Of Co-ops and Compost Cities
Life’s been on quite an upswing for me, this year…not only have I become involved in an abundance of awesome sub-cultures, but I’ve also come to see how connected they are…and how community development and sustainability are at their, respective, cores. But I didn’t get there by myself…not only has my experience with the Cooperative Movement and the Occupy movement been rooted in interpersonal interactions, but it’s also the case that a few fellow co-opers helped to reveal the connections.
As I’ve tried to make the case before, the cooperative movement is integrally related to the sustainability movement: not only does the cooperative movement promote economic equity, but it promotes efficiency via economies of scale and has a reputation for being a safe-harbor for “alternative” ideas with respect to dietary preferences, sexual/gender preferences, political preferences, and others. I’ve reflected on it for some time, and have come to think that this kind of acceptance of diversity is not only socially equitable and philosophically sound but it might have some evolutionary gains as well: just like biodiversity can help promote ecological resiliency and promote an adaptive mixing of genetic code, providing soil for a diversity of ideas to grow and be tested through experience. In a similar vein, I made that point at a roundtable in the Indiana CooperativeSummit conference: encouraging the proliferation of cooperatives, as an operating and ownership model, is the business sector equivalent of promoting diversity of species; I would think that an economy that is not inclusive of many forms of operation and ownership would be even more susceptible to shocks or even collapse.
Though I’ve been able to touch on this connection – in other ways and in previous points – here is a good forum for laying out more of the details of the experience, itself.
Every year, the NorthAmerican Students of Cooperation put on “NASCO Institute,” a conference that delves into all aspects of co-op operation, ownership, management, collective decision making, and the lifestyle aspects of the subculture. The conference allows attendees to migrate around to any jumble of panels and presentations, but it offers several “tracks” that can allow those interested to gain in-depth/working knowledge of some particular themes and logistical considerations that are prevalent in the cooperative movement:
“Transformation Starts with Ourselves: Healthy Cooperative Communities.”
“The Art & Practice of Cooperative Education”
“Air-Waves to Zines: Grassroots Media & Technology”
“Together We Know A Lot: Advanced Topics”
“Cooperative Solutions for People-Driven Education & Media.”
“From Roots to Shoots: Developing New Co-ops”
“Building Blocks of Housing Co-ops.”
With even a little reflection, it seems to me that most all of these contribute to education on how to strengthen and govern communities cooperatively…a skill-set I think will be necessary for an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable future.
Not only did I get to learn from panels and presentations, but I got to experience a taste of co-op life in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan: part of the conference experience included lodging at one of the many co-op houses affiliated with the university. Though you could voice preferences about having a “quiet house” or “substance free house,” most of the assignment was random. It’s hard for me to really compare them with the Bloomington co-ops, given that the event was so novel, the house was crowded with visitors, and the space was, generally, new and unfamiliar; but, the co-opers there were very warm and welcoming…though on Saturday night, I opted to spend a night in the cold with Occupy Detroit. However, I don’t think I would have thought of a sleepover at the Detroit occupation unless I had taken the Detroit Tour on Friday.
Though I had been tempted to take the “Staff and Managers Track” – in the interest in building the skill-set I’ll need in continuing to develop Bloomington CO-OPerates – I decided to take the plunge into something unfamiliar, into a city that doesn’t have the greatest reputation.
For all that the media puts out about Detroit being a dying city, there is an abundance of social and technical innovation that rests soundly at the level of people’s social networks and smaller communities; and, thankfully, much of the purpose of the tour was to expose us to these communities, perhaps to take a different view of the city (and, if that was the intention, it worked).
The trajectory of the trip hit on a number of innovations in social life, art and community communication. Our first stop was an anarchist collective - the Trumbleplex - which held something of a grunge-punk atmosphere, while still feeling warmly open.
The next stop was the Allied Media Project, which not only was a breeding-ground for creative forms of art-outreach -- like a project-presentation we experienced, which combined interview recordings of children facing troubled, urban school atmospheres with hip-hop beats that the kids, themselves, helped to design.
Stopping, next, by the Heidelberg Project [the art neighborhood] was an excellent and uplifting showcase of community development, at the grassroots.
The Boggs Center was certainly a treat, allowing me to meet a great student of American social movements - Grace Lee Boggs - and to hear her perspective on co-ops, the Occupy movement, and their connections.
And, last, but certainly not least, visiting Occupy Detroit was an incredible experience...not just because it was the first Occupation of a major city, that I had observed, but because it was one of the most fitting places for a social movement: a cast-away community, composting and ready to re-grow.