It's Time for the Co-operative Movement: Let's Transform Our World

Cooperative Transformation

By Leslie A. Cook,

I admit I am something of a skeptic about the possibility of experiencing sudden (and lasting) transformation. That's not to say I don't believe in the possibility that we can be transformed. 

I experience that and see it around me every day. These lasting transformations happen over time, though, through small steps.

In my experience, transformation in a person happens when, by choice or by accident, they are surrounded with a different reality. In the context of that different reality, a series of moment-by-moment experiences can reshape a person, transform them. When people are transformed through experiences in a different environment, their relationships are also transformed.

It works the other way around too. In a different structure, people relate to each other differently. When relationships are different, the people in them change as well. It is a reciprocal and dynamic arrangement: transforming individuals impact relationships, and transforming relationships impact individual experience.

An example of a path to transformation is in the idea of the Sabbath. Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel calls the Sabbath "a palace in time." Specific activities are directed toward setting aside a regular space in the long continuum of time, a "palace." Within that palace, certain actions serve to create an ideal world, a reality that is different from the every day reality that surrounds us.

A second century rabbi says that if two Jews observe the Sabbath in all its details twice in a row, the Messiah will come. Just two people can transform the world! How? 

If two people participate with whole hearts in a reality that is different from the one in which they live every day, each individual will have taken a large step in the journey toward transformation, and their relationship will begin its own journey toward being transformed and transforming. Who knows where that might lead as others see and are inspired by this process?

I have now seen Food for Change three times and recommend it enthusiastically to anyone who hasn't seen it. One of the things that struck me as I watched it were the transformative possibilities in the cooperative movement.

A cooperative, like the Sabbath, is a structure that is different from the one in which we live every day. In the framework of that structure, people have the possibility for transformation as do their relationships. As people see and experience how this works, more will be drawn into the "palace," allowing themselves to be shaped and to develop a different understanding of how they can relate to their world.

Something I learned from Food for Change was how the cooperative movement began to alleviate the effects of the depression. The cooperative movement was composed of many cooperatives, a different philosophical, social and economic structure than what existed at the time in the United States.

The path out of the depression via the cooperative movement was slow but steady. Sadly, we will never know the end of that story of possibility because its progress was interrupted by a world war that catapulted the United States out of the depression.  The war was a sudden change that produced welcome results for many in the economy and led the way to a period of unparalleled prosperity. The early cooperative movement declined.

Remember what I said about being skeptical of sudden transformations and the possibility of them lasting?

Despite all the supposed safeguards that were put in place after the Great Depression and despite all the claims that it could never happen again, it pretty much did happen again in our time. We scramble around looking for another quick fix. Is that what we really need?

Rich and poor are further apart than ever in our current structure. Neighbors often don't even know their neighbors much less help them or work with them toward their mutual benefit. Our food supply has been corrupted and poisoned, and the poor, as always, suffer from the effects of a broken system more than the wealthy. Some say our democracy no longer exists.  Will a quick fix help this situation, or do we need to look more deeply at the structure of how we live and conduct our relationships?

So I wonder: what might have happened had the cooperative movement of the early 1900s continued its slow, step by step growth? If the cooperative movement, with its different philosophy and different social and economic structure, had continued to play its role in slowly bringing the country out of economic depression? Where would we be today? What would we look like?

In Woodstock, we are fortunate. It seems the time is right to try out another cooperative vision. In the course of building our cooperative, we will have an opportunity to create a structure that is different from the one in which most of us live now. Building this cooperative unit gives us an opportunity to transform ourselves and our relationships. We will be able to create a structure that provides opportunities for relationships among those at each juncture of the food chain to begin a process of transformation.

The FoodShed cooperative we are building might be just a small corner of our world right now, but our success will lead to other efforts.

Two people whole-heartedly creating a world. That's all that is required for transformation to begin! We already have so many more than two people working hard to build our new reality.

If you're not already active in this wonderful effort, isn't it time for you to join us as slowly, step by step, we create the lasting structure of a better future?

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