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Educating the Cooperative Movement about Anti-Oppression: NASCO taking a lead on organizational and grassroots levels

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May 26, 2010
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by Mingwei Huang

In order to grow a broad, vibrant, and truly democratic cooperative movement, and to practice the cooperative principles of "open membership" and "concern for community," a shared analysis of power, privilege, and oppression is necessary, as well as developing tools to address these issues.  The work of building an analysis, engaging and educating peers, and developing tools to uproot oppression are often broadly referred to anti-oppression work.  In the past 10-15 years, the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) has been a leader in the North American cooperative movement in anti-oppression work through education, leadership development, and organizing structural changes at an organizational level and at a grassroots level with NASCO's member cooperatives.  

2009 Action Camp Group About ten years ago, NASCO's members began challenging the exclusive culture of NASCO, in particular the make-up of leadership, white privilege, class privilege, and issues of access for parents and low-income people.  These efforts began at a grassroots level through caucuses held at NASCO's annual Cooperative Education and Training Institute.  After years of dedicated organizing by the People of Color Caucus and Community Co-op Caucus, NASCO has achieved several major accomplishments including:

  • A strong representation of people of color, anti-racist white allies, and queer and transgender people within NASCO's staff, board, and membership;
  • Changes to the governance structure to be more inclusive of chairs of caucuses to ensure representation of historically marginalized voices in NASCO's decision-making;
  • The launch of Action Camp in 2005, an intensive anti-oppression training and leadership program;
  • Anti-oppression workshops, training, and programming that include many people of color and trans people as both presenters and participants, and increased accessibility at the annual Cooperative Education & Training Institute;
  • Building relationships with other anti-oppression organizations including the Highlander Research and Education Center, Allied Media Projects, the Center for Global Justice, and the Responsible Endowments Coalition.
  • Supporting economic justice work through relationships with organizations like the US Solidarity Economy Network, and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
  • A commitment to anti-oppression work within the entire NASCO Family (NASCO and affiliate organizations) during strategic planning, and;
  • Grassroots anti-oppression organizing within NASCO member cooperatives.

NASCO offers anti-oppression education year-round through online resources via a Shared Resource Library, printed publications, and training and consulting for members.  Resources and training topics include race, gender, class, ability, sexuality, and mental health.  During the annual Cooperative Education & Training Institute, NASCO offers a one-day training called the Cooperative Leadership Track. This year, NASCO partnered with the Highlander Center and offered the CLT at sliding scale fees.  There are also many anti-oppression workshops, identity-based caucuses and intersectional spaces, and a social justice documentary film festival during the conference.  

group exercise - Image Of The WordSince 2005, NASCO has offered an annual Action Camp, an intensive training opportunity for co-op leaders.  The program combines popular education techniques and Augusto Boal's "Theatre of the Oppressed" to build an anti-oppression analysis that participants then can apply to their own co-ops and communities. The program addresses all forms of oppression - racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism to name a few - but focused on racial justice last year.  The program has had many far-reaching outcomes for transforming NASCO and the individuals themselves.  Action Camp alumni have gone on to join anti-racism groups, developed cooperatives, incorporate anti-oppression education into their new member orientations, organize in-depth trainings, create 'zines, address lack of diversity on their co-op organization's staff, and much more!  

Unfortunately, Action Camp has not been a financially sustainable program for NASCO.  Instead, NASCO is encouraging members to host regional anti-oppression trainings, or "mini-action camps" to build leaders more cost-effectively and accessibly.  In the next year, NASCO will be building more organizational connections in Detroit in June at the US Social Forum, constructing a regional directory of anti-oppression trainers, and creating materials to empower members to organize anti-oppression trainings.  NASCO hopes to create financially sustainable and accessible anti-oppression education programming.

Through adaptive anti-oppression education, NASCO and its co-op members have made huge strides toward creating a more accessible, inclusive, and anti-oppressive co-op movement and fostered youth leadership, particularly among youth with historically marginalized identities.  In the coming year, NASCO will also be mobilizing members and other co-ops for the US Social Forum, expanding its resources on class and ability, encouraging media-making, growing the Cooperative Leadership Track, and building a webpage dedicated solely to anti-oppression on its website.  

NASCO Education staff and the NASCO Board Inclusion Committee are primarily responsible for NASCO's anti-oppression, inclusion, and accessibility efforts and are happy to work with other co-ops!  In addition to anti-oppression education, NASCO also offers education on topics such as co-op governance, group dynamics, finances, developing new co-ops, the student housing co-op movement, the cooperative movement and more.

NASCO's training materials can be accessed by creating an account at or by e-mailing

SIDEBAR: See also NASCO's Anti-oppression List: Action Camp Resources and Further Readings in this issue.

Mingwei Huang


Mingwei Huang is NASCO's Director of Training & Education.  She can be reached at

Photos courtesy of NASCO.  

When citing this article, please use the following format: Mingwei Huang (2010). Educating the Cooperative Movement about Anti-Oppression, Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter, Volume II, Issue 5,






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