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The Barrington Collective:

What happens when “Cooperation among

Co-ops” meets “Concern for Community”

By Anjanette Bunce, NASCO's Director of Operations

In the Fall of 2002, a group of student co-opers living in the University Student Cooperative Association (USCA) co-ops in Berkeley started an organization, now known as The Barrington Collective. According to Steven Kelly, one of the original organizers (and NASCO's director of edcation and training), co-opers in the Berkeley co-ops were inspired by the abundance of resources that they were able to take advantage of as part of the USCA and wanted to spread the benefits of cooperation there was with a larger group of people. The Barrington Collective founders saw potential in connecting co-opers from the 20+ USCA co-ops with campus activists and community members. They realized the wealth of skills they had amassed from their experience in campus activism and co-op living and were looking for ways to apply these skills to new projects. They also saw connecting the community with the campus as a way that students could learn from the experiences and knowledge of community members and wanted to explore how to develop collective resources that could be accessed by all members of the community.

Over the last two years, the Barrington Collective has organized 4 DIY (do-it-yourself) festivals to facilitate skill-sharing and learning; started a local Free Skool, and has taken on publishing the Berkeley Disorientation ‘Zine , a ‘zine available in print and on their website with information for students and community members on a range of topics: health care, local alternative media, the Berkeley composting cooperative, history of the city of Berkeley and the university as well as info on current political issues and much more. Beyond its projects, one of the largest successes of The Barrington Collective has been the role it has played creating opportunities for people to get together and help one another. Two new cooperative housing projects have been started by folks who met through the Collective—the Cooperative Roots in Berkeley and another house in North Oakland. In addition, the networking environment of the Collective also laid the groundwork for another project: the Twisted Sister Cluster.

The Twisted Sister Cluster was what happened when a number of affinity groups who met through The Barrington Collective came together to coordinate their efforts around a direct action to protest the war that resulted in the shutting down of two major intersections in San Francisco in March of 2003. “The Twisted Sister Cluster allowed students and community members a forum to express their feelings about the war,” shares Claire Kimball, a current Barrington collective member who was active in starting Twisted Sister. According to Kimball, the Cluster helped to coordinate outreach efforts and facilitate planning of the action. “Twisted Sister was a learning experience for all involved on how to make non-heirarchical, collective decisions about moral issues.”

Of course, the Barrington Collective has not been without challenges. Kimball mentions that some of the greatest challenges are ones inherent to any organization where a large number of the members are students—working around student schedules and the inherent dynamic of membership turnover. The constant turnover means a continual influx of new members, new energy, and new ideas, which as the Collective discovered, can lead to some uncertainty of direction. The Collective finalized their mission statement at a time when they last faced just such an identity crisis and stepped up to challenge of turnover, declaring “The collective is more than the people who comprise it. It is a state of mind and an organic, dynamic process; not a static institution.” And so the work, ever changing, goes on.

More info about the Barrington collective can be found at www.barringtoncollective.org.

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