Response to Phan Nguyen
To the Editor:
My candidacy for the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors is indeed “peculiar,” though not strange, eccentric, or bizarre as Phan Nguyen suggests by his article’s title (“The Peculiar Candidacy of Nancy Koppelman,” Works in Progress, October 2013, Vol. 24, No. 6). My candidacy is peculiar because it is particular and unique. I’m not a fool: I knew I would become the target of efforts, like those of Nguyen, to discredit me. Nguyen finds my viability as a candidate for the Co-op Board controversial. So be it. Our differences can highlight and test the values of the Olympia Food Co-op where, over the last 30 years, I have been a member, a working member, and a member of the Board of Directors, and where my cherished loved ones have served on the staff.
In free societies, people can safely criticize institutions to which they belong and from which they benefit. For example, Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement, holds a Master’s degree from Tel Aviv University. TAU is a prestigious institution (ranked 56th in the world by the Center for World University Rankings) in the country whose very existence Barghouti calls into question. Amid fervent calls to expel him, university officials defended his rights, a move which Barghouti criticized as weakening the energies of his own movement. Yet Barghouti did not quit school to protest the university’s protection of his rights and, when asked, refused to justify his graduate education in Israel. “Peculiar” can take many forms.
Democracy breeds controversy, and controversy tests democracy. Although communities sometimes fail to meet the highest standards of democracy, values associated with self-rule require people to see beyond one of its lowest: the powerful passions of the moment. They can help people aspire toward the difficult goal of collective self-governance, which still eludes the Olympia Food Co-op.
On July 15, 2010, the ten members of the Co-op’s Board of Directors who attended its monthly meeting made the Co-op, and so all its members, join the BDS movement. Like every other Co-op member, I am free to question that decision. After the Board essentially ignored criticisms from hundreds, the lawsuit was undertaken soberly and seriously. As Nguyen notes, the plaintiffs sought help. Some of the organizations that offered help advocate for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Some voices on the political left criticize this affiliation. Yet compromise of this kind is not unique to the plaintiffs. In their reply to the plaintiffs’ brief opposing the strike, the defendants cited Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to support their right to make the Co-op join the BDS movement: as board members of a corporation, they claimed, they enjoy the privilege of “corporate personhood.” The awful truth came out: when push came to shove, those members of the Co-op’s Board of Directors were more than willing to trump the Co-op’s longstanding identity as a cooperative dedicated to community and consensus decision-making. They mobilized their legal status as the tip of a corporate pyramid, as any other corporate board can. In so doing, they yoked themselves to Citizens United, an organization whose president produced a film lambasting the Occupy Movement. The Citizens United decision deeply betrays democracy, among other values for which the Co-op allegedly stands. Controversy not only tests democracy; it can make strange bedfellows.
Yet that’s democracy for you. Thoughtful and empathetic Olympians on all sides of the issue know that the boycott deeply hurt our community. And the wounds are still there. To engage with the Co-op by running for the Board of Directors is to be an active, engaged, and committed Co-op member. To run openly as a critic of the boycott is indeed peculiar, because it is rare. Yet it honors the best processes that the Co-op has always stood for. Nguyen belittles the standard of “process.” Yet process is usually fundamental to justice worthy of the name, and certainly is essential for the values associated with self-rule to be honored, whatever the outcome.
Proud of our Co-op
Dear Works in Progress,
The idea that someone involved in suing the Olympia Food Co-op would run for the Co-op board is ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than the lawsuit itself—or the fact that the plaintiffs now want the Co-op to pay the fine that they incurred for suing the Co-op.
The irony is not lost that the same people who claimed that the Israeli boycott would destroy both the Co-op and Israel are now trying to destroy the Co-op themselves. Nor is the irony lost that by suing the Co-op over the boycott, they have effectively cemented the boycott in place—having prevented the board from making any changes to the boycott while a lawsuit remains hanging over their heads.
It’s about time that these people take responsibility for their own actions, rather than blaming everyone else for their feeling “unsafe.” The boycott is not about them. It’s about recognizing that Palestinians deserve equal rights—and it is shameful that some people in our community can’t accept that.
I am proud of our Co-op, and I am proud that it is honoring the Palestinian boycott call and taking a stand for human rights.
An invitation to be involved
I come from a community in Arizona that has had a long tradition of supporting just causes through non-violent protests, gathering to hold signs on street corners, traveling to legislative offices, and even a little monkey-wrenching on the side. This little town in the northern mountains (named Flagstaff, although I never really liked the name) has had one newspaper, the Daily Sun (a Pulliam Press business) as its only local news media. In the 80’s, a group of us worked to establish an alternative paper for our community—that offered a voice to those who were often silenced, and were certainly not supported by the mainstream media, whether it was paper or TV. And we had it–for a very short while. But then, as often happens with good ideas, lack of funding took us down.
Today, I am blessed to live in a community that has its own alternative press, and has had for many years. Olympia has been graced with the hard work and dedication of many people who have kept it alive. Works In Progress has served Olympia and the surrounding area with news reporting and editorials that step outside the box. It has upheld its mission to “provide a voice for those most affected by the exclusionary and unfair practices that seek to silence the oppressed.” And even more than that, it has been, and is becoming even more, a center for education on what is happening locally—giving visibility to those in our community who are doing the good work of peace and justice.
I have been writing for Works In Progress for almost a year now, appreciating the encouragement I have received to share my talents and learn more about this amazing place in which I live. I now write this letter as an invitation to all individuals and organizations in this oh-so-progressive part of the world, to offer up your own news. Find the writers in your group who want to offer up their services. Submit articles, no matter how long or short, on what good work you are doing. Be whistle blowers. Share what you are learning. We are all in this together, and it is only together that we can bring forth the loving, fair, and conscious world we all yearn for.