The Southern Grassroots Economies Project, a network of organizations that build cooperative economic institutions in the southeastern United States, just completed its fourth CoopEcon – a training institute for cooperative members. The following dedication was written for this year’s gathering by Ed Whitfield.
We dedicate CoopEcon this year to Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and the many other victims of police and other racist violence; We honor the heroic people of Ferguson, Missouri and the countless ordinary people in communities across the country who know a change must come and are willing to participate in creating that change.
We dedicate CoopEcon to the people of Appalachia who see the tops blown off their mountains and their streams poisoned. They watch as their children get cancer at high rates. Their beautiful homeland is sacrificed to the greed of the coal companies then abandoned when there is little profit left to extract. We honor those who organize and resist this devastation.
We dedicate CoopEcon to the communities that grocery stores, seeking higher profits, left years ago, making it difficult to find fresh fruits, fresh meats or fresh vegetables. We honor those communities who have decided to do something about it and with technical and financial help, build the stores that they need.
CoopEcon honors these individuals and communities by helping to develop ways to make a change. CoopEcon is about changing the world, at first one neighborhood, one grocery store, one mountain top, one place at a time, but soon, at a more rapid pace.
None of us can know exactly what will happen in the next few years. We can’t predict when millions of people will be rapidly alerted to action by some event – a catastrophe, perhaps – some situation that cannot be ignored. We can’t gaze into a crystal ball and foretell the future, but we can struggle to prepare for it.
We do this by working now to build a sustainable economy that meets peoples’ needs and while doing so learning and teaching the skills and developing the organizations that will scale up to improves the lives of many more people in the future. Our full humanity is only expressed when we have the capacity and the opportunity to be productive, to do for ourselves, meeting our needs in our communities.
The South is our home. It is often neglected, misunderstood, misrepresented, and underestimated. We know its history of struggle and its potential for the future. We know that those who see us as a source for their unquenchable thirst for profit have no need now for many of us. Yet, they do not want us to be capable of doing for ourselves. As it was the case of the Black land owners who were a foundation of the civil rights struggle, self-reliance carries with it a level of independence and confidence that frightens the powers that be, while it gives us great courage. This is the South that we want.
We live in a world of contradictions and disparity. There are islands of great wealth and privilege in an ocean of poverty and despair. The existing concentration of power and wealth among the few leads to ecological, social and economic devastation for the many. There are some of us, like Mike Brown, that the wealthy and powerful have no place for. They just want us off of the street, on the sidewalk – if there is a sidewalk. And if we are defiant, if we refuse to move out of the way, if we refuse to become invisible, and stop being inconvenient, asserting our humanity instead, demanding to be noticed, refusing to comply, we might be summarily executed – like Mike Brown and left lying in the street as a sign to others that we must obey.
But many young people are fearless and still refuse. It is among these young people who refuse to do as they are told that we find our greatest hope. Those who passively seek to comply with all authority including those who fear and disrespect their communities are accepting their own dehumanization and becoming agents for the dominant power.
The world, in which Michael Brown would still be alive, is a world we have yet to create. It is a world in which people are valued, not as a means to an end, but as ends in themselves. To Mike Brown, to that world, and to the others who are working to create it, we dedicate this year’s CoopEcon.