In spite of initial lack of coverage from mainstream media, by now most everyone has likely heard of the Occupy protests. The prevailing theme at the site of the protests is that of outrage. We shouldn’t be in this situation, but the focus of large corporations on increasing profits at the expense of the masses is outrageous. When considering how much political clout corporations maintain, while paying little or nothing into the system that governs our nation… it’s not right.
The protests in my stomping grounds, Seattle, are magnetic. It’s energizing to participate and show support – we have a democratic right to have our voices heard, and demonstrating is one way to do that. While down there, it’s been life-changing to listen to the stories of my fellow citizens and learn the reasons that have brought them to Occupy Seattle.
Though that clamor to join our voices together is exciting, I’m wary of the (understandable) anger that it stokes. Anger is divisive. It allows us to draw lines and focus more on our differences than on our common ground. I was disheartened by a general assembly last week in Seattle in which protestors reasoned that since the police protect the 1%, they were unwelcome in the assembled crowd. These sorts of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” statements change the environment to one which is unsafe. No longer will people feel empowered to speak freely, for it perpetuates fear and continues to fuel destructive fires. Anger is focused on the past, rather than constructive toward the present or future.
To me, the true way to change the world is to have compassion for one another, and to cooperate together. Imagine, if you will, that the 1% were cooperating in society through socially responsible actions. If rather than being profit-driven, our corporations were focusing on being people-driven and service-focused, our society would be far stronger. We’d be better able to provide goods and services more efficiently and at lower cost, enabling all to keep our free-market wheels moving. We’d be supporting one another with more jobs, more means with which to exchange money for goods and services. We’d be better equipped to support social service programs. Through caring for one another, we’d be stronger. We could stand united in our nation, instead of so painfully divided.
With that vision of cooperating in mind, I signed up for Supporting Local Independent Cooperatives Everywhere (SLICE), a conference for cooperatives held in my own backyard. About 60-70 cooperators turned up, from food, farmer, and housing co-ops. Together, we discussed where we’re coming from, we built relationships with one another, and worked to define our vision for the Cascadia Region from a cooperative standpoint. I am so glad I went.
I was the lone credit union voice at the conference (apart from members). What I heard again and again in conversation were questions (more than I could answer) about funding and launching cooperatives. (I now have a growing “Learn About” list at my workspace.) I learned about some really cool things that are happening in the Co-op Movement (stories for another post). I also learned that though we identify ourselves as cooperative financial services, our partners in the movement do not feel that we are truly aligning ourselves with our principles in supporting and advancing the cooperative movement.
Beyond going and listening to the voices in your community at your local protest, or standing with the demonstrators and encouraging positive, cooperative behavior… I encourage you to reach out to the members of your local cooperative community (@KelseyBalcaitis is already doing a great job of this in Austin!). Learn the ways that you can help, and answer the questions you can – and let’s keep talking about this in our Cooperative Forum. It’s not enough to say we’re cooperative, and to work only amongst ourselves to advance the movement.
Amidst the outrage, I raise my voice, “We must cooperate to change the world.”