Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Co-op facts

A recent post on truth-out.org was about the Grange. The article had a number of interesting deviations from what I know and understand, many of which I’ll address in future posts.

The first is the claim that a Grange charter “also enshrined socialist-inspired Rochdale principles”. Having read a great deal of Grange history and beginning my study of cooperatives in high school as part of my FFA experience I am somewhat knowledgeable on these topics.

The definition of socialism according to google is “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” This is in direct conflict with the Rochdale principles of cooperation. 

In the 1870’s, the Grange saw the potential of the cooperative movement and after researching it, our organization became one of the first to advocate for the creation of cooperatives (co-ops) to benefit members and non-members alike. Grangers were farmers primarily, and as such, were small businessmen. They saw that by pooling their resources through a co-op they could increase their buying power on items they needed. They could also increase their profit on the sales of their products by selling in larger volume.

Co-ops are owned and managed by the members, not the government. These are the people the co-op primarily benefits. The Grange has been responsible for started many co-ops over the past 147 years, some were marketing co-ops which provided a way to pool products to achieve greater revenue or increased sales. Some were designed to provide products to the members at a reduced cost. Some were created to add value to a product the members were producing. For example, there are cheese producers that are cooperative ventures of the dairymen in a region. 

Those same cooperative principles were then used in the financial world to create credit unions and then to supply electrical power to much of rural America through Public Utility Districts (PUD’s) and Rural Electric Cooperatives.

Co-ops still exist and serve their members. Some co-ops are very small, while others serve members over wide regions of the nation. There are many co-ops that are not agricultural in any way, with REI as just one example.

Co-ops are part of the capitalistic system of America and the Grange is proud to have been an important part of the introduction of these beneficial businesses to our nation. It may have been a radical idea at first, but it has always been a business decision.  From my experience, the last thing any co-op board would want is for the community as a whole, i.e. the government, to be more involved. Benefiting their members and the people living in their communities are the priorities of cooperative principles.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Protests and Community

Last night Jessie Jackson was leading a protest movement about Ferguson, Missouri in Portland, Oregon. According to the news reports he ended with telling the protesters to “go out and save the world.” Ten of the protesters were arrested before the night was over according to reports.

It was appalling to watch the series of tragedies in Ferguson over the past four months. There were deaths, local businesses looted and burned, and the flames of hatred were fanned. Just as disturbing were the many instances around the nation where people displayed their hate towards law enforcement, those of a different shade of skin, and even of our American system of justice and government.

I’ve seen and thought about these protests for years, as I remember the protests against the Vietnam war. While I’ve never participated in a protest I question what the goal for a protester truly is. How many protesters have left the streets and parks cleaner? Why do so many protests end with participants arrested? How many protests have you seen that accomplished something, other than media coverage?

History is full of individuals who made a difference by their actions. From Lady Godiva (a real person) who supposedly rode naked through the streets of Coventry to remove a tax or toll to the many individuals who hid Jews and others from the Nazis. People who risk their reputation, their wealth, or their life are true heroes and should be emulated.

History is also replete with those who chose like Ghandi or Martin Luther King to exercise civil disobedience in a peaceful manner. They challenged laws that denied basic human rights to some and they insisted that those who followed them remain peaceful. They and those that chose that path often have changed the world in a better fashion.

Violence and hatred have often changed the events of the world, but seldom in a positive way. Riots, looting, and harming others may be the results of protests that degenerate into mobs, but the results never benefit the local community.

From my perspective, Mr. Jackson goes from disaster to tragedy always seeking to find a public forum to publicize that which divides us. The average protest of today often appears to start with the arrival of outsiders who fan the flames of anger, intolerance, and even hate. 

Instead of the example of these protesters, I would rather follow the example of the Grange to “go out and save the world.” If you are of good character you’re eligible for membership. Differences of opinion are encouraged as they are opportunities to learn and grow through debate and education. We find ways to work together rather than let our differences separate us. We work through the present system to change it for the better.

To all who seek to truly make the world a little better, I invite you to explore the many American groups, including the Grange, which seeks to help people. There is a place for protests; it is just that protests are not the best answer normally.