the NCDF’s Worker Ownership Fund is a bit pointed. I worry that we will create 20 different small tiny funds that end up doing little bits here and there but never being able to pull the weight to meet our competitors on their scale. As the Food for Thought Coop (and Rainbow in Madison) are recognizing, the industry is changing in the US. Being small might still work for some industries today, but for how long? To be able to grow worker co-ops in both number and size, we need capital and we need to raise it ourselves. Consolidating funds into one worker ownership fund instead of a dozen seems a more strategic way to build that capital.

    Ross Perot famously argued in 1992 that we can’t all serve each other hamburgers for an economy. To have a sustaianable economy, we need to create real jobs (not just in the service sector). We need to start making things again. This will take capital and scale in order to bring it to reality.

  3. Wow, nice to hear about the health co-op membership (also)…. and your experience there, John. That reminds me that I´ve harbored a secret plan to organize credit unions to jump start health co-ops. They´ve got an international association based in the US I believe, no less. The NCBA had some sort of an info sheet on the subject. I think your P6 reference might have been intended with a similar idea in mind. Is that right?

    The thoughts you´re having about the NCDF WOF are very interesting. One thought I´m having about the subject of local-national operations is perhaps inherent in the distributed networking model. I think credit unions may work in that way, with their own deposits, but with associated entities among themselves. I think Nader makes some references to them in his piece at Counterpunch. NCB, on the other hand, was definitely created by an Act of Congress, thanks to the late John Logue and others, I believe. I´m a little wary of their corporate style, and they certainly are involved with the higher revenue co-ops with their top 100, including the Pentagon Credit Union….
    As for Food for Thought, I am reminded of NYC´s Bluestocking book co-op. I know they have a modest ad-hoc cafe set up, and have diverse presentations almost nightly. I never thought to check if they were involved with university book orders, but they certainly hadn´t attained much of a formal style, and so perhaps have not been so involved. I know a nearby Food Co-op, survivor of the 1970s, had for some time a privileged rent status, that has changed to some degree last I knew. I think the natural food sector, especially with its co-op participants, offers a great basis for creating partnerships. Bluestockings was already offering a few natural items at their cafe last time I was there.
    I like that Perot comment. You know, for example, I was looking for shoemaking equipment on line, and got the impression its pretty scattered and few and far between. I did find one next to the food co-op in the East Village, though it was oriented towards custom-made high-end customers. I´m in Brazil now, and have found artisan levels somewhat less compromised, but consumerism is still very dominant and growing. I suspect that the Amish might be keepers of some artisan industrial flames.

    One situation that occurred to me was finding the new launch of Steaz green tea sodas and Honest Tea. The Honest Tea founder was a college friend of mine, incidentally. In any case, both have had some success and promote Fair Trade and organic certification through their product. My background in the psychological discipline tells me that money is only incidental in a sub-cultural shift to artesenal production. However, because many people orient themselves around capital, the concentrated sources of conventional capital might be one way for some people to strategize. Start baking cookies and selling them to the health food stores, for example, where the corporate office workers have found some hope and consumer satisfaction. Once the food business is off the ground, consider investing some funds into, say, shoemaking. Adbusters Magazine has had some relation to a group starting the “Black Spot” canvas sneaker, made in a Portuguese co-op factory, as I recall. Their choice tells an interesting story, I think. In Michael Moore´s first film, he turns to Nike´s founder begging for a Nike plant in Flint. He almost got it. I´d say that funds and training could be solicited for a non-corporate start up. The Onion humor news once whipped up an article about a disgruntled auto worker starting his own automaking company. In principle and potential, I think the idea is right on. I´ve located myself in southern Latin America where I´m still trying to make my way through all of the structural wiring along these lines.

    Incidentally, the Wisconsin journal article for health coops is at

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