Our North Star

Cooperatives are an enduring testament to the power of shared principles and local purpose.

October 2018

October is a time of outdoor change and indoor reflection. Of gathering in, and giving back. Of chilly nights under the gossamer gaze of a hunter’s moon, and warm days with the crackle and crunch of dried leaves underfoot.

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

In poetry and popular imagination, October sprinkles bright color across the landscape, as trees model showy masses of reds and oranges and yellows. Below, farm fields mellow under a sun slanting ever-southward, as summer’s vibrant greens fade to autumn’s muted earth tones.

October’s beauty exhilarates us for a few short weeks. Then, it’s over. The remnants of its faded beauty lie scattered on the ground, weathered and windblown. In such a month, it’s nice to celebrate something that’s enduring and evergreen. It’s nice that October is also Cooperative Month.

Cooperation, of course, is almost as old as humankind.

The modern, organized cooperative movement, though, dates only to 1844, when the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was formed by English artisans who wanted necessities that none alone could easily afford: butter, sugar, flour and oatmeal. These pioneers drafted guidelines for their fledgling society. Their seven principles have since become the fixed North Star for cooperative businesses everywhere, guiding us much as Polaris for centuries guided mariners across the oceans, to new lands and back home again.

In the century-and-three-quarters since the Rochdale pioneers, cooperatives of all kinds have been formed, fanning out across the globe. Each has built and sustained its success on the firm foundation of these seven cooperative principles.

In the process, every day cooperatives help over a billion people around the world save money, time and effort. Across our nation and around the world, there are cooperatives delivering services from banking to babysitting, health care to housing, food to fuel.

And electricity too, including that delivered by your local electric cooperative.

Like the Rochdale pioneers, the founders of electric cooperatives in the 1930s and ’40s were average folks. They were farmers and merchants, homemakers and schoolteachers. In over a dozen rural communities throughout Virginia and hundreds across the land, local men and women joined together in common cause, freeing themselves from long days of back-breaking labor and long nights of darkness.

The enduring power of cooperatives comes from their local presence, their focus on neighbor helping neighbor. Because a cooperative’s roots grow in local soil, its goal is always to enrich the soil shared by its member-consumers, its employees, and its board members. From the beginning, the destinies of a cooperative and the community it serves are identical, irrevocably intertwined.

So what are the seven principles that stitch many thousands of local cooperatives together into a global tapestry? Well, no matter where it’s located or what it delivers, a cooperative is:

• a voluntary organization, open to all able to use its service;

• with democratic control;

• and economic participation by its member-consumers;

• in a business that is independent;

• and keeps its members informed about their cooperative;

• which works together with other cooperatives to achieve mutual goals;

• with a key goal being the health and vitality of the community it serves.

Like the recurring rhythms of the earth that summon seasonal change, we believe that cooperation will continue to exert a powerful pull on men and women, from all walks of life, in nearby communities and faraway lands, as a great way to get good things done.