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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Cooperative Education and Cooperative/Solidarity Economics

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GEO Original
April 3, 2015
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This video conversation/interview between Michael Johnson of GEO and Ricardo Nuñez of the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Berkely, CA marks GEO’s first venture into reporting on our movements through video and audio.

In what’s below we first discuss the approach we are experimenting with. Then we give a summary of this particular conversation/interview with reference to the time points on the video.

The conversation/interview approach

We say “video/conversation/interview” because we are experimenting to see how to make such products as interesting as possible. Straight-on interviews are often quite stiff. We are looking at drawing viewers into an unpolished but energetic interaction between the discussants. We are starting off by doing the first few in a single take. This also makes it less costly and easier to deliver to the public.

Ricardo and Michael developed their particular discussion by meeting over coffee and planning out the territory they wanted to cover within about an hour’s time. It was the first time they had ever met. Their “planning meeting” was based on reviewing respective web sites and some email exchange.

So this approach has an open-ended structure rather than a fixed process. There will be an “interview” component as well as a “conversation” component. What that mix will be will depend on the folks involved and what material they are working with. They will shape the mix to meet their objectives and needs. For example, the “interviewing” can switch back-and-forth as they desire, as the material needs, and by what emerges during their discussion. Underlying all of the exchange is a strong investment in “asking in order to understand,” even where there is disagreement.

There are two basic objectives to our approach. First, to give participants an opportunity to share and describe the work they are doing for deep social change. At the same time, to model mutual appreciation, dialogue, thinking together, and using whatever differences that arise for learning from each other.

Our hope is for a stimulating conversation between participants that viewers will find engaging, not just because the subject matter is interesting, but more because of the quality of how the participants will be relating to each other as strong individuals with common interests and different perspectives as they engage with the focus of the conversation/interview.

There is much to work out, but that is what we are hoping to explore.

Cooperative Education and Solidarity Economics

This video conversation/interview runs for 50 minutes. During the first two segments and a bit into the third Michael and Ricardo do their introductions, discuss the small joint project they are entering into about cooperative education, and talk about the basics of the SELC organization. This latter part led into a short exchange about the crucial role of law in the promotion of cooperative and solidarity economics. Special emphasis was given to SELC’s “distributed authority” organizational structure.

At the two minute mark into the third segment they begin discussing cooperative education, with Ricardo beginning by explaining the model SELC is using in their Cooperative Academy. Their discussion broadens out into several of the multitude of issues involved with advancing cooperative education.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think of this project.


Go to the GEO front page

For over 40 years my main occupation has been managing a community through a collective face-to-face process. This has involved ongoing experiential learning about personal development and culture building.

My secondary occupation for the past 20 years has been reflecting on how to apply that rich learning to developing democracy on larger scales. The Growing Democracy Project is the outcome. It is not an answer. Rather, it is a solid starting point.

This work began in 1980 with co-founding a small experiential research project on the North shore of Staten Island New York. Our purpose was to learn how people can make creative use of face-to-face conflict in the process of managing joint projects. We worked on this intensely 24/7 for 20 years.

In the process we built an intentional communityGanasof more than 80 people, 8 houses, five commercial properties, and three retail stores.

We shifted gears into a less intense life around 2000, and became somewhat smaller in the process. Throughout these four decades we have been practicing face-to-face communication and collective management of the community.

Around 2008 I began exploring how what we had learned could be applied to everyday democracy. This led to 4 years of field research in the cooperative/solidarity economic movement. In turn, this led to 10 years of active involvement in the movement as an active member of the Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective (GEO). 

At GEO I was a blogger, writer, reviewer, interviewer, and editor. I am also a co-author of Building Co-Operative Power! Stories and Strategies from Worker Co-Operatives in the Connecticut River Valley (2014).

All the while I was doing extensive study in many fields of social science, adult transformative learning, evolutionary thinking, history, and political theory. In 2017 I began to pull all of my experience and study together into what became the 140,000 word Growing Democracy Workbook as well as the Growing Democracy Project vision. Now, at the end of summer 2023, we are bringing this to the world.


Michael Johnson, Ricardo Nuñez (2015).  Cooperative Education and Cooperative/Solidarity Economics.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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