Developing compelling power

April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

In Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, (1967) Martin Luther King, Jr.  wrote:

  • “Our nettlesome task is to discover how to organize our strength into compelling power so that government cannot elude our demands.”
  • “In our society power sources are sometimes obscure and indistinct. Yet they can always finally be traced to those forces we describe as ideological, economic and political.”
  • “There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum –and livable-income for every American family.”
  • “The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”

Fast-forward to today, and the documentary Shift Change – Putting Democracy to Work.  Shift Change tells the story of employee-owned co-operatives (which operate across a range of sectors, not just production – R&D, banks, universities – you name it).  These co-ops are “pioneering innovative models of job creation, wealth building, and sustainability”. The story started in 1956 in the Basque region of Spain and continues globally today. A good example is the Evergreen initiative, which was launched in Cleveland Ohio in 2008. The overt goal of creating jobs isn’t inherent to the co-op model, but it makes sense in conjunction with the co-op model.

La Siembra Co-operative presented the movie (Shift Change) in Ottawa on April 19th, followed by a discussion and presentation by Santiago Paz from CEPICAFE.  Santiago Paz spoke on the success of the Fairtrade and Co-operative movement in Peru in altering the economic landscape for small-scale farmers (who prior to the movement were steeped in poverty, especially in northern Peru) and creating meaningful and democratic working conditions.

The movie and discussion with Santiago Paz highlighted that one exciting outcome of employee-owned co-operatives (at least, the ones that focus on job creation and community long-term sustainability) is the development of ideological, economic and political power.

  • Ideology, because employees who are also owners and are active in all business decision-making learn about participative democracy.  They learn what it means to be a leader in an organization where everyone is expected to be able to be a leader.  Where everyone is heard, and every vote counts.  And each person gets the same number of votes (1), regardless of their role at the moment. So when they talk to others in their community (including their children) about their day-to-day lives, they are changing the landscape. They are a role model for how it can be.  This kind of social transformation is a game-changer.
  • Economic power because a community rich with employed people making a livable wage becomes a rich community. People who are educated about and experienced in participative democracy and care about their quality of life can and will work together to invest in the community. And of course people making a livable wage have money, so they can participate actively in the market as consumers.
  • Political power because well-thought out proposals from thriving, economically healthy communities get traction. And people who are educated about and experienced in participative democracy know how to work together and address practical concerns to get what they need.

It’s happening in Canada, on a small scale.  Anyone interested in taking this further?

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