By Ken Stern 

Cooperating all the time, everywhere

From the editor—


November 1, 2023

October was National Co-op Month, the annual celebration of this alternative way to engage with each other in our business dealings and thus as people in relationship with each other.

National Co-op Month offers the time to reflect on and promote a more humane and sustainable way of living.

The 2023 theme, “Owning Our Identity,” is, its champions write, “a chance to lift up what makes cooperative businesses unique in the marketplace. Guided by a set of shared principles and values – among them democracy, equity and solidarity – co-ops are hardwired for economic and societal transformation.”

This year co-ops – owned equally by their members, with each member-owner having one voting share – are encouraged to look at internal policies, practices and relationships. Another co-op organization writes: “As communities tire of rhetoric, cooperatives are creating the meaningful diversity and equity at the heart of an inclusive economy.”

There is too much harsh rhetoric in every aspect of the public sphere. There is way too much combative, competitive rhetoric, meanspirited and unhelpful words that divide us within our communities as well as nationally and internationally. The theme of this year’s co-op month is a chance to own our societal identities, the collective persona we aspire to live into, whether as residents of Skagit County or of the United States.

Belonging to co-ops challenges its owner members to do more than be conscientious consumers. Co-op members are resting on the laurels and the hard work of staff and their boards of directors if they are satisfied with higher quality products and services, humane treatment of staff and perhaps reasonable pricing.

Co-ops are significant because their institutional structure demands – that is, requires –the democratic control of electing the leadership that sets policies and is fiscally responsible. The ownership shares disbursed equally among all members is democratic but also obligates equity. And co-ops contribute to healthier communities when boards drive inclusiveness and solidarity into operational policies that staff carry out.

Co-ops reach toward inclusion when they make operational the principles of cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community. Institutionally and individually, our local communities and society at large benefit when we cooperate and share, when we show concern for our larger community beyond the boundaries of the municipality, county or nation and insist that our decisions are based on concern for the ecosystem, whether that be fresh or saltwater, farm field or forest or plants and animals.

A scientist speaking at the opening of the “Surge” exhibit at MoNA pulled out a sandwich bag with a bit of soil in it and informed the audience that she held billions more bacteria in her hand than the number of people on the planet. A healthy concern for community would have us making decisions small and large that took a much larger view of the ground under our feet and what is in the sky over our heads.

Many of us are co-op members, most visible locally with the Skagit Valley Food Co-op. Farmers and residents alike own as well as shop at Skagit farmers Supply. Credit unions are cooperatively owned; locally prominent are BECU and North Coast Credit Union. Each and all of these are small steps at economic cooperation among those deciding to involve themselves economically in those institutions.

Needed beyond October and beyond our co-op memberships are owning our identities as residents and citizens and realizing the relationships we have in every aspect of our lives offer a choice to be more cooperative, concerned and more involved in the social fabric desperately needing our care and repair.


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