In response to the recent letters about consumer cooperatives: The cooperative movement has experienced a lot of pressure from the capitalist system. Whenever the market for a commodity that a cooperative is providing becomes large enough, large corporations move in to capture a significant portion of that market. People are not informed enough about the reasons for creating and sustaining a cooperative economic system, and a majority yield to the convenience and perceived lower prices provided by capitalistic corporations. Many cooperatives have gone under as a result.
Cooperatives have responded by becoming more and more like the corporations that are capturing their markets. Instead of expanding education and outreach to maintain a dedicated ownership core and emphasizing their democratic basis and community spirit, cooperatives have tended to reduce spending in “nonproductive” areas that do not directly increase profitability—thus reducing direct owner-involvement in “operational” decisions. In other words, decisions that directly affect owners’ shopping experiences in their own store are decisions over which they have the least control. For instance, while the owners of a food co-op could vote to have a salad bar, this will not necessarily lead to the store’s having a salad bar. Such a decision is considered operational, and the co-op board might not create a policy related to the creation of a salad bar, nor direct the store’s general manager to abide by the ownership’s decision.
The capitalistic economic model is destroying the Earth’s ecosystems. We need an economic model with a bottom line that includes the health of the people, our communities and our planet. Everyone reading this can help bolster and create an economic model where the bottom line is our community. We can do this by participating in alternative institutions and encouraging them to work toward a more participatory governance model that meets the needs of the community. Rather than continuing to support and patronize capitalistic corporate entities, if more and more people—like you—become owners of and involved in cooperative institutions like the French Broad Food Co-op, the Haywood Road Market and the Hendersonville Community Co-op, these institutions will become more responsive to our participation. Otherwise, we may lose the chance that they represent to move toward an economic system that puts people before profit.
If you are an owner of the French Broad Food Co-op, now is a crucial time to become involved. A committee has been formed to look at the bylaws and make them clearer and more understandable. Bylaws can help our board to be more responsive to ownership decisions if they make clear the role of the ownership within the decision-making process. Many perspectives need to be represented in this process. Our bylaws need to reflect desires and input from all segments of the co-op community. Various levels of involvement will be available. I encourage you to participate. For more info contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 277-0758.
— Cicada Brokaw