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The Power of Co-Ops

Co-Ops can be a successful and economically viable option for artists and workers in expensive cities.

The New York Times made an interesting discovery recently, when the paper featured a commentary by a woman who belongs to a collectively-owned and operated bed and breakfast in Brooklyn. She claims that it was living and working at a co-op bed and breakfast that allowed her both the financial support and thus the free time necessary to write her first novel, something that can be a notorious struggle for young writers living in expensive cities.

The headline read, “A Way for Artists to Live.” But co-ops aren’t only for artists.

The Times piece actually described an array of cooperative businesses in New York, including successful operations run by home care workers and cleaners. GRITtv has profiled many of them including the Beyond Childcare Cooperative in Sunset Park that has tripled nannies’ wages to $25/hour for some of the typically most exploited workers in the city.

Earlier this year, the New York City Council held its first hearing on worker-owned cooperatives, after the Federation for Protestant Welfare Agencies released a report that suggested supporting worker-owned cooperatives as an alternative way to address income inequality rampant in the city. At the hearing, experts testified about the proven track records of co-ops spreading economic benefits and reducing risks for small business (worker)/owners. Co-op workers from across the city also testified, sharing their stories of how joining a cooperative dramatically increased their wages, allowing them a flexible work schedule with more time to spend with their families.

Worker cooperatives have a long history in Europe and South America. Mondragon, Spain is home to the largest worker-owned co-operative in the world, with more than 80,000 members. Argentina workers famously took over their factory in response to the economic downturn during the early 2000s, inspiring many participating in social movements around the world.

The movement is growing in the United States. So why are so many still so foggy about concept?

For one thing, funding can be a challenge. Since most small business loans are structured around one or two business owners, as opposed to ten or fifteen, it can be difficult for co-op entrepreneurs to get approved for the necessary start-up capital. However, the other impediment is a much easier fix: media awareness!

Each time we interview a co-op leader, whether they are a historian like Jessica Gordon Nembhard, an advocate like Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo or a leader like former Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, we ask them the same question: Why aren’t there more co-ops? Each time, we get the same answer: there isn’t enough media! We need more ways to get the message out there!

This is why GRITtv is partnering with Toolbox for Social Action (TESA) to make an essential how-to documentary about the co-op movement. In our vision, the documentary will feature interviews with leaders from around the world on their success stories, advice on how to form a co-op and become a part of the movement.

To start this project, we need to get to the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference in Jackson, Mississippi, a historic event that will give our team access to co-op leaders from around the world. Help us get there by donating to our Indiegogo campaign and spreading the word!

For too long, our media has been focussed on what is wrong with our economy. For a change, help us report on what is right, and more importantly, what could be made right. Do we have your support? Help us today and spread the word and we’ll bring you the media support the co-op movement has been waiting for!

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