New tradition: thanks locally
At the farmers market or a co-op, I'm thankful for wonderful food and the hardworking producers who supply it. And when working I am gratified to be associated with cooperatives that help spread an appreciation of farmers and of food. Despite all the competition food co-ops face, quite often they are simply the best sources for quality products, trustworthy enterprise, and support of a healthier food system.
Cooperatives have earned that public trust, and they are expanding on it and their market position by attending to multiple bottom lines: excellent service and profitability, member education and adhering to cooperative principles, supporting sustainable agriculture, and more. Co-ops can and do help their members to be thankful for good food and to understand what threatens our food supply. Is your co-op doing its part, sharing the bounty of soil and sea as well as addressing the ongoing disaster of industrial agriculture? "Those in positions of power consider the collapse of rural America as a necessary and inevitable result of a global economy. From their point of view it would be counterproductive to reduce the suffering or mitigate the effects, let alone reverse the policies.
"Multinational corporations assume that we won't make the effort to buy food directly from local producers or look for retailers who do so. Without competition, the corporations can pay farmers as little as they choose and charge us whatever they want. By the time we decide prices are too high and start looking for the farmers, they may be gone." (from "Embattled farmers: 1776 and 2003," by Jody Aliesan, director of the Farmland Fund, writing in the November 2003 PCC Sound Consumer)
In addition to all the fine work by food co-ops around these issues, we have many good allies. Co-ops can use their people and resources to strengthen these alliances. Together, we can help change one of our country's most entrenched and abusive systems of production, carried out at the expense of social justice and environmental stewardship.
And since public policy and funding are key to securing the gains made on local ground, I want to especially recommend our allies at the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. These folks, whose appeal appears in this edition, continue to work hard for fulfillment of policy support for a new direction in agriculture--support that often is promised but then delayed or denied when out of the public eye.
...and thanks globally
Local farmers live all over the globe, and personal and cooperative buying practices and education make a difference to them as well (see the previous edition's Fair Trade material). Again, I am thankful for the bounty of our world and the hardworking producers and laborers who harvest it and share it.
But the same corporate players and their government allies who are wreaking havoc on the American rural lives and landscapes are carrying out that agenda globally. Resistance by farmers and their advocates takes forms such as cooperatives, organizing the landless, union organizing, Fair Trade, and more. These are our allies. Thanks, then, to the unnamed millions of working people who are furthering a democratic agenda, an agenda based on sharing and a recognition of limits rather than on accumulation of wealth; and thanks for cooperatives, a means to a more democratic future.
Is there a co-op connection to peace, sustainability, and the defense of democracy? While some cooperators question that notion, to me and to many the connections are obvious. We all live in one world, don't we? Cooperatives are a means to democratically control wealth, and the cooperative principles are an evolving, formalized counter to class warfare.
Besides much for which to be thankful, in this wealthiest of nations, the successor to earlier empires, we have much reason to anticipate a more difficult future. As has been said lately, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention!" We now have a facade democracy, one with extreme divisions of wealth and declining security for most, a heavily propagandized public and an increasingly overt police state for those who don't go along, a ruling group rushing to secure profits through extremely reckless and destructive means, and environmental disasters growing all around (a recent example: areas of Iraq permanently poisoned with radioactivity).
In this edition's story from Co-op Kanagawa, a large consumer co-op in Japan, it is poignant to read the final line to an impressive annual report: the co-op offers a contribution to UNICEF and a plea for world peace. Having seen up close the consequences of modern war, the Japanese cooperators understand the connection.
And why are the consumer cooperatives so large there? Yes, Japanese society is older and more cohesive than the thin soil of American culture. But remember that in 1945 their empire and economy had been destroyed, and the cooperatives founded then were the best way to meet essential food needs and to serve everyone. Recall also the Italian devastation and post-war cooperative rebirth, described in the previous edition of CG (Nov.-Dec. 2003).
Cooperatives not only are living examples of democratic culture, with millions around the world engaged in enterprise under the same principles. Cooperatives also are important because they make possible a better future. Soon they will be needed more than ever. Someday, after immense pain, our fascist warring empire too will be broken and floundering, the landscape damage widespread and impossible to cover up, and the need to take care of everyone cooperatively and democratically will return to the forefront.