Cooperatives must confront the challenges of our time to build a more inclusive economy


Staff from Seward Community Co-op in Minneapolis distributed food to their community this week, prioritizing donations to organizations that support Black, Indigenous and People of Color. [photo: Seward Community Co-op]
As the national, cross-sector association of cooperative enterprises, NCBA CLUSA takes seriously its responsibility to lift up the voices of our movement, especially during challenging times. Above all, this publication exists to share the meaningful work of the cooperative community as we work to build a better world for everyone.

As our co-op community reflects on and responds to the events of the past week, many of our members have joined with communities across the country in expressing grief and frustration over the loss of yet another Black life—a painful reminder of centuries of systemic racism in America and our seeming inability to address such violence. At the same time, the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19 have played out in very different ways, impacting more extremely communities already marginalized by racism and inequity.

As cooperative businesses, we are guided by common values, including democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. And as an association, NCBA CLUSA seeks to use the cooperative model to empower people from all walks of life—particularly those left behind by a shifting economy and facing the greatest economic and societal barriers.

“Our vision for a more inclusive economy is one of shared prosperity and well-being, of empowering people to envision a better future for themselves and their families,” said Erbin Crowell, chair of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors. “And as cooperatives, we have to acknowledge that this vision cannot be achieved without also confronting the racism, inequality and injustice that is at the heart of these calls for real change in our society and its institutions.”

NCBA CLUSA believes it is imperative to lift up the voices of our members and fellow cooperators who are speaking out against police brutality, racial injustice and economic inequality. Many of these businesses live with the day-to-day reality of injustices, small and large. Others are located in communities directly affected by recent events. As cooperatives, all of them are owned by their communities, and are using their platforms as catalysts for change.

We stand together with cooperators who are calling for unity and solidarity during this time. We join our members in committing to do the work of dismantling structures that sustain racism and inequality.

“We envision an economy that is truly inclusive of all people,” said Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “We are part of and have been supported by a long tradition of people from all walks of life, including people of color and marginalized communities who have used cooperatives as a strategy for shared economic and civic advancement in the face of great odds and opposition. In this moment, it is our responsibility to shine a light on their legacy and ensure that we are achieving our nation’s promise of justice and equality.”

We welcome opportunities to learn and grow as we work to live up to our values. That means we want to hear from you. How can cooperatives be authentic in activating or continuing work to build an inclusive economy that empowers people to contribute to shared prosperity and well-being for themselves and future generations? We look forward to hearing from you and amplifying your intentions, thoughts and reflections.

Share your ideas

Today, many of our members, including Organic Valley, Wheatsville Food Co-op, Summit Credit Union and Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, participated in #blackouttuesday, holding space on social media to amplify Black voices by pausing business as usual.

What follows is a sampling of member voices from the past several days, many of them excerpts from longer (hyperlinked) statements. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we encourage you to share how your cooperative is responding.

Arizmendi Bakery

“Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Taken from their loved ones and murdered for being black. We stand with our Oakland community and people of color. To most, we are just a bakery, but we are also a cooperative comprised of members from all backgrounds. We are not perfect, and we are continuously trying to examine our own biases and weaknesses as individuals in a collective. But today we want our community to know that we all feel this pain and anger. Justice must be brought, and we must dismantle our racist systems.” – Arizmendi Bakery, Facebook post

Capital Impact Partners

“Today, we reflect on the police brutality that has endangered the lives of many Black people… and look for ways to build community-led and centered solutions for justice.” – Capital Impact Partners, Twitter post

“Our country is struggling to manage the COVID-19 crisis. Communities of color should be able to focus on maintaining their health and wellbeing, not worrying about whether or not the disease of racism will be what endangers them.” – Capital Impact Partners, Twitter post

City Market/Onion River Co-op

“We recognize that the beauty of the cooperative model lies in its history of equity, inclusion and care for the community. We know that caring for the community means caring for all members of our community and recognizing the injustices that our community members of color face daily. We are committed to learning, growing and amplifying a diversity of voices so that we can work towards becoming a part of the solution because Black Lives Matter.” – City Market/Onion River Co-op, Facebook post

Community Purchasing Alliance

All of us at the Community Purchasing Alliance wish to say, in no uncertain terms, that we stand with Black communities and everyone who is hurting in the wake of George Floyd’s violent death in Minneapolis, Minnesota. – Community Purchasing Alliance, Twitter post 

Cooperative Development Institute

“Our nation is hurting. We are hurting. As we mourn the lives lost to police brutality and the injustices people of color have historically faced and continue to experience, we encourage you to uplift anti-racist organizations and check-in with your colleagues, friends, and peers of color.

Your support can help save Black lives, empathize with the struggles faced in communities of color, and reinforce the importance of justice, equity and inclusion. Evoking conversations about ways to be an ally are important, and taking actionable steps towards fixing the problem is much more significant.” – Cooperative Development Institute, statement

Credit Union National Association

“We are calling on the unified voice of the credit union movement to reject apathy and choose empathy as we rally against systemic racism directed toward the African American community. CUNA is committed to being a catalyst for change and advocate against social injustice.” – Jim Nussle, President & CEO, CUNA, Twitter post 

CUNA Mutual Group

“I am not going to pretend and know the pain or the sorrow, or frankly the fear that people of color carry with them on a day to day basis. But what I do know is that all of us at the CUNA Mutual family stand together with you.” – Robert Trunzo, President & CEO, CUNA Mutual Group, Credit Union Times article 

Equal Exchange

“Equal Exchange was founded on a vision of changing the existing power structures to create more fairness, equity, access, and hope. The way we do that in the world is to connect small farmer communities to consumers and to use an alternative democratic structure in our workplace. But these are just two components of the complex and layered work that needs to be done to change power structures. These efforts counter the “normal,” commonly-accepted way of doing things. We stand committed to racial justice, countering the unfair “normal” way things regularly function at many levels in this country, those that systematically oppress people of color. We recognize this moment as an opportunity to speak up externally, as well as one to reflect and act internally. We are accepting this opportunity.” – Equal Exchange, statement 

Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund

“We must applaud all those that risk their comfort to speak and act against inequality and injustices. Now more than ever, we must support cooperatives and work to build a cooperative economy and equitable society.” – Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Twitter post 

Honest Weight Food Co-op

“We cannot stand by silently while Black communities continue to suffer under the weight of violence, discrimination and injustice. Yesterday, May 31st, we made a $1,000 contribution to our neighbors, Citizen Action of New York, who organized Saturdays run/walk rally for Black Lives in Albany, and that’s not anywhere near enough. The work we all need to do to dismantle systemic racism is far from over.

“Honest Weight stands in solidarity with the Black communities in Albany, in Minneapolis, in Glynn County, in Louisville, Tallahassee and across the country. Black lives matter.” – Honest Weight Food Co-op, statement

National Co+op Grocers

“National Co+op Grocers (NCG) shares the pain and anger that so many feel regarding the cruel and inhumane murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Mr. Floyd is one of many tragic and unnecessary black deaths…

We believe that everyone has the capacity—and responsibility—to effect change.

As a national cooperative for locally owned food cooperatives, we will be working closely with our members to identify ways that food co-ops can better contribute to a truly just, equitable and inclusive society. Concern for community is one of our core co-op principles. We recognize that we have work to do.

In the meantime, in honor of George Floyd and the Twin Cities community in which we operate, we are making donations to Black Visions Collective and Campaign Zero.” – National Co+op Grocers, statement 

National Credit Union Administration

“As an African-American man, I … share the heartbreak of many in the black community. I am all too familiar with the anger and frustration that comes with the everyday challenges and realities surrounding race. While I pray for justice, healing and peace for our nation and for the family and loved ones of George Floyd, I am also encouraging everyone to have difficult conversations and to look for ways to promote diversity and inclusion within our communities. Individually and collectively, we can make a difference—one conversation and relationship at a time.” – Rodney Hood, Chair, National Credit Union Administration, statement

National Credit Union Foundation

“Among everything we collectively find abhorrent about George Floyd’s death and the injustices that so many fight against, we must also consider what we stand for.

As credit unions, we fight against economic inequality and injustice. If we consider what we stand for, it boils down to this: Financial Democracy. … I offer a rebrand of the Cooperative Principles to help us reflect on what we stand for. These are the ideals that credit unions should boldly put into action and make no apologies for.” – Chad Helminak, Director of DE & Cooperative Culture, National Credit Union Foundation, blog post

National Farmers Union

“The killing of George Floyd was an abuse of power and a horrifying act of violence, but what is even more horrifying is that this is not a rare or isolated incident. People of color are far more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts; black Americans account for just 13 percent of the overall population, but 26 percent of fatal police shootings. But police brutality doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s just one of many examples of racism in our country – in criminal justice, financial services, health care, voting, education, and elsewhere.”

“If we stand idly by while our friends and neighbors suffer—as too many of us have done for too long – we are complicit in their suffering. Now is the time to step up, to heal these wounds, to build a just and equal society. This will not be a quick or easy task – to overcome the terrible legacy of racism in this country, we all must reflect on our own privileges and prejudices, rethink our institutions, and demand structural change. The road ahead of us may be long and uncomfortable, but it is our moral obligation to traverse it.” – Rob Larew, President, National Farmers Union, statement

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

“America’s electric cooperatives are built by and belong to the diverse communities and consumer-members they serve. They are founded on seven principles that set them apart from other businesses. Concern for community and the open, democratic structure of co-ops are two of these core principles. With these foundational concepts in mind, NRECA supports electric cooperatives as they strive to serve their communities and work to enhance quality of life for their consumer-members.”

“As an employer and an advocate, NRECA is committed to a positive, inclusive culture.  We support policies that foster employee growth and success without fear of discrimination. The ongoing conversation about racism demands that we recognize how we can contribute to a more transparent, fair and accountable society. NRECA, its leadership and employees are expected to play a leadership role in rejecting racism, speaking against injustice, and demonstrating the value of diversity, equity and inclusion.” National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, statement

Neighboring Food Co-op Association

“We stand firmly with people calling for positive change in our society. We join with other movements and organizations working to overcome the legacy of racism and inequality in our nation and its institutions. And we challenge ourselves as cooperators to live up to the values that guide us, including democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. We recognize that this is no easy task and involves listening, challenging our own privileges and prejudices, and constantly working to address our shortcomings as we work together to transform ourselves, our cooperatives, and our communities.” – Neighboring Food Co-op Association, statement 

North American Students of Cooperation

“Since NASCO was founded, our housing co-ops have served as spaces for organizing against oppression and violence in our communities. Today, as people all over the U.S. are protesting and standing up against continued violence against Black people, we call on our member co-ops to uphold our tradition of solidarity in social action.”

“We cannot claim to be voluntary and open organizations while remaining neutral in the face of systems of oppression. White cooperators have a responsibility to not only engage in tough conversations around white supremacy but also to take direct action including redirecting resources (financial or otherwise), advocating for reform, protesting, and taking steps to learn more about privilege and allyship. NASCO recognizes discrimination embedded within our organization and our movement and we are taking steps to reassess how we can use our resources, expertise, and connections to root out white supremacy.” – North American Students of Cooperation, statement

PCC Community Markets

“Our communities are the heart of our co-op, and our heart is breaking. As a co-op, we are founded on a set of values that includes valuing diversity. It’s our responsibility to make sure every shopper and staff member at PCC feels welcome, respected and safe. However, the ongoing violence toward the Black community only reminds us how far we have to go.

Our nation needs to see real change and that starts at home. It starts in the conversations around our dinner tables. It means listening and empathizing with our neighbors and coworkers. It means opening our hearts and having honest discussions about the racism that is sadly still so prevalent in our country. It means standing up against the racism and violence that has impacted Black Americans for far too long.” – PCC Community Markets, Instagram post 

Savvy Cooperative

“While our work is centered around healthcare, we know that health extends into every part of life… That’s why institutional racism is a public health crisis. New technologies and treatments along won’t improve health outcomes for people of color. If they did, we wouldn’t see algorithms recommending better care for white patients than black patients, inadequate treatment of pain in black patients and black Americans dying from COVID-19 at a rate 3.57x higher than white Americans. We must do better to understand health disparities and inequities if we want to truly change course.” – Jen Horonjeff and Ronnie Sharpe, Founders, Twitter post 

Seward Community Co-op

“Our community has witnessed devastation and destruction, and many are experiencing trauma. Many in our community including co-op staff are sleep-deprived from posting neighborhood watches to protect homes and businesses, organizing to rebuild, protesting injustice, supporting those in need and cleaning up our city. Our community as a whole is grieving this devastation and destruction to our city, the brutal killing of George Floyd and the many injustices that the Black community continues to endure. We stand in community with the understanding that the cooperative values of equity and solidarity are more important than ever. We stand with our community in calling for justice and calling for peace.” – Seward Community Co-op, Facebook post 

U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives

“Today, there must be action for justice. To all Black people: we see you, we love you, and we stand in solidarity with you … We recognize the deep need for a just transition toward a people-centered, inclusive, cooperative economy that uplifts our Black communities instead of extracting wealth from them and tearing them apart.– U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, statement

Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives

“We aim to build a just, cooperative economy that is open to all ‘without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.’ It will not be a quick or simple task to address these wrongs. As a co-op, we will work to address our own responsibilities and participation in oppression and institutional racism. We are committed to a just society and a democratic economy woven with the voice of cooperation and labor so that we may eat, work, house and live together with justice, equity and solidarity.” – Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives, statement 

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