Most cooperators are familiar with the 7 Cooperative Principles. But did you know that along with these principles comes a set of shared values that include democracy?
All successful cooperatives are structured as representative democracies—members vote to elect their board of directors and weigh in on other important matters to ensure the ongoing success of their business. It’s this level of member control and participation that makes cooperatives and their owners practiced leaders in what successful democratic governance can look like.
But it isn’t just voting in your co-op board elections that is woven in the cooperative identity. The importance of voting for public officials—in the U.S. case, at the local, state and federal levels—is explained in the Guidance Notes on the Cooperative Principles, which help people apply the principles in a contemporary setting. Specifically, democratic participation is included prominently in the guidance notes on the 5th Cooperative Principle: Co-op Education, Training, and Information.
Member education should help members understand the rights and responsibilities of membership, including their duty to exercise their democratic rights. Member education can help secure an active and informed membership and ensure that elected representatives and leaders are ones who share their vision and aspirations for the success of their co-operative, and have the necessary skills to carry out their responsibilities. Such programmes should lead to not only better, more committed co-operators, but also more active citizens. Active co-operators are often active in other civil society organisations too. Co-operative education aims to develop transferable skills essential for civil society, not just economic units. Co-operative member education should be concerned to ensure that members are active members of civil society and participate in the diverse civil society organisations open to them that strengthen and enrich the fabric and culture of human decency.
That’s why NCBA CLUSA is excited to introduce the Twin Pines Voter Project—a non-partisan engagement activity in partnership with Co-ops Vote to boost democratic participation among cooperatives through voter registration and voting in public elections. As members of people-centered businesses, co-ops are uniquely positioned to host voter registration drives, share critical voting information and help community members make a plan to vote.
“For generations, co-ops have demonstrated the strength and value of democratic governance. The Twin Pines Voter Project creates a new way for co-ops to act on our shared value of democracy and educate their communities on the importance of civic participation,” said Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “Co-ops are on the ballot every election with a new opportunity to exercise your right to vote and elect candidates that will promote the cooperative model to build a more resilient and inclusive economy.”
“For generations, co-ops have demonstrated the strength and value of democratic governance. The Twin Pines Voter Project creates a new way for co-ops to act on our shared value of democracy.” – Doug O’Brien, president and CEO, NCBA CLUSA
An NCBA CLUSA program of Co-ops Vote, the Twin Pines Voter Project is made possible with the support of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). NRECA launched Co-ops Vote in 2016 and, since then, has engaged thousands of co-op voters across the country, connecting them with candidates and elected officials.
“Co-ops are the trusted resource in the communities that they serve, and voting is woven deeply in their DNA,” said Laura Vogel, NRECA’s Senior Associate for Grassroots, and Manager of the Co-ops Vote program. “It’s only logical that co-ops should be involved in providing the resources to their members to make educated choices on how, where and when to vote.” Co-ops Vote helps to provide those resources, ensuring that all co-op members can exercise their most basic civic duty: the right to vote. When communities vote, they ensure that their concerns are heard at the local, state and federal levels.
“Co-ops are the trusted resource in the communities that they serve, and voting is woven deeply in their DNA.” – Laura Vogel, Senior Associate for Grassroots and Manager of the Co-ops Vote program, NRECA
Cooperatives have been doing this work for years. For example, for more than a decade, Union Cab Cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin has provided free rides to-and-from polling places. Our goal through the Twin Pines Voter Project is to increase these efforts and awareness of these efforts, as well as bring together the cooperative community around our shared identity.
That means it’s time for you to participate! Flex your co-op muscles by participating in the Twin Pines Voter Project—become an Influencer and Pioneer Co-op on your way to unlocking Evergreen Co-op status. By completing and reporting activities that promote democratic participation in your co-op and community, you’ll help preserve democracy and win recognition. We’ve suggested several activities to get you started, but we encourage you to be creative! Adapt our suggestions or create new activities based on the needs and interests of your members and community.
Here’s how you can reach our three achievement levels:
- Influencer Co-op Complete at least three Twin Pines Voter Project activities and get an Influencer Co-op logo to share on your website or social media platforms
- Pioneer Co-op Complete at least five Twin Pines Voter Project activities and get a Pioneer Co-op window cling to proudly display in your co-op in addition to a Pioneer Co-op logo to share on your website or social media platforms
- Evergreen Co-op complete at least seven Twin Pines Voter Project activities and get an Evergreen Co-op window cling to proudly display in your co-op in addition to an Evergreen Co-op logo to share on your website or social media platforms
Once you’ve completed enough activities to reach Influencer, Pioneer and/or Evergreen Co-op status, simply fill out this form to share your engagement in the Twin Pines Voter Project.
NCBA CLUSA designed this program to adapt to your co-op community, but one suggested activity is to invite your current elected officials or candidates seeking public office to your co-op. This suggestion is rooted in the co-op guidance on ongoing education inside and outside of the cooperative members:
It requires co-operatives to “inform the general public … about the nature and benefits of co-operation”. This obligation to inform others about the nature and benefits of co-operatives applies “particularly” to “…opinion leaders” … “Opinion leaders” means all those who influence public opinion including politicians, public servants, media representatives, and educators. Co-operative education involves engaging the minds of members, elected leaders, managers and employees so that they comprehend fully the complexity and richness of co-operative thought and action and its social impact.
Activities that encourage democratic participation can happen throughout the year, but they culminate on the civic holiday, National Voter Registration Day (NVRD). This year, NVRD takes place on September 20, 2022. On this holiday, it’s important not only to register new voters, but also to make sure your own voter registration is up-to-date. Help your co-op and community members prepare for the November elections by registering to vote and making a plan to vote on or before Election Day.
As the guidance notes state, “Without education, information and training, people will not appreciate or support what they do not understand.” Our hope for the Twin Pines Voter Project is to empower and create new Co-op Voters—cooperators who go to the ballot box and cast their vote for the elected official they believe best understands the cooperative difference and will represent and advocate for cooperative enterprise.