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