Life, like the calendar year, has its distinct seasons.
A sky the color of a robin’s egg … the tangy smell of wood smoke …
loud colors sprinkled across the landscape … a breeze that hugs you at
noontime, then chills you at dusk. All announce early autumn.
My life’s early autumn was recently announced to me
by a government report, one noting that strides in medicine and healthy
living have increased the life expectancy of Americans from 47 years in 1900
to about 77 today. Being on the verge of 47 myself, that report gave me
pause. Even double-pause. First of all, my 15-year-old daughter’s
perception of me would be correct and I really would
be an old man if this were 1900. It also occurred to me that, if
I’m lucky enough to live to the average, then I’m in the early autumn of
my life. Ouch.
And yet, one of
the reasons that 47 is now early autumn rather than late winter in the lives
of most Americans is because of universal electric service. Think about
it: electricity has done everything from reducing and in many cases
eliminating the crushing grind of manual chores that shaped and shortened
daily life on the farm in the old days, to powering the marvels that allow
preemies to survive and older folks to thrive to ever-riper ages.
And the fact is, electricity
would not have been available in your area two generations ago — and
may not even have been available today —
if local residents in the 1930s and ’40s had not gotten together and
formed an electric cooperative to provide their area — your
area — with reliable electric service. These early pioneers were
able to provide their communities with affordable electricity because they
did so on a not-for-profit basis. Today, your cooperative still provides its
members — including you — with this electricity at cost.
Back then, residents of communities across the state
and throughout the nation formed electric cooperatives; today, there are 13
electric cooperatives across Virginia serving about 350,000 homes and
businesses, and over 900 across the country, in 47 of the 50 states, serving
about 12 million homes and businesses. It’s a remarkable success story, a
story stressing the power of neighbor helping neighbor, and also stressing
the importance of several key principles. These 7 Cooperative
Principles, arrived at and articulated by a group of weavers in England over
150 years ago, continue to guide your cooperative today.
And since October is Cooperative Month, we thought you
would enjoy reading about these 7 key principles whose meaning and value
continue to resonate today.
1. Voluntary and
Open Membership. Cooperatives are open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the
responsibilities of membership.
Member Control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations, owned by
those they serve. Their member-owners set policies and make decisions about
the business through a democratically elected board of directors, chosen
from the cooperative membership. Each member — large or small — has an
equal vote, the sign of a true democracy.
3. Autonomy and
Independence. Cooperatives are autonomous, independent self-help
organizations controlled by their members. Because of this local ownership
and control, cooperatives are among the most customer-friendly businesses
Among Cooperatives. Cooperatives practice what they preach, and work
together with other cooperatives at a state, regional and national level to
gain additional strength and influence and buying power. For instance,
Virginia’s electric cooperatives work together and publish this magazine,
at a higher quality level and a lower cost than any individual cooperative
would be able to achieve on its own.
Training and Information. As member-owned and member-controlled
businesses, cooperatives obviously have an obligation to keep their members
informed about issues that affect the cooperative. Cooperatives work hard to
be open, honest, and communicative.
Economic Participation. All cooperative members have an economic stake
in the business, as customers and as member-owners. Cooperatives operate on
a not-for-profit basis, and any funds left over are assigned to the members
as capital credits, and later returned to the members as the economic
condition of the cooperative allows.
7. Concern for
Community. This last principle is the gem in the cooperative crown.
Cooperatives care about their communities. A business doesn’t get any more
“local” than an electric cooperative, which is owned by thousands of
members of a local community, staffed by local people, and governed by a
board of local people, democratically elected by their neighbors.
Autumn is a great time for reflecting on important
things. Faith. Family. Country.
Community. And, we hope you agree, an integral part of your community is
your electric cooperative.