[Editor's note: You can support the DC Coop Emergency Fund, that Lauren mentions in the interview, here.]
Many of us begin our meetings with a round of check-ins, to re-establish connection with each person. In this time of quarantine and mutual aid, crisis and solidarity, we thought it would be good to do some check-ins with people in the cooperative and solidarity economy world. We asked each person four questions:
1. Who are you?
2. "How are you spending your time these days?" or "How are you keeping your peace these days?"
3. "Have you seen anything inspiring as it relates to cooperation and the solidarity economy during these times?"
4. "Can you describe one fruitful change, as it relates to cooperation and the solidarity economy, that you think might arise as a result of the pandemic?"
We hope you enjoy them.
Sarah Eppley: Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, Lauren. So the first question is just who are you? And like, how are you involved in co-ops?
Lauren Karaffa: My name is Lauren Karaffa and I'm a co-owner at Brighter Days Collective, which is a dog walking and pet sitting collective that works in Northwest D.C..
SE: And I know that you used to work at the Maryland Food Collective.
LK: I did used to work at the Maryland Food Collective for almost three years.
SE: I won't make you go through your whole history, but I figured that was good to mention. How are you spending your time these days or how are you keeping your peace these days?
LK: I'm watching too much TV. I watched the whole series of Ozark recently, but before that I was researching financial options for Brighter Days during the pandemic. And we did file an application for a grant and - but keeping my peace - that's not really what the question was.
SE: Oh, either or both. Yeah.
LK: Yeah. I've been going on walks, and I've been trying to make sure that my daughter does all her schoolwork and just kind of going one day at a time. And my co-op, we still have weekly meetings.
SE: That's good. Do you have any insightful thoughts when you go on your walks? Just wondering.
LK: I'm sure I do. I can't think of any right now. Usually when I'm out in the forest, I tend to pretend that I'm from thousands of years ago and there actually is no civilization, and I just imagine being of some ancient civilization conquering the area for the first time, that it does just kinda like a fun fantasy that I have.
SE: I like that. It's it's so weird. With just the changing times, it's almost easy to feel like there's no civilization when you're just kind of out and about and you see two or three people and that's it. Yeah. I definitely have similar thoughts out on walks. Like what if I was just adventuring through here, well, not millions, thousands of years ago.
Next question. Have you seen anything inspiring as it relates to cooperation and the solidarity economy during these times?
LK: I have. We were contacted by a new group called the Beloved Community Incubator, who is making partnerships with co-ops in D.C., including Brighter Days. And there's a cleaning collective, I think it's called El Hogar or something. I feel bad. I don't remember the names. And then there's a tech collective, too. But they provided a lot of assistance for us. Like filing for financial benefits. And they've also started a fundraiser to benefit the three co-ops. So I think that's fairly cool.
And there's been these mutual aid groups that have popped up, too, which I think is neat. And I've started trying to dip my toes into that with the P.G. County mutual aid network. They have a volunteer meeting tonight. I haven't done anything yet. But I know they're running groceries and supplies and stuff to people who need them and can't leave the house. And just being available for people in the community who need assistance of various things, like I guess there's also community members who are helping other community members fill out applications for unemployment or for insurance and stuff, and I think that's really cool that people are just taking that up on their own.
SE: Yeah. The two or three co-ops that you said Brighter Days is involved with, were you guys kind of networked before the pandemic hit or was that a recent development?
LK: It's a recent development. We were not interacting with those cooperatives, but they somehow had a connection to the community incubator.
SE: That's really cool.
LK: I can send you an email you a link to that fundraiser which has the names of the co-ops on it.
SE: Yeah. Sounds good.
LK: And kind of a segway into the next question, I guess. Can you describe one fruitful change as it relates to cooperation in the solidarity economy that you think might arise as a result of the pandemic? And you can talk about broadly - or I was even just thinking with these other co-ops that you're now in a network with, kind of, do you kind of see that continuing once business returns to normal?
LK: For sure. Yeah, I think. People are seeing this as an opportunity to kind of push environmental policies that are better and also just generally mutual aid and cooperation.
I worry that it's not enough because I think also, the federal government is becoming more fascist in this time. So that's scary. But, I do hope that Brighter Days - I feel like Brighter Days was kind of isolated before, and I hope that we continue working with the beloved community incubator because they've been super helpful. And I hope that Brighter Days can help like give back too in some way.
SE: I still remember a year ago when when Brighter Days - or I guess it was more than a year ago - but I remember the donation that Brighter Days gave to the Maryland Food Collective.
LK: Yeah, we did do that.
SE: We found out about them right in the first place.
LK: That's right. They sent e-mails to us at the co-op. But yes, I remember that.
We do, on a yearly basis, give donations to different organizations. Like we've given donations to Casa de Maryland too, I think, and other organizations for undocumented immigrants.
SE: I just remember that meaning a lot to me, as a as a worker-owner at the Maryland Food Collective. When we're like - out of the blue on our fundraiser page when we were struggling, it was this other local co-op, a random D.C. dog walkers collective. And they're like, "here: solidarity." And we're like, "oh, it's awesome." So it's good to know that you guys do that regularly.
LK: Yeah, and I think staying connected is really helpful, especially for bureaucratic things, because a lot of people who are in co-ops are not super-informed about financial documents and taxes and shi- stuff like that. And and having a bigger network that we can tap into to help us with our accounting and stuff is very useful. And then we can be there also to provide skills. If we have skills that other co-ops don't have to help out.
SE: Yeah, that's really good.
Do you have anything else you wanted to add? Because I think that so far you answered all the questions I had. Or any last words?
LK: No, no, I mean, I guess I do. There's been like a lot of inspiring. Rhetoric and organizing around divestment from fossil fuel companies and stuff like that, so I just hope that we go in that direction more and not the neo-Fascist direction.
SE: Well, I think it's clear, at least under this administration, we can't really rely on the Federal government.
LK: No. No.
SE: All right. Well, thank you again so much for agreeing to be interviewed and for giving me a lovely interview from a worker-owner's perspective.
LK: You're welcome. Thanks for asking.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
GEO Collective (2020). Check-in with Lauren Karaffa. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). https://geo.coop/articles/check-lauren-karaffa