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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Movements Moving Together 5

June 8, 2014
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GEO recently posted a link to a must-read article on the Evergreen experiment in Cleveland: Can the Co-ops Save Us. It’s a must-read because it is an excellent piece of journalism by Steve Friess that reports on the financial and economic side of the experiment, its warts and its roses.

The Evergreen project is one of the most important experiments in cooperative/solidarity economics in the US at this time. It is a first-time major effort at building a democratic economic network to a regional scale. It has made major mistakes in both the business side and the democracy side of the venture. What else could be expected! It is a first-time thing, which means it’s fully trial-and-error. Do, fail, and learn.

This was not how it was first presented, nor how the media treated it, nor how many of us, including me, got excited about it. It’s launching generated visions and stories of wondrous change beginning to take over the world. Or various versions of undue celebration.

This is understandable. We are starved for inspiration and hope on an impressive scale. That sense of scarcity is a serious threat to the success of our movements. We don’t know much about how to do what we are trying to do. That’s a reality difficult to handle. Future success is totally dependent on being courageous enough to risk doing what nobody knows a whole lot about, and wise enough to learn all we can from every mistake we make. (Check-out the numerous perspectives in GEO’s feature theme on Scaling-up the Cooperative Movement.)

Otherwise, we are spinning our wheels.

Fiess’ article tells of stunning mistakes in the planning, early grandiosity, and illusion-building by media fluffery. He does all of this with a critical eye and a supportive heart, showing also how people involved in the project are owning their mistakes and working to address them. In a way, he models how we should look at all of our ventures as trials with many of mistakes to teach us much. And Evergreen people are beginning to show us that we can do this. That may be the most important model they will ever offer us. May we be wise enough to grasp this.


A final note: Fiess’ article focuses exclusively on the business side of the venture. We need reports and stories about the democracy side of the experiment. We are in the same boat about not knowing a lot about how to scale-up democracy. If anyone knows of good reporting on this, please email

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