It’s always great when workers join unions to fight back against work place oppression but its even better when those workers form a cooperative and set their own standards. When workers take control of their labor, we will see a decrease in racial discrimination, unemployment, feelings of hopelessness, and gender inequality.
Within the non-profit world, employees are suckered into believing that their personal sacrifice is a one way street to uplifting humanity. This paradigm is sickening, resulting in health and wellness deficiencies among 501c professionals, particularly women of color. We are the superheros that must save everyone from their tyrannical bosses, corrupt politicians, abusive spouses, narcissistic parents and problematic personality disorders. The one question I always ask is, “Who will save the superhero?” Who is the therapist for the therapist? Who will organize the organizers?
It is clear that we all have a common goal “to help people.” This is usually what most 501c professionals say when they get asked “why did you choose this career?” Their response is usually followed by “It definitely wasn’t for the money.” Our conversations have become redundant and so has our unhappiness. When will we understand that in order to save humanity we must save ourselves first. Our members and clients need us to be whole and balanced, in order to take on the problems of the world. When we don’t take care of our bodies and minds, the enemy usually wins in the form of alcoholism, divorce, depression, stress, burn-out and even death.
The presence of formal cooperative economics has been around since the 1800’s. African-Americans were coming together to pool their resources and develop their own communes and businesses before the end of American slavery. WEB DuBois and Marcus Garvey are the most notable advocates of group economics but success stories can be found in the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company and the Negro Cooperative Stores Association/Consumers Cooperative Trading Company (Nembhard, Collective Courage).
During times of economic hardship and racial discrimination, Black workers and women always fair better using cooperatives and mutal-aid business models. As an organizer and a student of economics, I have experienced a great deal of push back from myopic social justice advocates only concerned with the singular fight to destroy or reform the oppressor without focusing on building a new structure that will replace capitalism and honor community development.
With the introduction of the Uber model, millenials are sharing their cars, homes, and ideas to make life easier and cheaper. Poor people have been doing this for centuries, there just wasn’t an app for it. So why cant we change the way that we work for the people? If the social justice movement intends to be radical and really help communities, we need to look more closely at how we organize and why. Is the goal only to fight and make noise or are we really serious about changing the system? A system ruled by white men out of touch with the needs of poor members of color. By excluding the middle-man, cooperatives build collective power, economic power and social justice for community members and 501c professionals, all at the same time.
Monica Sekhmet Grant