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)
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
• 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
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.