The Political Power of Cooperation
An Open Letter to Our Elected Representatives
This month, the Co-op Food Stores, our local, member-owned business, is holding its annual board of directors election. For nearly a century, co-op members have chosen candidates to help direct a business run on cooperative principles––that is, in the belief that human nature is naturally altruistic and that people, given the chance, will collaborate and compromise to effect positive change.
Our current, fractious politics could learn a lot from the spirit and successes of the cooperative movement. Cooperation is a model of what happens when people are united by a forward-thinking political and economic enterprise.
Worldwide, more than one billion people in 96 countries are members of cooperatives. Working together, co-op members have challenged oppressive systems, fought for the rights and dignity of marginalized people, embraced plurality and worked for socioeconomic justice––all while building a thriving global economic network.
This history of success depends on members’ involvement in the democratic process. Co-op directors are chosen in “one member, one vote" elections. The result is a uniquely egalitarian and responsible form of business governance.
We know democracy isn't easy. Elected officials in local, county, state and national governments do difficult work, often with uncommon courage. But some of the worst weaknesses of government are on display these days. We encourage elected officials to do better, and we suggest they could make a start by learning from their local cooperatives.