Editorial

Only Seven, M. Clemenceau

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

As World War I neared its end almost a century ago, Staunton native and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson addressed the Congress in early 1918, laying out his plan for ending the war and keeping the peace. Wilson’s idealistic but ultimately doomed plan was outlined in what has famously become known as his “14 Points,” a laundry list of hoped-for and hopeful actions that he felt would secure a more permanent peace across the globe. As we know from the events of the next three decades, such was not to be the case.

 President Wilson’s audacious American optimism and the weary cynicism of Old Europe are perhaps best contrasted in a quote that seems almost too perfect to have actually been uttered. France, of course, has long been famous for its jaundiced eye on the world, so it’s perhaps not surprising that French Premier Georges Clemenceau is reported to have said at the time about President Wilson’s 14 Points, “Fourteen? The good Lord had only 10.”

Whether apocryphal or as-spoken by the feisty French leader known as “The Tiger,” the line is both amusing and insightful; if God’s rules can be spelled out in ten points, then why should man (or woman) need 14?

It’s perhaps fortunate, then, that the guiding principles for cooperative businesses — whether electric, agricultural, credit, purchasing, marketing, babysitting, housing or food co-ops — are outlined in a mere seven points. The “Seven Cooperative Principles” describe how these self-help businesses are to operate, across America and around the world, at many thousands of locations large and small, serving and empowering many hundreds of millions of people every hour of every day.

Idealistic yet eminently practical, these principles have served cooperatives well for over 150 years. From mutual insurance companies, to credit unions, to groups working together to market agricultural products, provide themselves with electricity, or secure reasonably priced housing or babysitting services, cooperatives have made life easier and better for millions of people the world over.

So it seems only appropriate during October, which has long been celebrated as Cooperative Month, to outline the seven points that guide cooperatives and oftentimes set them apart from other forms of business. The Seven Cooperative Principles describe how a cooperative is:

 • a voluntary organization, open to all who are able to use its services;

 • with democratic control;

 • and economic participation by its members;

 • in a business that is autonomous and independent;

 • with its members being kept informed about their cooperative business;

 • which works together with other cooperative businesses to achieve mutual goals;

 • with one of them being a concern for the overall well-being of the communities it serves.

That last principle is perhaps the most important one of all. Because, in an age of globalization and in an economy that’s often dominated by large national or international concerns, it’s nice to be a member-consumer of a business that’s locally owned.

Of a business whose board of directors is elected from and by the membership.

Of a business whose board members and employees live in the area.

Of a business whose lifespan of nearly 75 years has been devoted to providing its members with the best possible service at the lowest possible cost.

Of a business whose board members and employees work every day to make your community an even better place to live, work, play, raise a family, and retire.

In short, of an electric cooperative.

 

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