Introducing THIS COOPERATIVE LIFE!
We are SO EXCITED to bring you THIS COOPERATIVE LIFE, a special series that tells the wider, deeper, community-centered stories within cooperatives. CoFED’s Farzana Serang talked with 7 incredible Bay Area changemakers working to build community-ownership in various realms - food, coffee, business training, policy, and capital.
The stories will be released NEXT WEEK (starting Monday April 11th) as a special treat for CoFED supporters, and Farzana’s special way of closing her Executive Director role at CoFED.
So why an interview and blog story series?
It goes back to CoFED’s mission, and the need for building integral connections to cooperatives as an American value, across race, class, and gender categories.
CoFED is a nonprofit that brings tools and training to campus communities to start cooperatively-run food businesses in order to increase access to healthy food and build equitable, resilient, and thriving local economies. In 2014, CoFED dedicated to becoming an equity-focused organization and is currently shifting the way we work and the outcomes by which we judge our impact.
We are engaging with community colleges, low-income students, students of color, and community-based organizations and asking them about their connection to co-ops. An early learning has been that we have noticed a general discomfort for the word “co-op.” For example, after hearing the word co-op, some respondents replied:
“Do we have to sell tofu?”
“We don’t have a farm.”
“Oh, a co-op.”
These response suggest a lack of connection to the contemporary narrative about co-ops for many low-income communities and communities of color. Jessica Gordon Nembhardt points out this notion in her book, Collective Courage “Black folks didn’t see themselves as part of the co-op movement. This is despite W.E.B Dubois and Fannie Lou Hamer being vocal co-op leaders.”
What does it mean when much of the vital leadership of cooperatives—often within low-income communities and communities of color—don’t see themselves as part of the cooperative legacy?
We are missing an opportunity to align shared values. We are leaving out voices. We are building incomplete histories. We are allowing co-ops to be known as a “hippie” thing, rather than being hip to how they can serve all of us. We are allowing a cultural divide to exist when it really does not have to.
There has been great progress to create a meaningful cooperative agenda for the nation. From New York City to Madison, Wisconsin and Jackson, Mississippi local leaders and city funds have been dedicated to cooperative development. As stated by Chokwe Lumumba the goal is “revolutionary transformation” through “solidarity economics.” Co-ops sit at the heart of that mission. Pope Francis recently noted :
Cooperatives should continue to be the motor that uplifts and develops the weakest part of our local communities and civil society. Good feelings alone can’t do this. We need to prioritize the establishment of new cooperative enterprises, along with further developing existing ones, especially in order to create new job opportunities that are lacking today.
The benefit for growing cooperatives and the economic and community development potential they hold is clear. We create jobs, generate wealth, and realize democratic governance. At the same time the connection of co-ops to traditionally marginalized communities has to be examined.
Fortunately, with books like Jessica Gordon Nembhardt’s Collective Courage and the work of organizational like Prospera, Green City Workers, PolicyLink, as well as, the countless history of individuals and organizations that work to build community-ownership—there are many more stories to tell. Those are the voices we must amplify.
We have so many people to thank for making this project happen. A huge thanks to our producer Faiza Farah, who created and hosts The Third Space, an interview show with community leaders at their favorite coffee shop. Special thanks to Smoking Ghosts for providing music, and Kai Nagai-Rothe for production support.
And, of course, we are so grateful to the folks we interviewed, whose stories enlighten and inspire us all:
1st Story. Keba Konte, Red Bay Coffee
2nd Story. Rani Croager, Uptima Business Bootcamp
3rd Story. Hank Herrera, The Center for Popular Research, Education, and Policy (C-Prep)
4th Story. John Katovich, Cutting Edge Capital
5th Story Joe Brooks, PolicyLink
6th Story. Saqib Keval, The People’s Kitchen
7th Story. Farzana Serang, CoFED
 Telesur, World News “Pope: Current System Suffocates Hope, Cooperatives One Solution.” February 28, 2015.