Around the World, a Celebration of Cooperation

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

October is as bitter as it is sweet, as poignant as it is exhilarating.

There’s the invigorating uplift to body and soul that comes from balmy, blue-sky days and crisp, starry nights. There’s also the aching beauty that foreshadows decline: trees ablaze in a final curtain-call, summer’s birds taking wing to distant lands.

There are tart apples whose crunch announces another growing season done. And of course there’s the enveloping tang of woodsmoke, warming while warning of winter on-the-way.

Change is in the air. Get ready!

So humankind for millennia has closely watched nature’s rhythms and heeded nature’s call, every autumn bringing in the harvest and firming up the foundations ahead of the relentless approach of winter. It’s not surprising that “the harvest” has been celebrated in song and story for centuries, in part because it involves gathering the food that sustains us, but also because such gathering almost always involves the labor of many hands. Many cooperative hands.

The example of the harvest embodies both how, and why, cooperatives work: everyone shares in the effort, and everyone benefits from the result. So it’s only natural then that October for decades has been celebrated as Cooperative Month.

And this year, the October celebration is even more expansive, since 2012 is being celebrated worldwide as the International Year of Cooperatives. Over a billion people across the globe are members of at least one self-help business, which every day enables them to save money, time and effort, and in some cases to procure products or services that would otherwise be unavailable or unaffordable.

Cooperatives are a strong but often unrecognized part of our lives, meeting needs as diverse as banking and babysitting, food and housing, commodities and communications, and, of course, electricity. Your electric cooperative is one of over 900 spread across 47 American states, each one locally owned, locally controlled, and dedicated to providing its member-owners with the best possible service at the lowest possible cost, every minute of every day.

As we’ve noted in these pages many times over many years, each cooperative is unique, and yet each is united with all the others by a shared commitment to Seven Cooperative Principles, which are:


voluntary and open membership;


democratic member control;


economic participation by the members;


autonomy and independence;


a commitment to member education and information;


cooperation among cooperatives; and


concern for community.  

 This last principle captures best the boiled-down essence of a cooperative’s mission: to work hard every day to improve the quality of life in the communities it serves.

As this worldwide celebration of cooperation reaches its peak during this Cooperative Month, we as Americans of course have much for which to be grateful. With freedoms unimaginable to most of the residents of this world, we are able to elect our leaders, speak out on issues, pursue livelihoods we choose, and most importantly gather freely with family and friends.

We Americans also celebrate another blessing: a strong, reliable electric infrastructure that powers much of our nation’s economy and, despite the economic challenges of recent years, still makes our quality of life the envy of the world. And the over-900 electric cooperatives across this great land — including the one that you and your neighbors own here in Virginia — are an integral part of this outstanding electricity network.

Much of the rest of the world is not as fortunate. But in the many countries that face economic, political and other woes, cooperatives become even more important. The service-at-cost structure stretches precious family dollars further. The self-help model makes core services available to those either underserved or unserved altogether.

So here’s to October, and to the continued growth and prosperity of the cooperative spirit that’s served us well here at home, and has aided over a billion other individuals in countries across the globe.

Come, ye thankful people, come;

Raise the song of Harvest-home;

All is safely gathered in,

ere the winter storms begin.


— Henry Alford, 19th-century English theologian



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