By Member-Owner Owen Lyman-Schmidt
The existence of a standing Food Justice and Anti-Racism committee at Mariposa is a double-edged reminder. It tells us first of all that our food co-op is paying attention, that we aren’t fooled by race-blind rhetoric and waxy Red Delicious apples from New Zealand. We know that racism has been institutionalized and requires an institutional response. We see the way an unjust food system supports and is supported by structures of oppression that favor whiteness, richness, patriarchy and heterosexuality.
But FJAR should also remind us that the co-op’s participation in the struggle for justice is only a potential and not a guarantee. That potential is based on the fact that democratically owned businesses can pool the resources and power of individuals to meet community needs, but if nothing is done with that power, or if the community being served is the same community privileged by the status quo, then the co-op is just one more place to buy in and sell out.
FJAR exists because we have to be proactive in making sure that our co-op lives up to its potential. That’s one of the reasons why the Co-ops and Social Justice Book Club formed in July. We wanted to understand how past and current co-ops have supported, participated in, and interacted with social justice movements because we want Mariposa to be fulfilling our potential.
We started off with Food Co-ops in America by Anne Meis Knupfler and an article on African American cooperatives by Jessica Gordon Nembhard. In September, we read What Then Must We Do? by Gar Alperovitz, which collected efforts across the country to show the ways in which we are already building alternatives to corporate capitalism. In October, we looked at James Boggs’ ‘The American Revolution’ which offered uncanny predictions of our current moment and abstracted 20th century labor struggles in a way that allowed us to look again at what we value in a workplace.
In November, December, and January we worked our way through John Curl’s substantial work of cooperative history, For All The People, which provided a wide lens through which to view the booms and busts of past co-operative movements. Curl’s book reminded us that co-ops, as people-centered businesses, share some of the limitations of people. Unlike corporations (on whom legal personhood is magically bestowed) co-ops are more grounded in their context and more likely to live and die with the generations that created them.
Our context at Mariposa is a growing co-op in a changing neighborhood and our next two readings are aimed at grounding us in that context once again.
On February 26 (7-8:30 pm), we’ll meet to discuss Sharon Zukin’s Naked City, a sociologists’
commentary on the relationship between food and gentrification. On March 26 (7-8:30 pm), we’ll explore our own history by way of Andrew Cornell’s Oppose and Propose, which outlines the history of Movement for a New Society, a national movement-building organization that was based in West Philly from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s and helped found Mariposa.
Read what you want and come if you can because our power comes from our ability to take collective action, and what we learn together is what will make that happen.
Links of Interest:
Jessica Gordon Nembhard on the History of African American Coops: http://www.federationsoutherncoop.com/coopinfo/Black-Coops-GordonNembhard.pdf
The American Revolution: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/amreboggs.html
For All the People: http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Cooperatives/For_All_The_People-History_of_Cooperation_in_America.pdf