Self-Help and Grit City

grit cityOne of the key concepts of cooperation is the value of Self-Help. At some level, this means that if you don’t like your options in the market, create a co-op to meet your needs. Co-ops exist to meet the needs of the members, so if your co-op isn’t doing that, then maybe it is time for you and like-minded members to start a new co-op. This ties into Albert Hirschman’s concept of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. People can, and we see this everyday, vote with their feet. I was even heard that the history of Amish expansion is based precisely on this model. Every new Amish community is the result of dissatisfaction with the elders of an existing Amish community. I think that this works for the co-op community as well.

Grit City Co-op arose out of frustration with the sudden closing of the the Tacoma Food Co-op, which had just recently merged with Central Co-op of Seattle. The members felt, and I don’t think that I am being too strong here, betrayed by the promises of Seattle. The very name Grit City espouses an effort by Tacomans to reclaim their dignity and fierceness. This article explains the meaning behind the name “Grit City” but as the article puts out, here is the TL/DR version:

“Through the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Tacoma was regularly described as “gritty” by outsiders. The word was used as an insult until 2003 when Peter Callaghan wrote a column that explained the alternate definition of the word “grit.” His column inspired Sonja Silver to make some shirts that said Gritty Tacoman across the front and it grew in popularity from there. It also has nothing to do with boiled cornmeal.”

The article also begins with a definition of Grit;
“GRIT

/grit/ noun

  1. small loose particles of stone or sand
  2. courage and resolve; strength of character; firmness of mind or spirit”

Personally, I LOVE gritty cities. It is why we moved to Olympia. It is what I love about Shelton and Aberdeen. It is what I used to love about Madison. Gentrification gets rid of the grittiness and the soul of the community with it.

Grit City Co-op is still raising funds to open their storefront. It is a process, of course, but Tacoma definitely is big enough for two co-ops. The promise of Grit City is to be a community for Tacoma. It is about the courage and resolve of what makes Tacoma.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op 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. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the late, great Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle for Sociocracy for All. He has taught on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College and Presidio Graduate School.
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