Strength in Numbers
February 2006
You’ll soon receive an invitation from your cooperative to attend the annual general meeting, and that’s if it hasn’t already been done. You should take advantage of this opportunity to meet your fellow cooperators. So, jot down the date and if there’s a scheduling conflict, talk to your family or associates: there’s surely someone who can take your place in either one of these obligations. This year, why not delegate your participation in the cooperative’s general meeting to your spouse. No matter what you do, it’s important to stay informed and report back any significant information.

Furthermore, take the time to evaluate your relationship with your cooperative over the past year. Are you satisfied? If you have young people interested in taking over, ask them about what they think. Or invite them to attend. It will be theirs eventually. But never, ever take anything for granted. Not even your cooperative. We may believe in their sustainability, their inalienability, their deep-seated roots in the community, but cooperatives remain, first and foremost, member activated associations. Until now, even if Quebec has resisted the demutualization wave, several large cooperatives weren’t so defiant over the past few years. There is nothing worse for a cooperative than member disuse. When board members are the only ones holding down the fort, administrators have the right to wonder if the cooperative still has its raison d’être. That’s when demutualization becomes a plausible alternative. But the wake-up call is sometimes brutal.

The vitality of your cooperative depends on your participation. Member usage, through purchases, but also through management participation, through the general assembly’s democratic deliberations. In this respect, I was thrilled to see that democracy was an issue for discussion during our workshops with the next generation as we proceeded with our recent Youth forum tour. In fact, several of our young guests were of the opinion that it was unacceptable that Quebec youth, as described in a document published by the Institut du Nouveau Monde, should be so thoroughly disconnected from political issues: three out of four young Quebeckers, states the document, don’t vote. Our young agricultural producers were seemingly outraged. This a sign that our next generation is indeed conscientious and committed.

Nonetheless, great democracies are faced with serious challenges. Politicians are disliked and citizens are unconcerned. Even Joseph E. Stiglitz, economist and Nobel prize winner, admitted in an interview he granted me last summer, that his country’s political system, the United States, was corrupt with corporate cash. In truth, wide-scale democracy is not that simple. The adage “Small is beautiful” is making a comeback. There’s increasing talk about local revitalization as a mean of changing the world, because, thank goodness, making a change is still possible. There’s still a belief that improvement is possible, we may not be able to improve fate of humanity as a whole, but at least we can make a difference for ourselves and our loved ones. Democracy, explains economics professor Serge Latouche in Le Monde diplomatique, is probably only at its best in smaller communities that are deeply rooted in their own set of values. He also suggests that on a wider scale, smaller homogenous units should join together in a sort of confederation so as to maintain their local roots and the efficient leverage they provide. The idea is interesting. Especially for us, members of the cooperative world. It’s kind of like us. Well… maybe a lot like us: cooperatives with a human dimension, relatively homogenous, grouped together within La Coop fédérée, which is itself associated with other cooperatives…

In these times where rationalization is a primary concern, and structures are being deconstructed, we’ll have to be careful to protect these stimulating environments where an individual can freely express his or her ideas and have some degree of influence. Such environments are the true settings for responsible participation, giving democracy its full reign and meaning. This is where the strength of community, where its power truly lies, above and beyond the limits of the anonymous mass. So… why not take advantage of it? Go on. One and all, and attend your general assemblies!
 

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: (514) 858-2025
 



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