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Reclaiming our economy and livelihoods through the creation of cooperatives

Co-op education and workshop sessions to be held in Downtown Olympia
by John Baldridge

In the context of recurring economic crises at home and around the world, an increasing number of people seek an alternative to the unstable, uncertain and, ultimately, amoral system that many call “late-stage capitalism.” What economic alternatives could provide for community needs in a more stable, just, and equitable manner? Are there any practical alternatives in the “here and now” that we could embrace locally, which would genuinely help move our society toward greater economic justice and sustainability for the many, rather than the increasingly few? The search for answers, in recent years, has led to a new resurgence of interest in democratic economic models, including cooperatives.

Most people in Olympia know that cooperative businesses are part of our community. The venerable Oly Food Co-op has, perhaps, the highest profile, along with Group Health Cooperative, which provides healthcare services to thousands. But fewer people know about the numerous other cooperatives in our region, and even those few might be hard pressed to explain exactly what cooperatives are and how they function, much less how and why people start one.

The organizers of the June 1-2, 2012 conference, Creating Cooperatives: Reclaiming Our Economy & Livelihood, hope to change that through a series of workshops, seminars, and presentations, aimed at raising public awareness of the multiple ways cooperatives can serve community needs and simultaneously promote a socially just economy. The conference will also help galvanize support for the development of new cooperatives locally.

This year’s conference on cooperatives in Olympia reflects the growing importance of cooperative businesses and organizations worldwide, a phenomenon which has prompted the United Nations to declare 2012 the “International Year of Cooperatives.” Not only do cooperatives tend to weather economic crises more successfully than traditional businesses, co-ops also help to ensure that the economic benefits of business circulate in the local communities they serve because they are owned and operated by the people who work for them. And unlike traditional local businesses, where a private owner can hire or fire people at will, cooperatives bring democracy into the workplace, allowing for innovative democratic solutions to economic challenges, which go beyond “downsizing” or “selling out.”

The June 1-2 conference will be a public forum, open to all, for learning how cooperatives already serve our communities and how the cooperative model can be supported and expanded in our region and beyond. In keeping with the spirit of the “International Year of Cooperatives,” the 2012 conference in Olympia will be hosting guests from the Venezuelan cooperative, CECOSESOLA, which provides social services the people in its region. Over the past decade, the Venezuelan cooperative sector has grown enormously, bringing goods, services, and jobs to hundreds of thousands, in areas from agriculture to medicine, from grocery stores to public schools and print shops. The CECOSESOLA members will be offering workshops and seminars around the cooperative experience in Venezuela, the challenges they have faced, and the solutions they have discovered. Bi-lingual interpreters will translate during these sessions, so that all may be included. The conference organizers see this as an additional opportunity to build solidarity between Spanish and English speaking people in our local communities.

Creating Cooperatives: Reclaiming Our Economy & Livelihood will take place on June 1-2, 2012 in Olympia and will include multiple opportunities to learn about and participate in local cooperative development. Co-op education and workshop sessions will be held at multiple locations in Downtown Olympia and nearby locations. These sessions will include: “Co-ops 101” (an introduction to cooperatives), “Creating a Culture of Consensus,” “Cooperative Movement in Venezuela,” and “Conflict in a Democratic Workplace,” just to name a few. Look for fliers and posters in Downtown Olympia in the next month for further information, and visit http://www.one-world.org/olycoop2012 for updates to the schedule, including locations and times. Please send email inquiries to olycoop2012@one-world.org. We hope that you join us for this unique opportunity to explore and learn about democratic, sustainable economic development.

This conference is a joint effort of the Olympia Food Co-op, the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, The Evergreen State College, the Flaming Eggplant Cooperative, CECOSESOLA, and other cooperative partners. The author, John Baldridge, is a member of the faculty at The Evergreen State College and a member of the Olympia Food Co-op.

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