"Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore."
Better co-op stores and stronger regional and national co-op associations are gratifying results based on years of groundwork. Each year the reports of the Cooperative Grocers Associations and their national programs have been impressive, each year more developed and rewarding.
Great results from intensive groundwork also describes the newly launched .coop Internet address, which signifies internationally the shared values and principles of cooperatives (see p. 3). As a recent announcement from our national co-op trade organization explained:
"The .coop domain will not only relieve space in the crowded .com field, it will give cooperatives the opportunity to develop an online global identity and differentiate themselves as member-owned businesses that consumers can trust," said Paul Hazen, president and CEO of dotCoop, the sponsor of the new domain and a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Cooperative Business Association.
Shared programs and the ongoing development of co-ops are responses to changing, and more challenging, market conditions. We have a long way to go in spreading cooperative enterprise, plenty of reason to keep hard at work.
But the threads joining food cooperatives are not only found in increasing and fruitful collaboration among them. Food retailing as well as cooperative values and principles link co-ops to larger, urgent social issues. Readers know what those issues are: public health, food quality and food security, protecting farms and protecting natural resources, agricultural subsidies and international relations, democracy and sharing versus unaccountable power and concentrated wealth.
Members and the public need the leadership of cooperatives if they are to learn about and act on issues such as these. Fortunately, on nearly every issue the means to protest as well as the means to alternative practice are available.
Examples are at hand: see the article on the alarming spread of genetically engineered foods; or the column on important potential victories in the farm bill, a huge legislative package affecting all of the abovementioned issues.
Another example of a link between food co-ops and the global agenda is a threatened restriction of natural therapies and of most dietary supplements from sources other than pharmaceutical corporations. The latter companies supply nearly all of the many representatives to the UN's Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is creating binding global trade rules for health supplements. The Commission has no representatives from the public or the health care industry and only one from consumer organizations. (For more information about Codex, see http://www.tradewatch.org).
Move your cooperative to fulfill cooperative values; contribute to education and leadership in defense of your members and your community.
Recently I learned that food co-op leaders had named building community the most important theme for this year's CCMA conference (see p. 6). That is a noteworthy choice, for "building community" not only addresses what many feel is most needed in our society, it reiterates the seventh cooperative principle and evokes the larger cooperative agenda.
Building community offers a road to security. The felt absence of security, or pervasive fear, has been growing since last fall, when the bubble many Americans live in was pricked. Lacking strong local and national communities, many people follow the leader on the other road to security: building the walls higher, making the armaments more powerful. Even though this defensive/aggressive stance is familiar and is powerfully dominant, it is ultimately self-destructive. (This shock of recognition, source of the once popular song line in my title, was widespread for a period after our earlier Asian war.)
In a time of much corruption and confusion, offering a simple moral progression may be excused: Mutual aid, or helping one another, is not merely desireable, it is the bedrock of why we are here. The cooperative mission is to realize such mutual aid through member-owned enterprise embodying cooperative values and principles that are internationally shared. Values such as solidarity and caring are crippled if they are not extended beyond national borders.
Presently, panic and profiteering are reinforcing a direction that undermines greater cooperation and community. This country needs trusted organizations and forums that offer a path other than the road to hell the American nation is lurching down. We need talk about how taking care of everyone and our environment -- not rhetorically but really -- is the appropriate response to declining security.
As our concrete program evolves, the cooperative vision needs continuing re-examination and restatment. At the same time, opposition to institutions and policies that threaten our mission and values needs to be clearly, publicly stated. That will take solid preparation and may also require what can be described as courage.
Co-op members and staff need more than an opportunity to buy and sell groceries. In your co-op's educational work and community leadership, pursuing in depth any of the issues arising from food in America will lead to disturbing information and can be an impetus to action. Careful presentation of real damage that is being done and of proposals for community action can be persuasive to many.