GM's Corner: The Cooperative Revolution Is Overdue

“We all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.” — Franklin Roosevelt,
second inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1937

by Jon Roesser, Weavers Way General Manager

Roosevelt’s words, spoken two months after his crushing victory in the 1936 election — he won every state except Maine and Vermont — reflected the country’s attitude. Five years into the Great Depression, there was a shared belief that if we were to survive as a nation, we must all have assurance of basic protections: fair wages, safe work conditions, enough food to eat and a modest pension in old age. 

FDR’s victory in 1936 was reward for a busy first term, during which he famously launched the New Deal and created the alphabet soup of government agencies that transformed American society and helped define his presidency. 

Roosevelt’s first term has sometimes been referred to as America’s “third revolution.” The first won our independence from the British Empire. The second ended slavery and maintained the United States as an indivisible union. Roosevelt’s revolution established that as Americans we have a responsibility not just for ourselves, but for each other. 

If that’s true, 77 years separated the first revolution from the second, and 67 years separated the second from the third. And it’s now been 86 years since the New Deal. We might be overdue. 

Certainly it seems that a growing number of Americans, regardless of their political persuasion, have an ax to grind against the status quo. There’s a lot of anger out there.

The current president has calculated that dividing us is in his best interest — there are no other interests about which he is concerned — and we are consequently pitted against one another as we haven’t been in generations. 

Selfishness, supposedly a vice, is now in vogue. The “rugged individualism” trumpeted by Roosevelt’s predecessor Herbert Hoover, who believed that aiding victims of the Great Depression would corrupt their morals, is now embraced by many Americans who have been convinced that the country has lost its way. 

My guess is that most of those Americans are unfamiliar with Hoovervilles and Hoover blankets (the newspapers used to cover oneself when living in a Hooverville). In any case, let’s hope it doesn’t take another Great Depression to remind all of us that self-reliance only works in a civilization that is safe and secure. 

Cooperative values are the antidote to selfishness, as they start with the principles of open and equal membership — anyone can join, and no one can ever own more of a co-op than anyone else — and they hold us accountable not only to ourselves, but to each other and to our community. 

At Weavers Way, we try — occasionally with success — to operate a grocery store that takes into account the needs of everyone. 

That’s harder than it sounds. It means fair wages for everyone from the banana picker to the employee who puts the banana on the shelf and everyone in between. It means humane treatment of animals and careful use of natural resources. It means supporting the small local business over the big corporate chain. 

And it means vetting products so that you, our member-owners, can shop with confidence, knowing the products we sell meet the highest standards for taste, ingredient integrity and ethics. Oh, and it also means working to keep costs as low as possible so we remain competitive in a marketplace where the competition operates under no such guiding principles. 

Cooperative values are inherently unifying, and can appeal to anyone, regardless of their own personal values or politics. At the Co-op, we see it every day, as we buy bread from the Kensington baker — a liberal —at the same time we buy corn from the Lancaster County farmer — a conservative. We are united in knowing that the cooperative marketplace embraces us all. As Roosevelt said, we all go up together. 

Perhaps it’s time for a New New Deal. It can begin with putting aside political differences and recognizing that while individual success is well and good, it is fragile if it is not widely shared. Sustainable civilizations yield common prosperity. 

The alternative, a dog-eat-dog, everyone-for-themselves, winner-takes-all system, well, I have to believe that really doesn’t appeal to too many of us. It’s too ruthless, too immoral, too selfish — better suited for Vladimir Putin’s Russia than for a people as caring and welcoming as ours. 

As member-owners of Weavers Way, we are setting the example through our support of a cooperative enterprise that is forever working toward mutual prosperity. 

We recognize that, differences aside, we’re all in this together. 

See you around the Co-op.