Cooperatives Empower Communities
Our culture has shifted radically since the Reagan Morning in America era of the 1980′s. Smaller households are now common. The US Census Bureau estimates 30,471 million single-person households and 12.9 million single-parent households1. Now is a good time to develop models to facilitate supportive communities to meet the needs of changed demographics. Diane Ravitch, education historian observed that dismal education performance is caused by being on the “have not” end of the household income demographic.
The fundamental issue in American education – I say this after 40 years of having read and studied and written about the problems – is one that is demographic…Poor children…simply face too many problems outside the classroom. If you don’t buttress whatever happens in school with social and economic changes that give kids a better chance in life and put their families on a more stable footing, then schools alone are not going to solve the problems of poor student performance. There has to be a range of social and economic strategies to support and enhance whatever happens in school.2
Clearly, we need a new model to meet the needs of single parent and low income households. Cooperatives can be an important part of the solution. Being able to reach out to your community, and trusting that it will respond is a shift that we are ready for. Being a resource for others reaching out to you is what makes this work. Reliable, responsive communities strengthen the very fabric of our lives.
Our society will be healthier and happier if we instill the nurturing quality and optimism we nostalgically remember from the 1950′s and 1960′s. Whether this was an actual experience or an illusion, we would like to recover the some of the innocence and simplicity of the Father Knows Best era. Shifting our culture so that we regularly eat a nourishing breakfast and dinner with people we enjoy would go a long way toward providing a stable foundation to greet life with courage and optimism.
Because a cooperative’s purpose is to serve its members, that purpose is whatever its members declare it to be. For many, the hunger for a community experience is broad and deep. Regular, casual interaction with neighbors is a great start. Gathering on a regular basis to intentionally brainstorm for solutions to the universal challenges of housing, nutrition, jobs, transportation, child and elder care, and much more will uncover needs, and resources to meet those needs, that will surprise and delight.
As neighborhood diners were replaced with Starbucks, McDonald’s and Denny’s, we lost something very valuable. Where neighbors gather and interact forms a community’s warp and woof. Neighborhoods need friendly, safe and affordable places to meet and a diner is the perfect solution. I dream of a diner with a separate area where children can do their homework after school and be tutored by an employee or patron, a senior, a teenager, each other, or someone in-between. When their parents pick them up after work, they could have an inexpensive, nourishing meal together, and go home with dinner, homework and dishes out of the way.
A cooperative diner’s mission could be to offer its members simple, nourishing food at an affordable price in a safe, friendly, environment. Structuring diners as cooperatives will attract higher caliber employees who have a stake in their success. There are thousands of experienced food service workers, thousands of shuttered restaurants, and acres of used equipment all over this country. Let’s put them into service, to nourish and nurture healthy, resourceful communities.
The world is calling for creative, holistic solutions to unprecedented challenges. Cooperatively we can do it!
1 US Census Bureau Fact Finder 2006 Housing, Physical characteristics, Occupancy Characteristics
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