Co-operatives have reiterated their commitment to equality as protests sparked by the death of George Floyd while being restrained by police continue across the US.
A number of local Minneapolis co-ops as well as national trade bodies have expressed support for the campaign to defend black lives and tackle discrimination. Meanwhile, some co-ops and credit unions including Affinity Credit Union have had to temporarily close some branches while protests went on.
The US Federation of Worker Co-ops said in a statement: “Today & always we stand in defence of black lives & solidarity with black leadership and visions of abundant futures where black communities thrive unthreatened by militarised, state-sanctioned violence and invest in communities.”
Doug O’Brien, president and chief executive of NCBA Clusa, the US apex body for co-operatives, said: “As a co-operative community, in this moment and always, we are called to embrace our Cooperative Values of equality, equity, and solidarity. In the words of Dr. King, we must work for a “positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”
Seward Co-op, a community-owned, consumer co-op in Minneapolis, issued a call for unity, adding that the community had witnesses “devastation and destruction”. It said: “Many in our community including co-op staff are sleep-deprived from posting neighbourhood watches to protect homes and businesses, organising to rebuild, protesting injustice, supporting those in need and cleaning up our city.
“Our community as a whole is grieving this devastation and destruction to our city, the brutal killing of George Floyd and the many injustices that the black community continues to endure. We stand in community with the understanding that the co-operative values of equity and solidarity are more important than ever. We stand with our community in calling for justice and calling for peace.”
Another community retailer, Eastside Food Co-op, posted a message of support for the black community demanded justice for George Floyd. The co-op said on social media: “We stand in solidarity with our community seeking justice for the murder of George Floyd. The systemic violence in this country against our black siblings must end.”
Outdoor retailer REI released a statement condemning violence against the black community.
“As a co-operative, REI is built on a set of ideals that we hold dear—we are stronger when we come together,” it said. “However, the heartbreaking racial violence and injustices that the black community continues to experience across this country provides a stark reminder that for many, those ideals are not a reality. It’s just as stark a reminder for us at REI—that for all our ideals, we are still a long way from achieving them for all in our own community. We must do better.
“We must continue to challenge ourselves, and our community, to be better listeners, better partners, better advocates for one another. For us to see the change we want in the world outside, we must start inside.
“We will continue to work with our partners, across the country, who have worked for years in service of greater equity and inclusion in the outdoors. And we call on our entire community to come together with collective resolve and a commitment to respect, understanding and support.”
In the UK, Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells condemned discrimination and injustices suffered by black and minority communities, pledging his support for Co-op colleagues regardless of their upbringing, skin colour, sexuality or religion.
He wrote on social media: “We know we can’t go on like this. A world where people are judged, discriminated against and die due to the colour of their skin is not the world I want, that any of us want. Even though we are not in the USA we all have a part to play.
“Some of you experience judgement and discrimination every single day. Both in work and outside of work. I know I can’t get close to knowing what this feels like, but I want you to know that my ears are pinned back, my eyes are open and, as uncomfortable as it may be, I won’t look away. I know this is happening and it’s unacceptable and intolerable. It must change. We can change it.”
“The inclusive culture that we, together, are trying to build at the Co-op will only live through actions. Not words alone. There is no doubt we’ve got more to do. We’re well underway but I’m not naive enough to think that we’re even nearly done. We need to go further and faster.
“That will require some big actions from me, management and also thousands of daily actions from all of you – please, don’t underestimate your own power.”
He referred to a quote by South African anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu condemning those choosing a neutral stance.
“I read this from Archbishop Desmond Tutu which I think encapsulates where I am and where we should be: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor’.
“I don’t have all the answers yet and I don’t under estimate how difficult this will be for all of us. But I wanted to make it unmistakably clear today that we stand together, as One Co-op family,” Mr Murrells added.
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