The desire to assemble is as old as humankind. To
communicate. To commiserate. To celebrate. To share news and views, or to
share a meal; these are all ingrained human tendencies, deeply rooted in our
DNA. We’re social animals, and we enjoy spending time with others,
especially family, friends and neighbors.
This desire is especially precious to us as Americans. Our
country’s founders, in fact, guaranteed us the right to assemble with
others, freely and peaceably.
And from this amalgam of natural inclination and national
right, several venerable American institutions were born. The town hall
meeting. The protest march. The public square debate.
And, of course, the electric cooperative
annual meeting. Yes, for some 75 years now, many
thousands of rural, suburban and small-town citizens gather each year in
almost 1,000 communities across the country, in 47 of our 50 states, and
make decisions about their customer-owned utility. They gather in co-op
meeting rooms and garage bays, in local school auditoriums, at open-air
pavilions and county fairgrounds, and in civic centers and community
colleges. They share fellowship and food with neighbors, oftentimes to the
spirited sounds of gospel, bluegrass or country music from local performers.
They listen to reports from management about the financial
and operational condition of their utility. And perhaps most importantly,
they elect the board members who will represent their interests, and vote on
changes or additions to the bylaws that govern the utility they own.
It’s an old-fashioned exercise in democracy that’s both
refreshing and resilient, a living reminder of a time when civics was still
widely taught in school; when neighbors would gather regularly to catch up
on news; and when citizens would get together to make important decisions
about their shared welfare, about the place that all of them call home.
As a locally owned and controlled business, the employees
and board members of your local electric cooperative really do share a home
with you and all the other folks they serve.
Between early June, as spring’s warmth wafts into summer’s
golden heat, and late September, as fall’s chill begins to paint the leaves
of our hardwoods, each of Virginia’s 13 electric cooperatives will hold its
You’re invited — indeed encouraged — to attend your
cooperative’s meeting, and to take part in the business of your electric
utility. Perhaps especially if you’ve never attended before, 2012 would be a
great time to do so. This year, across the globe, customer-owned businesses
are celebrating the International Year of Cooperatives. Cooperative
businesses of all kinds — from housing and babysitting co-ops, to
agricultural cooperatives, to financing co-ops and credit unions, to your
electric cooperative — are calling attention to the many benefits of the
cooperative business model.
In a cooperative, the customer-owners have democratic
control of the business, making important decisions about their company. As
not-for-profit businesses, products and services are delivered at cost to
the customer-owners. If there are surpluses after a given year of
operations, these surpluses, called “margins,” are later returned to the
customer-owners when the financial condition of the cooperative permits.
And, of course, every cooperative is deeply embedded in
the fabric of the community it serves, with local folks elected to the
board, and local folks serving as employees. Their interest is solely to
provide the best possible service at the lowest possible cost to their
So, this summer, please consider attending your
cooperative’s annual meeting. You’ll hear important reports about high-tech
issues affecting both the electric utility industry, as well as your local
utility. But just as importantly, you’ll be taking part in a decidedly
low-tech American tradition, one that unabashedly and unashamedly celebrates
what’s possible when neighbors join in common cause, whether to raise a barn
... hold back a rising river ... or electrify a community.