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I start a course in co-op development today: “From Workers to Owners: Steps to Start Worker Cooperatives”. It’s part the economy and part the recent press our store has gotten, but we are getting calls or emails multiple times a week from people wanting to start co-ops. In addition to the cheese buying, one of my jobs is to field those calls. It’s an online course – and not a free one -- and I heard that 83 people are signed up.

I don’t want to out anyone before they are ready so I won’t name any places or details, but I talked to two incredibly different groups last week. One group of African Americans from an urban area in another state who want to do something – anything – that will help provide jobs and better health in their community. They were information gathering in general, without a specific plan of the type of model they wanted.

The other was an API ethnic group with a very specific idea of taking an existing, successful franchise model and converting it into a worker-owned version of the same thing. I don’t know that business model well, but they seemed pretty sure they could make it work.

It’s almost unfair to have people come for a tour and answer questions about our modes of operation since our blueprint for success is uncopyable. They see the result of nearly 35 years of work, starting in a totally different economy and era, with the good luck to be starting in an industry that – at that time – wasn’t an industry. I think there could be a blueprint. (The Cheeseboard/Arizmendi model is certainly a very good one) We just haven’t figured it out yet.

Historically-speaking I also speak to about 25 groups for every one that actually starts a co-op. I hope that this course – and two other Rainbow workers are taking it as well -- helps provide some groundwork to increase that ratio.
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Our cheese area is way too small for the volume of cheese we sell. While this makes our financial statement look great, it contributes to the too-many-rats-in-the-cage feeling that our store gets when it’s crowded. The crowd around our sample table jams up the area like fallen trees on a country road. Shopping carts and people take up so much space when we’re really busy that getting from produce to cheee is like crossing the Bay Bridge at 5 PM. Sometimes we have to wait long periods of time to stock cheese we’ve cut and wrapped because the area simply can’t fit another person. I took a picture at Thanksgiving 1996 (just months after we moved into our new store) amazed at how busy the area in front of cheese was compared to our Mission St store. Now I see that view at some point almost every day.

When we cheeseworkers do get out to stock the cheese coolers on busy days it’s often one question after another from customers too quiet or shy to get our attention over the cheese counter. That’s cool. It’s one of the parts of my job I enjoy most, actually. The problem is that the customers get a little close sometimes.

Maybe it’s the desperation in the air these days but customers were more stressed than usual in this holiday season. It wasn’t that more customers than usual were rude, it’s that the ones who were rude were really rude.

I was answering a customer’s question at one point in late December when someone started hitting me on the back. I thought it was some friend or coworker, but no, it was another customer. I turned – surprised that I didn’t recognize the person and before I could say anything she said, “I have some cheese questions? Can you answer them?”* I told her “no” because it’s against the rules to touch a cheese worker without consent.

Even more obnoxious was a guy who came in – possibly a little fucked up already – looking for cheese for a party he was already late to. He kept picking up pieces of cheese, studying them, and then tossing them a few feet away in the cooler as if he couldn’t bear their sight. I was already coming around the counter when he saw me, “I need the right size piece of brie, can you help me?”

“Yes, but if you keep throwing cheese around the case I’m going to throw you out of the store.” I put a medium-sized Fromager D’affinois in his cart and used my I-dare-you-to-say-something look. He thanked me and walked away, coming back ten minutes later to apologize to my co-worker for “upsetting” me.

Then, just the other day someone came in and asked for the “Sky Q” cheese that he had read about on the internet. After I thought for a second I said, “Ski Queen”? I explained what it was but he said, “No, that’s not it. I know they carry it at the East Coast Whole Foods stores, you probably just haven’t heard of it yet.” Then he asked for ricotta. I tried to explain that if he was looking for whey-based cheeses, that it probably was Ski Queen Gjetost he was looking for. However, since I was contradicting the internet, he didn’t trust me and went with a sneer and empty hands.**

But I knew I was starting to overreact to the retail pressure when a customer came up –obviously dismayed—and asked for a “softer Parmesan” than the Parmigiano Reggiano. There are obvious answers to that question: Domestic Parmesan, Argentine Parmesan, Grana Padano etc. but I couldn’t let go of the premise inherent in her question – that she wished to deny one of the main traits that makes Parmesan Parmesan. In a moment of self-righteousness I wanted to stand in solidarity with the identity struggle of Parmigiano Reggiano. I whispered to a co-worker, “Do we have any drier water?” and neither of us could stop laughing until I finally left the cheese cutting area.

*If I were reading this entry I would try to figure out this behavior. I’d think maybe she had been waiting for help and had been ignored or something. You’ll have to trust me, I have a developed skill for this, she was not there when I started talking to the other customer. She just didn’t want to wait her turn.
**Which isn’t the worst thing. Norweigans aside, Gjetost isn’t for everyone.
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Tuesday night our Membership Meeting, after some perfunctory business, turned into a memorial for our co-worker who killed himself last week. I've rarely been so proud of my workplace and my co-workers and especially [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso who (lightly) facilitated it. I went to support my co-workers and friends who were having a hard time but left feeling like I had gotten a tremendous amount out of it. There was no rush, just 50 or so people telling stories that made people cry or laugh out loud. Tom had written a short goodbye letter to the co-op (Tom also wrote letters to other friends and family) which was read aloud. His last words to us were both heartening and awful. We (I assume all of us) took some solace in knowing that he took some of his last moments to reassure us that it wasn't our fault and to say he appreciated the community we've created. However, after those words were read, the realization sank in again: Tom was still dead, there would be no more funny Tom notes or inane pages that we could laugh at together.

Still, being together and sharing memories, and thereby reinforcing our own connections to each other, was so important that it's hard to put it into words.

[livejournal.com profile] anarqueso wrote up her account of the meeting which is poignant and more worth your reading time than this little short burst.
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What a busy May Day.

I started off the day dealing with entitlement on a bike. I don’t know what alerted me to the aggro guy on his bike but he was on my block coming out of an apartment. I don’t think I had seen him before, but he had a bike helmet and sunglasses so it was a little hard to tell. I felt him semi-staring at me as I walked down the block but, like I said, he was wearing sunglasses so I couldn’t tell 100% if he was looking at me. He was giving off that go-ahead-and-ask-me-what-I’m-staring–at vibe so, while I didn’t change my path, I didn’t try to make eye contact either. When I got within about 10 ft. away he swung his bike around and took off.

"Whatever," I thought.

Before I go on I want to mention a few things. I am sympathetic to bicyclists. I don’t think that safety on the roads is 50:50 bike /car. I think it’s more like 90% car because drivers are the ones driving the huge hunks of metal. Though I own a car, I walk (or take public transit) most of the time in the city so I know how scary reckless city drivers can be. Though many times bicycle politics can be ableist and self-congratulatory, I think overall they are for the good. Generally I feel solidarity with bicyclists. Hey my brother even has a bike blog.

Having said all that, here’s what happened. At the end of my block there’s a stop sign. A car was in front of the biker with his right blinker on. Driver stops at stop sign. Bicyclist doesn’t stop, passing him on the right. Driver starts forward turning right, sees bicyclist, jams on brakes and hits his horn (not just a toot, but he didn’t lay on it either). Bicyclist freaks out, jumps off his bike and starts yelling at the driver. I can’t hear the driver but the biker has his hands on top of the open window, leaning in, yelling things like, “How dare you honk at me!” “You almost hit me!” and “You’re lucky I’m nice, another bicyclist would have fucked up your car for honking.”

He’s getting louder and louder as I approach. They driver is being appeasing. Palms-up and everything, he’s trying to explain why he honked but the bicyclist keeps yelling at him, cutting him off. I can’t really follow his rant, something about people in cars are just button-pushers, insulated from the world. He shows no sign of slowing down. I think he may be gearing up to slug the driver.

I stand about ten feet away and say, “You have to calm down.” It is, after all, my block and I’m not going to ignore this and walk by. I say it softly and keep my hands at my sides. He ignores me, continuing his rant. But he knows I’m there. I say it again, the same way. He still doesn’t react or look at me but he finishes with a “Be more careful!” gets on his bike and rides away.

The driver pulls over, a little shaken and exploding with all the things he couldn’t say since he was defusing the situation: “I was signaling!” “He drove through a Stop on my right!” “I always yield to bikes!” I told him that the biker was an asshole and went to catch the N Judah.

Downtown, I stupidly thought the march was starting at the 1934 General Strike Memorial so I had to spend awhile finding the march (“Aha! I said to myself, ”traffic isn’t coming on this side of the street so the march must have started on the other side of Market St!”) I caught the last block and am glad I did because I got to see the ILWU Drill Team do synchronized steps and hook moves. As always, some wingnuts were there but at union rallies they are not allowed to speak. The biggest group in the worker co-op contingent were the Lusty Lady folks who kept a continual retort of “Yes, we’re in a union” to the questioning of other demonstrators.

I didn’t stay too long because I had to go drink beer in the sun and play badminton with members of my co-op at our yearly party in Stern Grove. God, my co-workers children sure have grown since last year.

I missed the Immigrant Rights rally because I ended up driving a co-worker home who nailed a pothole on the way down into the Stern Grove valley and wasn’t doing so well. In fact, she’s the “President”* and our Treasurer went down in the softball game. Of our corporate officers, only our Secretary was still standing at the end of the day.

Good thing we’re a co-op.

How was your International Workers Day/Immigrant Rights Day/May Day?

*As a California Corporation we are required to have a “President”. It is a position with no power whatsoever.
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In years past, we have often gone to co-op conferences where it was clear that some of the things we have to account for as a large urban grocery store are different from smaller town co-ops.* An incident yesterday sums it up.

A co-worker noticed someone who looked a little crazy** acting strangely upon entering the store. He had a big Macy's bag with them which is a good sign of a bad shoplifter. Co-worker was keeping an eye on him and I guess he noticed because he came up to her and opened his bag. "Look!" he snarled from his toothless mouth.

She assumed he was just showing her an empty bag to prove his innocence so she was all, "it's fine"

Then he snarled louder "LOOK!"

She looked. He was carrying four rats with him. She started screaming "Get out! Get out! Get out!" Seemingly satisfied, he wandered towards the exit.

Later that day I was relaying this story to Formaldhyde and he asked, "Were the rats alive or dead?" I had assumed alive and hadn't even thought to ask. He had assumed dead.*** I had to call my co-worker at home. "The rats… were they alive or dead?"

"Alive. Chocolate brown. They looked like pets. Uh, did you really call me at home just to ask me that?"

"Of course," I said. Oral history is the life blood of any cooperative.

*I could have sworn I wrote about the anti-oppression workshop I went to where someone tearfully spoke about a customer saying meanly, "Do you have to be a dyke to shop here or what?" and how all my co-workers laughed. But I can't find it. Anyone remember that anecdote or should I tell it again?

**Our standard of "crazy" is pretty high. Just take my word for it here.

***[Poll #1090300]
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I feel like I should write something here about the Western Worker Cooperative Conference besides that we hit a deer with my car. I’m supposed to do the official account too. Think of me writing it up for our website with one hand and writing it for LJ with the other.

I try to push the boundaries of puff piece writing but it’s hard. People, both in and out of a given group, expect certain things from articles on a group’s website about an event they put on. I think the best thing for a website is to write a factual piece and invite other participants to add their views. The problem is that the wingnuts and cranks always seem to have more time on their hands and their, usually negative and always skewed, views gain more power than they should.

But this conference is relatively crank-free so I think it’ll work. What I can’t stand is reading press releases which make every event sound like the best thing ever. It’s one of the reasons the anarchist press is so bad, for example. Publication after publication just reprint the same badly written press releases which, as is the nature of press releases, have so little credibility that they actually insult the readers. But it’s tricky writing a piece short enough that people will read it and including any of the ever-present issues that go along with events and conferences with over-emphasizing them or making things look like a failure.

Because if you mention things that could have been better the average reader, or at least a negative bastard like me, will assume things were much worse and that the group was damage-controlling by copping to only some of the bad things. Hell, I’d probably get on the phone right away to anyone who might know the real dirt.

Anyways, the conference went well.* We rented out the entire Breitenbush grounds so it was about the same amount of people as two years ago. Except for a couple of child care providers brought by individual parents, I think every single person there was a co-op member, a stark contrast to the East Coast Conference I attended two years ago that had a majority of technical assistance providers and non-profiteers and even the National conference which had at least 25% non-coop members.

I got drafted onto a panel at the last moment which was only fair since I got drafted onto the planning board only three months before the conference due to someone else leaving due the fact that I had been a BOD member in previous years. I had to represent the local co-op group NoBAWC since none of the Steering Committee members could attend. I am running for the first NoBAWC BOD so that seemed fair too, though I have been critical at times of the slow pace of local organizing work.

Representatives from the Portland Area Worker Collective group, the South Sound Cooperatives, and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives all reported back about what we had been doing in the two years since the last conference.

After that I went to the badly-named workshop on avoiding burnout at co-ops. Almost everyone there was as over-committed as I was! Obviously it was a much-needed workshop. Then I realized I didn’t really need to do anything else. I had attended similar workshops to everything else offered this year. I wasn’t representing my co-op or getting paid to be there. And my conference was free because I was a BOD member. Beyond counting the votes for the new BOD and cleaning up, I was done. I did attend an Open Space** "workshop" entitled "Hott Bois in Hot Tubs"*** called for by a Lusty Lady jizz mopper, but that hardly counts.

So I enjoyed the natural beauty free of hippie wanker dudes since we had the whole place reserved. I will say this for hippies, they do appreciate a good hot spring. We also all know there are some who enjoy them too much.**** But without any Watsu gatherings or back-rub rapists it was pretty awesome.

I think the big thing about our conference, and this was our 9th or 10th, is that we have achieved a lot but that we are at a point where things need to get pushed further. The conference was nice, but not amazing, at least to me who has been to five of these. Our organization and communication is light years ahead of where we were in the ‘90s, but our new organizations haven’t matured enough to make a difference yet. I am incredibly hopeful that they will, that worker co-ops will someday be a measurable part of the economy (first locally, then nationally). But the last two years were about building infrastructure. That can be a long, intangible process.

The next conference for our people is the National in 2006. We have to have those (both depressing and encouraging) talks about our current weaknesses and strengths. We need to do intensive workshops on organizing worker coops and fundraising without bringing in (too many) outsiders who might turn what we’ve created into another fiefdom of non-profit groups and professional developers. This year’s WWCC had lots of workshops geared toward building skills in our current workplaces but wasn’t designed to address the" movement" as a whole. It wasn’t until the end of the conference that I realized that I was missing that.

The US Federation BOD was meeting in San Francisco this last weekend and some of the things they are discussing are amazing. I will write about them when their minutes come out. Maybe there’s no other way to feel right now except for both incredibly optimistic about what we could build and petrified that we will somehow waste the momentum we have been gaining. And let’s be honest, this "momentum" is probably visible to less than 1000 people nationwide.*****

But it’s there. It really is. What happens next is unknowable. I just want all the other co-opers to be as openly anxious about it as me.

*How’s my credibility going? Did you believe that sentence?
**The time where people can call for workshops on issues not addressed in the regularly scheduled panels
****Cough, Harbin, cough cough
*****There are more worker coop jobs than that nationwide. By this I mean people who have been paying attention long enough to see these little spasms of movement.
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Thanks for everyone who helped me celebrate my birthday.* It was great.

Work was fun because I barely worked. I hung out with friends who came in to wish me happy b-day. I chatted with the BOD of the US Federation of Worker Coops who were meeting in our lounge (I’m proud to say that the singing of "Happy Birthday" by my co-workers disrupted their meeting). I flirted with customers even more than usual. Basically going to work on my b-day is great for me because I’m kinda an attention whore anyways. This way I get to indulge.

And yes, I did go to a bar afterwards to meet up with the USFWC BOD because I am that much of a co-op geek. But these are great people! I wanted to take the opportunity to see the out-of-towners while they were here. [livejournal.com profile] jactitation and a couple of other old friends stopped by as the co-opers were drifting away.

Today I’m going to my parents house to do b-day with my family and to clean the deer gore off my car. The damn thing smells so bad I parked it down the block.

I’m only 38 but I think I have to start planing my 40th. What did you folks do/what will you do for your 40th? (You little kids can substitute 30th for 40th)

*You know who you are. ;)
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One of the funniest posts I ever made, imho, was this one about the Olympia Food Co-op t-shirt policy. Well guess what? This is a follow-up post. If you haven’t read that one, and it’s from June 2003 so many of you haven’t, go read it. I’ll wait.

Ok, now that you’re up to speed we can continue.

Back up in Olympia a couple of months ago I was wandering around the backstock area and found a handout to help explain the t-shirt policy to the poor hippie boys who can’t seem to find their t-shirts. I thought I had lost it after showing it to everyone whose path I crossed driving cross-country. But cleaning out my wallet, I just found it again and scanned it for your reading pleasure. Here it is:

co-op shirt policy

I don’t honestly know what else I can add. Except to point out that the reason we don’t allow* un-clothed folks is that we’re a food store and that is gross. Keep those underarm hairs and pointy bits out of the bulk section!

My favorite part is the "don’t assume that just because the female staff is being paid to work here, that they will answer your questions". Second favorite: "We do not wish to be fashion police". Third: "Someday, hopefully,… we may all wear what we please." I know that’s what I’m fighting for.

My friend is going to hate me for this.

*Close readers will notice that an occasional pants-less junkie or street fest attendee may wander in. But we do kick them out or ask them to clothes-up if we see ‘em.
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I realized that I never wrote about the panel discussion I was on at the Fancy Food Show. Hell, half the reason I did it was that I figured it would make a good anecdote.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. But I’ll write about it anyway.

I’ve never been to such an uneventful talk. It was actually a little historic. I’ve never seen worker, consumer, and agriculture coops represented on the same panel. That it happened at the country’s biggest orgy of snacking and schmoozing is odd, but history tends to be odd sometimes too.

While something can be a historical moment without anyone noticing, I don’t really feel like this will qualify. At the moment that the panel was supposed to start there was one person in the room. Our handler, because this is a big money event and we had a handler, had been apologizing for a half hour as we sat in our prep room drinking free coffee and eating free pastries. She was very nice and apologizing in that optimistic way that events people can. "It should be really productive because it will be an intimate crowd," she said while letting us know that only 8 people had registered our panel which was being held in a 100 person auditorium.

What I had forgotten when I promised to do this panel was that they charge for it. I had never attended any of the "educational" programs at the food show because there had never been a panel that interested me and wasn’t impaneled mostly with jerks. I actually don’t even know what it cost, they are very efficient over at NASFT and have already wiped the website clean. I could only find this remnantwhich simply names our topic: The Cooperative Way: Applying Co-op Principles to Your Business.

Of course I was joking when I referred to it earlier as "putting the co-op back into coopt" though I was wary of the panel, NASFT having no history of being anything but a business trade show with hard-hitting workshops with topics like , "My Job Tastes Good".. The person developing the educational program insisted that he wanted to involve co-ops so I agreed, for my workplace, to do the panel. I figured if they were gonna do it, we should be represented since it’s held in our city. I also knew that he had gotten a beer expert who I really respect, Lucy Saunders, to do a cheese and beer pairing so I figured he might actually be trying to make these events useful.

I learned a good lesson from all this though: ask for money. I mean, my workplace pays me for my time so I wasn’t out anything, but the other panelists got not only the free passes I got, but airfare and lodging. I didn’t get a chance to ask if they also got an honorarium. I was a hell of a bargain. Or sucker.

Of course, since no one showed up it might have been good I didn’t push it. It was actually such a relief to not be organizing the discussions on co-ops that I didn’t really care that no one was there. I’m used to being involved in the minutia of the conference or event where this would have been solely my fault so I could afford to be all "whatever" about it.

The crowd slowly swelled to eight people as we got started. I wondered how many were NASFT plants. I remember my friends who worked at Macy’s used to get called on to take off their nametags and attend events that were bombing to lessen the embarrassment of whatever celebrity was hawking a new line of clothes or perfume. And to protect the Macy’s reputation. I know there was one and I suspected two others. (have any of you, dear readers, been a plant at a company event?)

The other two panelists, one from Organic Valley and one from the Hanover Consumer Co-op, had power point presentations but I kept it real and represented my people by having scrawled handwritten notes. Or, I prepared for the event starting at 11 PM the night before my 8 AM panel after being out drinking with [livejournal.com profile] dairryiere. Whichever way you want to think about it.

Actually, it wasn’t really like that either since I was giving a pretty standard version of how my workplace operates, which is a talk I’ve been giving for about 9 years. My only new material was incorporating some info about the international worker co-op movement and giving a few "secrets" for our success in business language. Well, as much business language as I do which means throwing in a few words about worker turnover and workplace safety.

My only stressful moment was when they tried to get me to go up to the podium to speak. Because of the PC set up for the PowerPoint presentations, I had no place to put my notes where they wouldn’t slip away. After thirty seconds of speaking, grappling, catching, propping and stress, I said, "I’m gonna do this sitting down." I figured the eight people, probably only five who paid, wouldn’t care.

The event went quickly, there were basic questions, this being a basic panel. I didn’t even get to work in my "coopt" line because I couldn’t find a place for it. I felt bad for the people who paid to see us, but then again their companies probably wrote it off anyway. The hour and a half ended quickly and I went to go eat and schmooze.


Sep. 14th, 2004 10:47 am
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Oh geez. I messed up the punchline of my last entry. After the religious nut left, the facilitator said to the group, "If there are any other wingnuts in this workshop, will you please self-identify right now?"

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So the Bay Area Worker Cooperative Conference and Festival was a success. Almost 190 registrants by the time it was done. A 3-day film fest and a weekend-long conference with 20 workshops was an ambitious thing to organize with a volunteer group that started with five of us.

But I like to dwell on the negative. I’m that type of person. I feel like I learned a lot about putting on a conference in an urban location. I have a lot of experience with organizing destination-conferences, but doing something in a city has unique challenges. Like, if it’s boring, people have the choice to leave.

I like thinking big. It’s a problem with the left that no one thinks big enough. But we definitely bit off more than we could chew with this thing and it became obvious a couple weeks ago. So I went into my panic/stress/work-all-the-time mode which is my usual defense mechanism. We pulled it off, but I think every individual part of the conference could have been improved if we had more time to concentrate on it. A one-day conference instead of a two-day one, one night time event instead two, a day of movies or a series NOT on the three days immediately leading up to the main events.

Then again, it would have been helpful to not schedule myself to facilitate two workshops, be a panelist on another, interview an author for a night time event and have my "band" perform at the auction. I have a hard time saying "no" sometimes.

Again, overall it was really good but a couple of things prevented it from being the obvious, momentum-building event I had hoped for. I think the biggest reason was the location. The Women’s Building was great to us. They gave us a nice discount and were the most helpful event hosts I’ve ever met in ten years of sporadically putting on shows and conferences. Having childcare on site was also one of the biggest positive evaluation comments we received, enabling people to participate who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

But man, that main auditorium is BIG. At the opening introduction, I kept feeling, "No one is here. This is gonna be a disaster." Then I counted the people. 80 people gathered around on 10 AM on Saturday morning to talk about co-ops. That should have been easily recognizable as a victory. If the same number of us had been crammed into a classroom everyone would have been all, "This is so great to see this many people here" instead of "Where is everyone?" It’s a basic organizing rule, but we had forgotten it.

My only Women’s Building complaint is that the Audre Lorde room has horrible acoustics. Like, if someone scoots their chair you miss what is said. Combine that with the murmur of constant simultaneous translation and a workshop can get pretty frustrating and exhausting just from struggling to hear what is said.

Since one can not hold a public event in the Bay Area without wingnuts, we had a good one show up. Luckily he was dealt with what one participant described as a "surgical strike" of facilitation. Evidently, he drove all the way from Sonoma to attend the "Co-ops and Labor Unions" discussion and interrupt with a sermon about the evilness of unions, the atrocity of eating animal flesh, the meaning of [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso’s shirt, cleansing the world of usurers, and a few other topics. When finally made to stop speaking, the facilitator said, "Do you have an actual question?"

"Do you have a question?" he replied.

Momentarily stumped, the facilitator said, "Ok, you’ve had your say. You can sit quietly for the rest of the workshop or you can leave."

He got up to leave and said, "Thank you. You’ve been very polite." Obviously he was used to getting thrown out of these things. Maybe it was performance art.
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One Italian-American worker to another at work today: "You know what? You really put the Wop in co-op."
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Insomniacs! I will be live on KPFA at 7:30 AM Labor Day morning to plug the Coop Conference. How many union members died so I could lose sleep? At least it's a paid day off work.

Also, I would like to sheepishly announce that on Saturday September 11, The Cooperative will play for the first time in 5 years. We willl be at the Women's Building and it's free because it's during the fundraiser auction/cabaret for the conference. We will go on sometime after 9 PM but the schedule is in flux so I can't give a more specific time.

We only have three songs, a five minute set, so we'll probably play it twice. Think '80s-era street punk with songs about working in a co-op. I wish I could lay claim to the lyrics because they are hillarious, but I can't. Here are some previews:

"Injury, Injury"

It started with a feeling in my hand
between my knuckles were grains of sand
everytime I pick up a case of soy milk
I feel my ligaments tear like silk

Injury, Injury! --I think I need a rest
Injury, Injury! --God I wish that I had stretched

"86 You"

I'm sick of all your special orders
sick of you yuppies drinking your fancy porters
we've had enough. It's gonna end
It's in our store that we're gonna win!

86 them! Kick them out of our shop
86 them! 'cuz we own our own co-op!
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OK, time to stop fooling myself. I will be too busy to write anything beyond a sentence or two until the Bay Area Worker Coop Conference is over. I’ve already started canceling social plans because of the vast amounts of detail work involved right now. Feel free to visit the website and tell me how good the conference looks.

And since my last name is all over that site, I may as well give you all the link to the Bay Guardian interview with me that came out yesterday. I also may be on KPFA at an insanely early hour on Monday (Labor Day) morning but that’s not settled yet.

Looking forward to more leisure time somewhere in the future
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I went to two co-op meetings yesterday and got a call from a third group wanting a representative to speak to them. I can’t really go into details, but the two groups I met with both want to do co-op development in their own low-income communities, one in the Tenderloin and the other in one of the most bombed-out parts of West Oakland. If either of these projects pan out, it will be an amazing victory.

Interest in co-ops is exploding and, as always, we’re trying to create support infrastructure as we go. Those of us who reject out of hand the professionalized role of most of the East Coast technical assistance organizations filled with people who never worked in co-ops, are trying as fast as possible to figure out how to teach skills and process while hooking up with grant writing folk who can help fund groups who have very little capital with which to start their co-ops

Who knows if anything will come out of this? Lack of funds, bad business plans, arbitrary city zoning law implementation, and internal fighting are always possibilities in these types of situations. Still, like the founding of a national federation of worker co-ops last month, it’s amazing to see tangible things growing from work done years ago. Work that sometimes seemed silly or pointless at the time. Long meetings that seemed pretentious because of the idea that anyone would actually care about a worker-coop "movement".

Anyways, it’s still unclear how far all this will go. But today all I can see is the positive. If these projects work, they will be models exportable to other people and other places. They could fail, but they have the potential to be the start of something big. Let’s hear it for optimism!
gordonzola: (Default)
Geez, I really didn’t have much writing time last week. Here are some more memorable Minneapolis moments:

1. Went to North Country Co-op and they had a hummus demo. It was certainly some of the worst hummus I’ve ever tasted, which is not the fault of the co-op or, probably, the Midwest. What was notable was that they spelled it "homos" on the label. I know it’s all transliterated so spellings vary, but you’d think someone would have proofread that one. Though you could make a good ad campaign:

"What do you like on your carrot?"

"Homos, of course!"

I meant to buy some and bring it home to prove this, but I forgot.

2. Eerie portrait of Hubert Humphrey * hanging over the conference proceedings. He looked just like Montgomery Burns when he says "Exxxxx-cellant". I got my pic taken in front of it but haven’t seen it yet.

3. OK, here ya go. Minneapolis has weird hang-ups about alcohol. Firstly, good, or even mediocre, beer is expensive. I expected my San Francisco dollars to stretch further. $4.50 for a pint of Newcastle? At a "punk" bar? Is that a joke? Sure, I could drink that Grainbelt swill, and I did, but it’s not very good. And what is up with the liquor stores being closed after 8 PM except for (rumored) supermarket 3.2 beer? That’s insane.

Then we went to the famous punk bar’s two for one night. Of course, you couldn’t share your two for one with a friend and they had table service and surly punk waitresses to enforce that rule. You order a drink and they bring you two pints in plastic cups. The bar was crowded and humid. Unless you chugged the beers they would get warm and sweaty. This seemed to be a mixed message considering the MPLS concern that people might buy a six pack after 8 PM to consume at home.

I did like that almost every place had pitchers, but that could have been because we were mostly near the U of M.

4. Smoking in bars. I’d completely forgotten about that. I didn’t bring enough clothes so that I’d have non-smoke-smelling ones. I felt bad about how bad I smelled on my Supershuttle ride from the airport.

5. Lawnmower Beefcake Boys! Someone needs to make a porn about them. Walking down the street, we saw two shirtless guys in 60 degree weather pushing lawnmowers on the grassy slope of an old folks home or something. All they had on were tight blue jeans, workboots, and big muscles. In SF you could have sold tickets.

Further down the road there was another Lawnmower Boy with the jeans and boots, but he had on a white shirt. We figured he was in his probationary period.

6. Couldn’t figure out if I was getting attitude from a certain person or not. Typical anarchist info shop customer service or did I do something wrong? Turned out it was someone I ridiculed in a letter to the editor in an old issue of Clamor. But I still don’t know the answer to the question.

7. Thank you [livejournal.com profile] surlygrrrl and [livejournal.com profile] walktheplank for your hospitality. I wish I had more time in your lovely city. [livejournal.com profile] greasyspoon, I'm sorry things didn't work out for us to meet.

*it’s a pdf file that I can’t open for some reason right now, but supposedly you’ll see it if you scroll through the newsletter.
gordonzola: (Default)
and others just love to love them.

Verbatim: my favorite moment of this year’s Board of Directors meetings at my workplace.

"Tippy" the Tipping Ladder to be replaced by "Sturdy" the Rolling Ladder
New Item #1
(BOD member #1): Tippy was taken away despite the wall-poll in Tippy’s defense.
(BOD member #2): Any comments or questions about the new Tippy?
(BOD member #1): I don’t think the new ladder could be like Tippy at all.
(BOD member #3): We’ll call it "Sturdy".

Proposal: The BOD approves $462.21 for a new rolling ladder to be named "Sturdy"
Favor: Unanimous
gordonzola: (Default)
I kind of opened a can of worms with my last post by using the phrase "non-violent snapping". As someone who works in a collectively-run business and who is at least a part-time activist, I’ve had the "opportunity" to attend a lot of meetings over the years. The political meetings especially have become so alienating to me that I think they must be part of an ongoing COINTELPRO operation against the left.

As part of a multi-coop task force, I read a lot of the literature on meeting process before we all gave up due to the sheer boredom involved in compiling a handbook. One of the things that stuck with me however, was how freely the term "violence" gets thrown around. One of the books we read is pretty much considered the guidebook for consensus decision-making process and while it has its uses, it also has some of the most convoluted logic I’ve ever seen.

"On Conflict and Consensus" was originally put out by Boston Food Not Bombs. It contains such gems as:

"Avoid blaming anyone for conflict. Blame is inherently violent. It attacks dignity and empowerment."

And "Nonviolent decisionmakers use their power to achieve goals while respecting differences and cooperating with others. In this environment, it is considered violent to use power to dominate or control the group process."

This kind of simplistic and simpering word acrobatics honestly makes me want to smack someone. If just to say, "See, that’s violence."

I believe that you can use up the power and effectiveness of words by continually expanding their meaning. The actions mentioned above may be fucked up but they are not violent.* It’s like The Left decided the only phrase we can agree on is "non-violence" so everything needs to be run through the violent (BAD!)or non-violent (good) equation. This also contributes to the what-the-hell-are-these-people-talking-about factor already present when activist groups try to communicate with The People.

While no one has ever said to me that clapping is "violent", I could easily argue that point and get a receptive hearing in an activist setting because of the over and misuse of the concept. For example, picture me saying this with a straight face: "When one claps what they are really doing is violently rearranging air molecules, exploiting them into making noise and calling attention to oneself. If we are going to change the world, we need to model non-violent communication. I will now pass the talking stick to Treefrog Rainbowchild"

I could totally derail a meeting. Of course, that would be violence wouldn’t it?

Honestly, I do think that snapping and twinkling came about in meetings as a time-saving process. But people even saying the word "twinkle" kinda creeps me out, not to mention being in a room full of people wiggling their fingers. I hate to overuse the this metaphor but it looks like a Hey-Sister-need-a-backrub army looking for victims. Sane people not Left-acclimated would run for cover at the first sight of this.

Anyways, since were here together talking about bad meeting behavior, I’m going to totally change the subject. Can anyone name anything worse than white activists who yell out things like "Go Sister!", "Tell it" or even "Yessssssss!" only when people of color are speaking? Ick.

Maybe I need to compile a "Creepy Meeting Behavior" zine. I will accept submissions in my comment section.

*I would argue that this also happens when people start discussing the violence of poverty as opposed to the very nature of the capitalist system but that’s an essay for another day because I think there are tactical differences involved.
gordonzola: (Default)
Well, I’m back.

The worker co-op conference was amazing in a lot of ways and annoying only in smaller less meaningful ones. I’ll give you the highlights below, but the actual, non-sarcastic, accomplishment of the conference was how much it’s grown. When I went for the first time six years ago, there were about 50 people there, a monocultural gathering of co-ops that came out of the new social movements of the ‘70s finally ready to poke their heads up again after surviving the Reagan ‘80s and the early ‘90s recession.

Even that conference was inspiring in it’s own way. Just the ability to compare personnel policies, orientation systems, and common problems was a really big deal. But the weaknesses were glaring. For the whole West Coast there were maybe 15 –20 co-ops represented. And of those people, maybe three or four people of color.** While on any real scale worker co-ops remain fairly insignificant, and still have a lot of problems, issues, etc, a lot has changed in the last 6 years.

At that time, Arizmendi* was just a concept and now there are three bakeries. We have the ability to do conflict resolution, facilitation and anti-oppression trainings by and for other co-ops. This conference was sold out at 116 people with about 55 different co-ops and a much larger cross section of humanity represented and involved. Our yearly conference has inspired East Coast and Midwest conferences and made possible a conference to plan a national federation planned for May 2004 in Minneapolis.

It’s just amazing staying with a political project long enough to see progress.

I know you all just really want to hear about naked hippies in hot tubs and bad vegan food. However, since we had so many people this year, we rented the entire place. That meant we didn’t have to endure another Watsu conference or the Hey-Sister-need-a-backrub-posse. And yeah, there were a lot of (no doubt organic) rocks in the food, but it wreaked much less havoc on my digestive system than in years past.

But here are a few memorable moments:

-A person on the panel I was moderating going into a Women who Dance with the Wolves monologue in her section of the workshop. My co-workers kept calling me "Mama Bear" afterwards.

-An ohmming hippie wanker in the sauna who must have hiked into the hot springs past the locked gate cuz he wasn’t with us and wasn’t with Breitenbush.

-When people started snapping non-violently to show their support for things said by others at the conference evaluation session I tried to hold back my look of horror but one co-worker caught and returned it. Hippie-bashing brings our generation together.

-On the car ride home we stopped for food. The waitress asked if we were in a band. [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso replied that we were grocery store workers on our way back from a co-op conference and she gave us the Whatever look. She obviously thought we were making fun of her.

I’m sure there’s more but I got in at 4 AM and didn’t get enough sleep. And now I have to clean up the mess you left in my journal too. Sheeesh.

*Named for the priest who helped start the Spanish Mondragon Cooperative system, the largest cooperative system in the world. The Cheese Board in Berkeley provided start up money and training to the first Arizmendi bakery who then paid the money back into a revolving loan fund. This fund provides money to the next Arizmendi co-op and the first Arizmendi Bakery provides training. Hopefully this continues until we take over the world.

**at that conference my (Latina) friend from GV (Are you still out there R?) went up to someone who turned out to be Indonesian and said, "Are you Latino?". She got embarrassed when he wasn’t and said she felt like that children’s book character who goes around asking "Are you my mommy?"


Aug. 18th, 2003 05:14 pm
gordonzola: (Default)
I usually try to work my boasting into my entries to make it look accidental. But I’ve spent the last couple of hours writing the budget for the committee at my workplace which assists other cooperatives. Since the last budget, we:

-- helped organize the regional Western Worker Cooperative Conference,
-- helped reorganize the Network of Bay Area Worker Collectives (NoBAWC, pronounced No Boss!).
-- sent me as a West Coast representative to the first Eastern Worker Coop Conference in over a decade.
-- began planting seeds for a 2004 National Worker Cooperative Federation organizing conference.
-- assisted the Lusty Lady in converting into a cooperative.
-- gave training to People’s Grocery, a mobile grocery store and job training program serving West Oakland that will be starting up very soon.

Overall, a pretty good way to spend $10,000. Hell, the United Way probably spends that much on a lunch meeting.


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