Not Another Patchouli-Soaked Co-Op (with Jamila Medley)

Show Description

Workers have long been excluded from financial gains when businesses become profitable, and wages are no longer a way to create stability and build wealth. Cooperatives were created to combat this very problem. This week features Jamila Medley, the Executive director of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA), a coop OF coops. PACA works to support this business model across industries, from food, to banking, to electricity!

Show Notes & Actions

Show Transcript

Baratunde Thurston  0:00  

Hey, I'm Baratunde Thurston and this is How to Citizen with Baratunde. In season two, we're talking about the money, because to be real, is hard to citizen when we can barely pay the bills.

You've been learning a lot about my childhood during this season. And that's because childhood is where I first encountered some of the ideas we've been talking about ideas about the economy. I didn't learn about all this stuff for the very first time in some college course. No, it's, it's through a neighborhood shop that I remember, it's through a person that I knew it's through an interaction, or an experience. And that's true for most of us about most of the ideas that we ever think about as adults, childhoods where it started. And that is so true for me with the idea of a co op. My mother was a hippie. She was a proud mama she had a big Afro at times, she rocked her cowboy boots and loved her NPR and she wore tie dye every chance she could get. She was a little bit different from the other moms on the block. And she was really into healthy food. I remember going to the co op with my mother for health food, because I guess the grocery store at the end of the block didn't have healthy foods. And the co op was just different. It was there was a lot of granola making it almost literally a crunchy place. And they had alternatives to everything I knew I loved like I loved Cheerios, and they had audios. I love chocolate glazed doughnuts, and they had Cara covered doughnuts. And I didn't love that because that wasn't a chocolate glazed doughnut. And what even is a carrot. I also blame co ops for bringing Grape Nuts into my life. Because that's not even food that's more like a gravel situation. And Grape Nuts with skim milk is a crime. The Co Op to me was this tie dye tote bag, largely white place miles away from home where we went to get special food. But now I've learning because a lot more to co ops. See, as I've grown up, I've learned that co ops are more than whatever member from my childhood. And when you talk about the class of folks known as the working poor, who can never get ahead because of extractive business models. cooperatives become more of an economic answer than the petroleum soaked lifestyle I was used to as a kid. Today's guest shows that co ops might not be what you think they are either. Jamila Medley is an East Brooklyn native, who at the time we spoke was the executive director of the Philadelphia area cooperative Alliance. pakka is a co op of CO Ops, building economic power in the Philly community, and breaking all kinds of myths about what co ops are, and who therefore, co ops are basically a version of economic democracy.

Jamila, thank you so much for joining. How are you? I'm doing well. Thanks for having me. Thank you for agreeing to sit with me and with us. And I want to start with you introducing yourself.

Jamila Medley  3:35  

My name is Jamila Medley. I'm executive director of the Philadelphia area cooperative Alliance, otherwise known as PACA. 

Baratunde Thurston  3:45  

I was like, I was so glad you said it. I'm like, Is it PACA? Is it tell me something about yourself that might not be in an online bio, something a lot of people don't know.

Jamila Medley  3:58  

Dang, this is a big one. I can wrap the books of the Bible.

Baratunde Thurston  4:03  

I mean, you need to tell me a little bit more about this.

Jamila Medley  4:08  

So as I mentioned, I'm from Brooklyn, and I went to St. Paul's community Baptist Church growing up where the steam Johnny Ray Youngblood was pastor, Minister of music, Eli Wilson, if we did they exist children's choir, like learn how to wrap the books of the Bible. And it has never left my mind. It's pretty dope. I mean, I'm not gonna do it.

Baratunde Thurston  4:33  

You know what? I mean, show don't tell what's. Give me a little taste. All right.

Jamila Medley  4:42  

Listen, everybody as we talk to you about the book. So the Bible, the older the new, there are 66 books if you take a long look, 39 year old 27 and a new pay attention, tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna rock to you about the books that unfold. We haven't stopped That Oh forgot.

Baratunde Thurston  5:03  

That is a special special skill. That is a spectacular answer. I did not see that coming. So So tell me more about growing up in Brooklyn describe your neighborhood and what the community felt like to you as a kid.

Jamila Medley  5:19  

Sure. So I grew up in East New York last stop on the number three train do lots of Avenue, East New York at that time, it still is known as a struggling neighborhood. It was it was the Hood Hood.

Baratunde Thurston  5:31  

Give me some sense of timing of yours that you're talking about in terms of your childhood there.

Jamila Medley  5:35  

Sure. So I was born in 77. So I'm talking about the 80s 90s. And ECR had crack had prostitution, head murder. It's got a documentary about the worst police district in New York City. I mean, the government literally sent anything that they considered unworthy of a good life to East New York institutionalizing people throwing, throwing away humans. It was a poor and working class neighborhood. My grandparents had moved there in the 1960s, one of the first black families to move into a new high rise apartment when the neighborhood was still white, from where From where did they move? They moved from Brownsville. So this was their Jefferson story of moving up from the projects into this newly constructed apartment, high rise and subsequently, white flight ensued. And the narrative of disinvestment, as is very typical in communities like this came to be but I think one of the unfortunate realities is that beauty and joy aren't always the stories that come out of this kind of neighborhoods. But my family was there for three generations. Live, you know, my grandparents, I don't know were in that apartment. I grew up in that apartment. My mom grew up in that apartment, my first daughter was born. She had years in that apartment, and the church that I went to had a school and went to the school there second to sixth grade, I was nurtured and loved by black women, educators who affirmed my blackness. My woman is my girlhood so that by the time I was ready to go into middle school, I really leave my neighborhood in that kind of like all black life for the first time, I was well prepared. And coming up again, went to a Quaker school, middle school through high school, Brooklyn friend school, but I was affirmed.

Baratunde Thurston  7:41  

So we share a decent amount of biography. I went to a very local community public school through sixth grade. And then starting in seventh grade, a friend school grew up in Washington DC, in those same years, and I went to the Sidwell Friends School from seventh through 12th grade, and I was also nurtured and loved had a lot of joy. What did your church community look and feel like during this childhood, is it sounds like the church was a big part of your experience of community?

Jamila Medley  8:14  

Yeah, um, I was probably in first second grade, when we started going there. I went to church school, I did karate, I did dance classes, I took piano lessons. We had Sunday school, Bible school, summer camp, everything was there. It was the entire community. And it was a church that also kind of, I think, understood its social, and political relevance in a neighborhood like that. And really thinking about ways of creating community pride and self determination through the congregation that really resonated like when I started working as a co Ops, I was like, oh, shoot, this was like a whole thing happening when I was a kid around what has always historically been true. And I think the black American tradition of how black folks have practiced mutual aid and cooperative economics, right, and that the church has often been a central place where people congregate to to build wealth, to share their wealth, to create community good.

Baratunde Thurston  9:18  

And it begs the question, what's a co op? And where do you see in your childhood, some semblance of cooperatives?

Jamila Medley  9:30  

So a COA has two components. One is the Association of People who come together, they identify that they have a shared need economic, social, cultural, and they determine that they want to democratically own an enterprise together. And so they create that business to fulfill the need that they have. And that's the simple version of what a co op is in the sense that is the Association of people. Democracy is in them at all in the enterprise, is holding it all together. I'm not gonna say that my church was democratically organized. I don't know that that was true. But there was definitely an association of people who were organized within their religious community also having an understanding of their political power. I think the biggest thing that I remember seeing is like the creation of Nehemiah houses, right. So it's this entire housing development that congregations throughout Brooklyn organized to bring resources from, you know, municipal funds with their church community and other investment strategies to create new homes. This was a struggle, this was organizing, this was the success of an association of people coming together to meet their needs.

Baratunde Thurston  10:49  

How do what you experienced as a child with this community level of organizing affects your later work and your educational path.

Jamila Medley  10:56  

So I think there's this continuity of values that I've always been grounded in everyone is worthy, inherently, we all deserve good to happen. I think I understood having to work hard, you needed to serve, you had to help others, you had to find a way to give back to contribute to make something better. And then in school when I was in middle and high school, I think there was a lot of that kind of activity just in terms of like taking care of our own neighborhood. And and like, you know, there was a really seedy park right behind where my high school was. And I'm gonna tell you in the 1990s, Brooklyn friends was the ratchet independent friend school. I'm gonna leave it at that. But

Baratunde Thurston  11:39  

ratchet independent friend school, I never heard those words ratchet ibushi ratchet bamboo g? Yes. It was the Megan the stallion of risk.

Jamila Medley  11:52  

But we had to go to that park, right. But there were people who use drugs, there are people who were engaging in solicited sexual encounters in that park, and we found their refuse. And we cleaned it up as a part of our Earth Day experience. Right? It's just like, this is our community. Yeah, this is our responsibility. So I think those threads certainly carried, you know, into my work of really just seeing the power of collaboration and people coming together and people caring about each other. And just like, ultimately, just really believing fundamentally that everybody has light. Right, that we should be seeking that and one another. And when we do, it makes it easier to work together. That's all

Baratunde Thurston  12:38  

just that's total life summation. That's perfect. The Quakers would be proud. What brought you to Philadelphia?

Jamila Medley  12:48  

Well, my first job here was in a cancer research organization based in Philly. And after that, I went to grad school. And upon completing grad school, I realized I can't keep not working, this isn't going to be a good story for too long. I don't use this degrees of how and so I found a membership coordinator role, actually at Mariposa food Co Op, and I got hired to be the membership coordinator there. And so that was around in 2012. And that was my first exposure to co ops formally.

Baratunde Thurston  13:31  

So I have an image of CO ops from my childhood of going out to the co op in Takoma Park, Maryland. Food Co Op has a certain smell to it. Female I describe it as earthy, made me think of that scene from Broad City. I'm sorry, but are you breastfeed?

Unknown Speaker  13:53  

The power of Co Op produce has made me fertile into my 50s and beyond.

Baratunde Thurston  13:58  

So amazing. So So what was it like for you working at the Mariposa food Co Op? And is it anything like my experience?

Jamila Medley  14:06  

Yes, very earthy? Yes. I mean, it was it was my first adult experience really being around radicalized white people.

Baratunde Thurston  14:18  

What made them radical?

Jamila Medley  14:20  

They are. I've worked with a bunch of anarchists and socialists and people who, you know, had very far left leaning politics had very unconventional, you know, ways of, of living their lives that were, in my perspective, at that time, I was like, Oh my gosh, he said, like the freest people I've ever encountered.

Baratunde Thurston  14:46  

him expressing so what does that look like?

Jamila Medley  14:48  

You know, it showed up. I also came from I think, my the church that I grew up in, and I think in many ways in that era was about respectability, right? So it's like the best thing that you to do is find a corporate job, right and where, for me is a woman, put some stockings on, don't wear red, and like, you know, do your thing, don't show as much as you can, how black you are, just make your money, get your success, being in this food Co Op world was the antithesis of everything I had learned was true, to have a good life, right that you had to button up that you had to conform that you had to invisible eyes yourself to some degree. So when I got to the food Co Op, it was, you know, the first community where I personally met trans folks and had trans co workers and I learned about pronouns. And I learned about just like a lot of things, you know, people just wore t shirts and jeans and ripped up clothes and had piercings, and tattoos and all kinds of colored hair. And for me, it was just like, it was great. But it was also work. And I was not familiar with seeing those expressions of one's humanity being okay in the work environment. So that was a real shift for me. I think being able to understand that Oh, there, there are other ways, and people have found them.

Baratunde Thurston  16:18  

What did that discovery feel like for you?

Jamila Medley  16:21  

In many ways, it was somewhat liberating for me because I had the opportunity to experiment. So there was a lot of opportunity for creativity, I'm really just like making our way creating new things to make this grocery store a success. And so I really loved that aspect of it. I think one of the challenges that the space, though, that I experienced was, I wasn't as free as some of those people were, because I was still a black woman. And most of my co workers are white folks, who I think were just able to show up as fully as they wanted to. But I think they were a lot of experiences at that time for black women that we could not show up as fully as ourselves without appearing threatening without appearing to upset if we were too loud to ratchet, too angry, too emotional, it all just kind of like came back to, to kind of haunt you. So I also learned in that space, that radicalized white people are also very racist sometimes without even knowing it. And that there's this duality. And just like this work, right, I thought that maybe I had found like my anti racist home and like my place of belonging, but I also realized there was still a lot of work to do in that space. And it was also a space where my radicalization was starting to show up in terms of who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to engage in blackness as a result of that, that workplace experience. Yeah.

Baratunde Thurston  17:51  

What was the experience? You know, what was the behavior or the words of the radicalized white co workers, that put you in a place where you felt like you had to manage how you showed up?

Jamila Medley  18:02  

Oh, now I'm just putting these people's business all out here in the streets. But I think we understand that this is a time where we talk about these things. But I think one of the struggles in that community. Prior to my coming there, there had been other black women that that worked there, and that were working there when I worked there. But I think when there were conflicts between those women and other white folks, sometimes there was a way in which black women were pushed out from the organization, I think, often rooted in conflicts, right? And that you just showed up a little bit too loud and self expressing dear black Lady for the comfortability of these white folks who now see that part of you and maybe don't feel as safe as they used to. They don't want to ever see this out to you again. Right. So so there's this this tension, meanwhile, like, why folks was yelling and can cry and emote and do all the things that they needed to do to express themselves. But there wasn't an acceptance, I think for for black women to be able to show up in the same vein, and I saw that happen to other people. And so I became very aware about how I needed to present in order for that not to happen to me. Mariposa food Co Op is historically, you know, one of the food co ops that is gotten it right in so many instances. Right. So the institution, I think, in many ways is at the forefront of trying to navigate some of the harms that structural racism can perpetuate in any business. I think the opportunity is that there's more accountability in those places to address that stuff. Right. And to expect better and to expect more from how our white allies in those spaces. That kind of show up

Baratunde Thurston  20:08  

after the break jameelah goes all in on the world of collapse.

So you're the executive director of Packer, how did you first come to have a role at this cooperative of cooperatives?

Jamila Medley  20:49  

So pack up was actually being founded around the same time that when I started working at Mariposa, the first group of people it started talking about, you know, answering this question of, you know, there's a lot of mature cooperatives in the Philadelphia region, there's food co Ops, housing, co Ops, credit unions, energy co Ops, worker co Ops, we got a lot of CO ops here, but they don't really do a lot together, what would happen if there was a way to organize the co op sector to help grow the cooperative economy?

Baratunde Thurston  21:20  

So what would happen if cooperatives cooperated?

Jamila Medley  21:24  

Yes. So that became a launching pad for, you know, a number of activities that invited co operators to come together to Muse and to think about what this this new organization could be. So I decided to go to one of those convenings. And they were looking for volunteers. And I thought that I should volunteer, because I didn't know anything about cops. And my job was to recruit people to join the car. So sad, like, let me go over here and see what I could learn. I've learned so much. I learned about an entire economy entire what some people would identify as a lifestyle. I learned about a network of activity and effort that I had no idea was happening. And I stayed involved with Pac as a volunteer on their steering committee. And then as the organization formalized and became a nonprofit organization, I got elected to serve on Pac as board. And then by 2017, when our first executive director was ready to step down, I was invited to be his replacement.

Baratunde Thurston  22:48  

And I said yes. And he lived happily ever after. And that was it. What is the Philadelphia area cooperative Alliance.

Jamila Medley  22:59  

So PACA is a nonprofit and a co op of CO ops. And we aim to improve the cooperative economy in our region by providing education and training, providing direct technical assistance to groups of people forming co Ops, and to uplift opportunities to promote co Ops, through advocacy and political engagement.

Baratunde Thurston  23:21  

And when I, when any of us thinks about what a business is, we are taught that businesses seek to maximize profits, that businesses are designed to maximize shareholder value, even in the in the current incarnation, that we are a capitalist society. So what is a co op business? How is it operating differently from an off the shelf capitalist business?

Jamila Medley  23:50  

Okay. Can I make a caveat, please, before I answer that question, yeah, co ops can be co opted by capitalism.

Baratunde Thurston  24:00  

The plot thickens.

Jamila Medley  24:02  

Okay, so cooperatives are an economic tool. Right, people can have a lot of different motives for why they want to use it. So I think, you know, from the vantage point that I have in the motivations that PACA and others in our networks have for for cooperative businesses, is that we believe that, you know, we should prioritize people and planet over profit. We believe that people have a right to self determination, including in how wealth is accumulated and distributed within their communities. We believe that people deserve and have the right to own assets in their own communities. Right. And I think this broader sense that in in cooperatively owned businesses, a distinguishing factor of it from traditional businesses is democracy. Right? There are a lot of different ways in which businesses can practice democracy. But the difference in CO ops is that if you're an owner, you have one vote. Everybody has one vote as an owner in a co op. So when it's time to make these important decisions for how this Co Op business is going to move forward, are we going to expand? Are we going to close? Are we going to hire more people, whatever the decision points are, that the owners need to come together, each owner has one vote, there isn't a 51% owner who gets to wield the power because they have that extra ownership stake. And this is true, even as Co Op owners might have different equity stakes, right? So people can invest different amounts of money into their Co Op. But the the vote stays the same. It's one member, one vote.

Baratunde Thurston  25:55  

Yeah. What do you think the benefits are to people for participating in a cooperative business model?

Jamila Medley  26:03  

I think you can think about it from the individual level, and from the community level. So as an individual, if you're a member owner, or an owner of a co op, there's a financial benefit that you can get if you're an owner. So if the company is doing well, the business is doing well, you get to eat, you get dividends, you get patronage rebate, you get some money back on your return. It's also true that if it's not doing so great, you absorb the risk along with your fellow co owners, I think co ops often offer community, they offer a place where you can find people who have the same need that you do, and work together to try to fulfill that co ops bring potentially wealth into communities, they're locally owned. So they're not some distant, you know, there's not a distant owner out there somewhere, trying to figure out when to cut out and sell the business, right when they can make enough money. So the dollars tend to circulate in the community for a longer period of time. co ops tend to provide better working environments for employees. Because in many of in worker co Ops, for example, people are actually controlling and owning their own labor. So they can, you know, collectively decide what hours they're going to work, how much they're gonna pay each other, or themselves. And, you know, even during a time like this, where we have this financial crisis, cooperatives have a chance of surviving because of the democratic participation of their owners, and their ability to say that we're going to decide to ride this out together,

Baratunde Thurston  27:41  

it occurs to me hearing you talk about the benefits of CO Ops, we've heard a different story from the traditional business model. The reason CEOs get paid so much, because they're so smart. They're exceptional operators and exceptional managers, and they've earned that money. And it sounds like you're saying, you're putting your faith elsewhere. You know, in terms of the management of the operation of the ownership of a business and the peace of our economy, your model is trusting a larger group of people with the fate of this enterprise is that then a fair characterization.

Jamila Medley  28:20  

That could be true. It's not going to, it's certainly not going to be one person, the CO ops come in all different kinds of ownership structures and sizes, right? So anywhere from the 1000s of people who own the grocery store together to the small worker owned daycare center. So the principles, though, are, are such that they can work throughout a variety of structures and different numbers of people. But it doesn't have to depend on a singular person to make or break in.

Baratunde Thurston  29:05  

After the break, what does it mean to make a co op of other co ops?

It seems like for your organization to exist, you got to have a lot of CO ops and feeling is there something in the water in Philly, that tends toward co ops? What's the nature of the city and the existence of so many co ops that your organization can exist?

Jamila Medley  29:39  

Yeah, well, I'll say we're also a nonprofit. So we are funded through philanthropic dollars primarily. And some say that Ben Franklin was the first person to organize a cooperative in the United States. What was that

Baratunde Thurston  29:59  

what you're talking about? Willis,

Jamila Medley  30:00  

it was called the Philadelphia contribution ship. And it was a Mutual Insurance Company to protect businesses and homeowners against fire at loss from fire. And this was in 1752.

Baratunde Thurston  30:14  

So in 1752, Ben Franklin set up a co op fire insurance company. That's the story, it still exists. It still exists. I did not learn that in history class.

Jamila Medley  30:29  

But I think you know, for black folks in Philadelphia, cooperative economic and mutual aid practices have been essential to survival. So we can think back to periods when black folks were enslaved. And, you know, there were free blacks in Philadelphia, and they were people who were running away from slavery, who came to Philadelphia, and created a rich and robust community of black folks here. But they survived, in many ways through cooperative economic practices, right. So we think about in 1787, the leaders who founded the AMA church also founded, like the second black owned mutual aid societies, in Philadelphia, oh, it's the second in the country. But they were organizing for survival. Because they were locked out of the traditionally established white environments to be able to get things like education to get things like insurance, if you were widow, right? The Mutual Aid Society was taking care of widows and orphans, the Mutual Aid Society was paying tuition for students. So there's this rich tradition of these kinds of practices in the city of Philadelphia, and I think, and this environment where there are so many different ethnic groups, and it also a city with a high rate of poverty, we see communities turning back to these practices over and over again, as a way to survive. I think we we've certainly seeing for, for black Americans, a long tradition of cooperative economic practice, you know, we look at things that Ella Baker was doing, if any Lou Hamer, when we look at a lot of what was happening in the civil rights movement, around a lot of that effort around civil rights was also connected to economic power. And leaders that during that time, were also practicing cooperative economics and trying to really think about how that connects back into the political power that also needed to be gained. And so when we have times like we have now where things are just on edge, and nobody is coming to save us, people organize to save themselves. And that's one of the reasons why we're seeing such a rise in Co Op creation, and strengthening of ecosystems in Philadelphia, but other places around the country too.

Baratunde Thurston  32:55  

So with this long history of CO Ops, and cooperative economics more broadly, in the black community. Y is the pop cultural image of a co op, a white lady with an NPR bag, buying some granola. How did that happen?

Jamila Medley  33:14  

I think there's a mythology for sure that co ops like are things that white people do, and nobody else does them. And, you know, I've already started to explain that's not true. I think it got to that in some ways. Jessica Gordon dem heart because this is a researcher cooperator extraordinare wrote this book called a collective courage, which tells the history of African American cooperative practices, and along with the stories of all of the starts, right, and the ways in which black communities thrived. We also know that some of those stories were impacted by White Terror. Right, and that there were just so many times when black folks would get too successful. And white folks decided you can't have this anymore. And there are ways in which that has happened. You know, at the neighborhood level, when we think about people's grocery, I think it was in Tennessee or Kentucky, which was a co op owned by black folks. And the the men who were the leaders in that Co Op community, were lynched by a group of white men who didn't like that these black folks had gotten this much power and we're competing. This was in the late 19th century. I think we've seen how the Black Panther Party certainly was practicing cooperative economics, right. And were infiltrated by the government, right to to disrupt, you know, the things that they were doing to see black power emerge. So there were all of these ways, I think, in which white supremacy has also threatened black communities and other communities. of color, through structural racism through the faults even of capitalism, it's hard to try to operate collectively owned businesses in capitalism, because the structures themselves aren't set up to see these kinds of enterprises succeed. So, there's a lot of fits and starts, I think, and I think we're just like all of us, whoever we are, whatever communities we come from, we're contending with a society that tells us that the individual is more important than the collective that says that going for mine is more important than making sure that we all get to benefit. And so we're all struggling to kind of really counter that narrative in our variety of of communities that we live in work in Reston.

Baratunde Thurston  35:50  

I'm thinking about a set of statistics, which remind us that just having a job is not enough. And you know, the roughly half of people in the United States who would not be able to afford a four or $500 emergency don't have access to that cash, the number multiple jobs people have, but don't carry benefits, the working poor, broadly speaking. Do you think that collective entrepreneurship, as you put it, do you think that cooperatives are in part an answer to the challenge and existence of a category of people known as the working poor in the United States?

Jamila Medley  36:32  

Absolutely, I think when people are empowered, to make choices for themselves, and for one another, they'll make better choices than somebody who's really just thinking about the bottom line for themselves. And I think this is what we are seeing in the worker, co op sector, we see a lot of who you're categorizing as the working poor turn to this business model, as a way to accumulate wealth, right to say that I'm going to work and create a business along with these other people. And we're going to do better, like worker Co Op wages tend to be higher than traditional businesses, employees tend to have greater job satisfaction in that sector, those businesses thrive and are able to kind of take the terms of economic difficulty better because of that democratic nature and shared decision making model. So the opportunities for wealth creation, and, and dignity, right, that comes with ownership. And there are aspects of that that can be reinvested in community, I think, are really compelling components of why this model could could do so much more with scalability. Yeah,

Baratunde Thurston  37:51  

given what we've been talking about this cooperative business model, and a different way of interacting with the economy, but also under the auspices of a show called How to citizen like we're interested in people showing up in our democracy, what to you is the connection between a cooperatively run business or entity and the health of our democracy,

Jamila Medley  38:14  

this is where it gets really juicy. And where I think it comes back to that sense of lifestyle. For some folks, I think there's an opportunity to learn and practice democracy and co ops that we don't get in many other spaces. So for most of us, in the United States, we think of democracy and we think of voting at the ballot box. And maybe that happens once a year, once every few years, etc. That's our participation in democracy. Or we think about it as political democracy in how we engage with our elected leaders. But there's also direct democracy that we get to experience in our neighborhoods and through our own civic engagement and practices, as we're thinking about how to participate as a citizen as a neighbor as a resident at home. And I think it gets deep end with the co op experience because people are learning how to listen. Right? People are learning how to collaborate, they're learning how to make decisions together without power over one another, but power with one another or conceding power to others when that's appropriate, as well. Think that these are practices that help build up the democracy muffler, right? When we find opportunities to plug into decision making when we find opportunities to plug into organizing, these are practices of democracy, whether we're organizing, you know for political power, economic power to get basic needs met. This is the activity of democracy. And cooperatives provide opportunities to gain skills and doing some of them work whether you're an employee or member owner who shows up to your membership meetings, you've got power in that place. And democracy is the pathway for practicing and utilizing that power in CO ops.

Baratunde Thurston  40:13  

That was extraordinary. And the crowd goes wild. Whoo. co ops is where we can practice democracy. And we are in desperate need of more practice. Jamila, thank you so much for spending this time with me. Thank you for listening to me and letting me go on and on. It was my pleasure.

When we started making this show, I knew one of the reasons was to expand the idea of what it meant to citizen as a verb well beyond voting, that we could express our power, flex that power in all kinds of parts of our lives. And jameelah talking about co Ops, that just brings it home, this idea of democracy, in our economic relationships in the governing structure of our businesses and who they actually serve. I don't think she could have dropped a mic any harder than that. Pause, there was a bonus Bible wrap. Who knew? Who knew she had that in her? And who knew the world of CO ops didn't have to be so white? Next week, I'm speaking with someone who believes so much in investing in her local community. She advocates for just giving people money, no strings attached.

You know, we call this show How to Citizen so here's some of the How To parts from our producer, Alan, how do

Unknown Speaker  41:56  

you Co Op operate, just like Jamila has experienced growing up cooperatives don't always have to be formal organizations. What are some informal ways you have participated in collective stewardship? Perhaps a community garden, local park cleanup, or maybe in church, think about the ways you cooperate with your community, local and global. Next step, we've got some homework for you. purge amela suggestions start with reading the book collective courage, a history of African American cooperative economic thought and practice by Jessica Gordon nem hard, collective courage Chronicles black cooperative business ownership and its place in the civil rights movement. A history that's often forgotten when discussing co Ops, purchase it from our online bookstore and support local book shops in the process. Visit And last but not least, check out the CO ops in your neck of the woods. You'd be surprised how many cooperatives are operating right around you look into either buying from a local farm or grocery Co Op, joining a local credit union, which is a financial Co Op. Or even consider getting your power from an electric Co Op. The best way to find them is to just do a quick online search with the name of your city or state and the word cooperative. You can find a directory of CO ops around the country at us op backslash directory.

Baratunde Thurston  43:29  

If you take any of these actions, please brag about yourself online using the hashtag #howtocitizen and send us general feedback or ideas for the show to comments and speaking of that domain name, we have one and we're using it visit to sign up for our newsletter. We'll learn about upcoming events or even more stuff than that. And if you like the show, spread the word. Tell somebody if you don't definitely just keep it to yourself. Appreciate you. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeartRadio podcasts and Dustlike productions. Our executive producers are me. Baratunde Thurston, Elizabeth Stewart and Misha use it. Our producers are Stephanie Cohn and Allie Kilt. Kelly Prime is our editor. Valentino Rivera is our engineer. And Sam Paulson is our printers. Original Music by Andrew Eapen. This episode was produced and sound designed by Allie Kilts. Special thanks to Joelle Smith from iHeartRadio


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