Editorial

The Seven C's

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

In memory and fact, poetry and popular imagination, October is an orgy of color, as farm fields mellow from summer’s vibrant greens to muted earth tones of russet and ocher, while trees explode in glow-tones of red and orange and yellow.

As another season changes and the calendar year approaches its end in this annual ritual that we humans love to notate and analyze, it seems only appropriate that, in

The folks who formed cooperatives in the 1930s and ’40s to bring electricity to the countryside to ease both toil and darkness were not utility executives or opportunistic entrepreneurs. No, electric cooperatives were formed by local people. In over 900 communities across the land, including 13 in Virginia, local folks joined together in common cause, to free themselves from backbreaking labor and the considerable constraints of darkness.

Many of Virginia’s rural areas have changed seismically over the 60 or 70 years since, with crossroads becoming towns, towns becoming cities, cities sprouting suburbs that reach out into once-rural areas, and fields and farms and forests becoming high-speed interstate corridors shuttling cars and trucks past retail businesses and residential developments as far as the eye can see. And, one should add, such changes are surely beyond what the average imagination could have fathomed during the depths of the Great Depression when electric cooperatives were born.

So, just what does it mean to be a cooperative business? Having survived a worldwide depression, a world war, and countless political, social and cultural upheavals, it clearly has nothing to do with trendy catch-phrases, advertising taglines, or a business form wrapped in the pretty paper of clever linguistics.

No, there’s more afoot here than words or images: Cooperatives have been successful as businesses because they have followed seven cooperative principles developed in the 19th century in England, and practiced ever since by thousands of self-help businesses the world over. From mutual insurance companies to credit unions to groups working together to market agricultural products, secure more reasonably priced housing or provide themselves with babysitting services, cooperatives have made life easier and better for millions of people the world over.

So what are these seven principles that guide cooperatives? Cooperatives are:

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voluntary organizations, open to all able to use their services;

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with democratic control by the members;

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and economic participation by the members;

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in a business that is autonomous, independent and controlled by the members;

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who are kept informed about their business by the cooperative;

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which works together with other cooperatives to achieve mutual goals;

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with one of them being a concern for the overall well-being of the communities they serve.

These guiding cooperative principles —these “Seven C’s,” if you will — are as constant and reliable as the turning of the leaves on that tree outside your window, about this time every year.

 

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