Advocacy is an important component of living our cooperative identity and advancing the cooperative movement. While it is not explicitly listed as one of the Seven Cooperative Principles, I believe advocacy is most engrained in Principle Five, education and training, and Principle 7, concern for community. Advocacy is also featured prominently in the guidance notes of our cooperative identity.
Advocacy is ongoing. It is important to build relationships with our elected officials to ensure they understand the many positive impacts co-ops have on local communities and why co-ops should be centered in community economic development policy to capture local ownership and build more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive local economies. Advocacy by the cooperative community was directly responsible for ensuring that cooperatives were included in federal disaster relief, like the Paycheck Protection Program. Based on data released by the U.S. Small Business Administration, we know that approximately 6,900 cooperatives accessed these forgivable loans totally over $1.9 billion to protect co-op jobs and businesses.
There’s no better time to start, re-start or continue your advocacy engagement than the International Day of Cooperatives, celebrated on the first Saturday of July. The theme this year is “Rebuild better together,” lifting up how co-ops worldwide are leading a people-centered recovery from COVID-19. Here are a few suggestions on ways to be involved at the federal level, but engagement is strongly encouraged across all levels of government:
Call your Senator to support the Capital for Cooperatives Act
Last month, Senator John Hickenlooper introduced the Capital for Cooperatives Act, which would require the U.S. Small Business Administration to reform its regulations to ensure cooperative businesses could equitably participate in the affordable financing offered by the administration. More information on supporting the Capital for Cooperatives Act is available here.
Call your U.S. Representatives to join the bipartisan Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus
The Caucus is a unique platform to provide greater visibility of cooperative economic impact at the federal level and help drive co-op friendly legislation. If your U.S. Representative is not yet a member, ask her or him to join the Caucus and support local businesses! More information on the current membership and suggestions on asking your Representative to join is available here.
Invite your Elected Official to your co-op
Elected officials enjoy seeing the many businesses that make their community great. By inviting your elected official to your co-op (or to a project, initiative, or business that your co-op helped make possible), elected officials can see firsthand the wide array of benefits that cooperatives bring to community economic development – from good-paying jobs and sustainable businesses to the social impacts of community-driven and collaborative enterprises. This is critical in helping legislators understand why it is necessary to be inclusive of cooperative businesses in their policymaking. You could also consider inviting your elected officials to a co-op roundtable discussion and partnering with other co-ops in your area (Hello, Principle 6!).
Last year, cooperators at Kitsap Community Food Co-op in Washington invited their U.S. Representative to visit their food co-op and soon after, Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) joined the Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus!
Engage with your legislators on social media
Post about your co-op’s celebration of International Day of Cooperatives and your impact on the community using the hashtags #CoopsDay and #GoCoop. Don’t forget to tag your elected officials and @NCBACLUSA!
Sign up to be a Co-ops Vote partner
Cooperators understand better than most the importance of democratic participation. Co-ops in every sector often serve as more than just a place of business. They play a central role in the community and are uniquely positioned to engage in helping people register to vote, act as a conduit of critical voting information, and helping people make a plan to vote. There are critical elections happening at the local, state and federal level over the next year, and we are starting early getting information to co-ops to help voters in their communities. NCBA CLUSA is proud to work with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Co-ops Vote program on this important initiative. You can sign your co-op up as a Co-ops Vote partner here (and don’t forget to identify your organization as a co-op!)