Voices from the Cooperative Movement

Over the past month, TESA Collective has been chatting it up with fellow advocates, activists, educators and cooperators about how to build a better world. We’ve asked folks who are working actively and cooperatively towards change around the nation some form of following three questions:

  1. Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?
  2. What are you most excited about right now?
  3. If you were playing Rise Up: The Game of People and Power, what would your social movement be? What would you aim to change?

Our goal is to showcase the wide network of practitioners working for change, and to encourage building greater connections with one another. Here’s what our first set of talented change agents had to say, we hope it inspires you as much as it’s inspired us:






Julius Jones

Worcester Roots, United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives

Worcester, MA


Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

Co-ops have the capacity to work very well inside of and to transcend capitalism. I like that versatility as a vehicle to navigate the now, and in the possible future, should the economic system change to one that doesn’t require constant growth.

Co-ops are a beautiful mixture of interpersonal relationships, material needs, physical resources, and they capture the magic of something spiritual as well.

Cooperatives create opportunities for people to reclaim their power. We have outsourced much our capacity for governing to Government, and we spend so little of our time participating that many of us are out of practice or out of touch with the “how and why” of how many things function. Co-ops offer the opportunity to exercise influence and control over our livelihoods. What better way to spend one’s time? What better way to create a new world than to govern it?

What excites you most about your work right now?

In Worcester, we are forming a grassroots anchor institution campaign, a “Co-op of Co-ops” for procurement reform. Our city has great potential too, with $6+ Billion in non-profit funding, and a growing ecology of worker-owned businesses. In the next year, we will form an entity to interface with anchor institutions, and help folks forge a new path to community wealth.

The movement for Black Lives Platform, and its inclusion of Cooperatives is personally confirming, and encouraging, too. When I first searched for ways that Black people could get economically free from white supremacy, I came across a paper that highlighted W.E.B Du Bois’s intense involvement with cooperatives. Following the lead of many Black academics, such as Jessica Gordon Nembhard, I fell in love with our history, and the potential it points to.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

Prison Abolition and Black Community Reinvestment!


Pictured on Left







Adrionna Fike

Mandela Foods Co-op

Oakland, CA


 Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?
I prefer cooperatives because there are no limits to what we can do, working together, in full cooperation – being of service to actual community needs.
What excites you most about your work right now?
I am most excited to encourage and support emerging and expanding coops – with my dollars and by sharing what I am learning through my cooperative experiences.
If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?
My movement would be food justice – food justice that prioritized food access for those of us with the least: our homeless family, those with no income, those severely disabled without any or extremely little support. A movement that requires healthy food businesses (like ours) to deliver its excess food to people in need. And if we don’t deliver upon excess, everyone loses. GAME OVER.







Lauren Ornelas

Food Empowerment Project

Cotati, CA


Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

Part of our work includes lack of access to healthy foods in communities of color. We find worker owned cooperatives to be a part of the solution for many of those who cannot grow their own foods. Too many times companies like Wal-Mart are brought into these communities which brings their own hosts of problems (like low wages) whereas cooperatives instead would allow money to stay in the community, create jobs and lifelong skills.

What excites you most about your work right now?

Right now we are in a midst of a few great projects that I am super excited about:

We just launched a campaign against Safeway asking them to cease putting deeds on their former properties preventing other grocery stores from moving in.

We are also going to doing a vegan food drive from November 1–November 15th for a LGTBQ community Center in Vallejo to help their food bank get started.

And on December 9, we are going to protest at a California Agency which requires that when the labor camps are closed that they move 50 miles aways which means they have to pull their children out of school.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

Such a great concept, I think my movement would be to help people fight for land to grow their own food.




Gilda Haas

L.A. Co-op Lab

Los Angeles, CA




Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

I have worked as executive director of non-profits for many years (the boss) and prefer and enjoy the shared responsibility and knowledge and culture of cooperative structure.

What excites you most about your work right now?

I am looking forward to experimenting with various versions of a mobile coop lab in Los Angeles.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

Can’t wait to play Rise Up to build a national housing rights movement that can effectively push back against gentrification and displacement.






Craig Wiesner

Reach & Teach

San Mateo, California




Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

I’m always thrilled to watch a few people working together to solve a puzzle or learn to play a game in our shop because each person brings a totally different perspective to the activity. Two people can be looking at the exact same thing but see it differently, and without that diversity, creative solutions to problems might never be found. A certain amount of learning can be done alone, reading, listening, interacting with materials, but the real sparks fly when two or more are gathered, interacting with each other, and availing themselves of each other’s special gifts.

What excites you most about your work right now?

When people walk into our shop you can see their stress level reduce. There is so much stress and frustration outside our doors and we think that it is one of the reasons for the huge divide between people. If we can give folks a ten minute vacation from that stress, and open their eyes to the possibilities of peace, cooperation, and FUN, we feel like we’re making a big difference.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

There’s an activity called the Ten Chairs that talks about economic inequality. At one point in the exercise nine people are trying to squeeze into the three spaces left in the musical chairs game and those nine people get annoyed with each other, rather than doing something about the one tall person stretched across seven of the chairs. I think we need to wake people up to the fact that most of us are struggling in one way or another, and the powers that be want us to focus on each other, blame each other, victimize each other, rather than looking at the real causes of inequality and doing something about them.

And by the way….. that presentation represents 2001, it has gotten MUCH worse now!


Pictured on Right





Rebecca Fisher-McGinty (on right)

Roundsky Solutions

Montpelier, VT



Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

I prefer cooperatives businesses because it means I’m living out my vision of an alternative to the current extractive, unsustainable, and harmful economic system. I am new to my work with and in cooperatives at Round Sky Solutions, so I think that my reasons will evolve. Right now, my work in a cooperative feels much more humanizing and empowering than my work at previous non-profits and non-cooperative businesses. It’s important to me that I have a real investment and power in my job as it takes so much of my time and energy each week. The cooperative business and and cooperation as a way of being is so much of what economic justice (and racial justice) looks like in my ideal world.

What excites you most about your work right now?

Currently, I’m excited about this new online course that we’ve almost finished developing–Collab 101. At the Worker Cooperative National Conference a lot of people really seemed to resonate with and have an interest in our work, so I’m glad that we can offer a course full of real world tools for other coops and collaborative teams that help make the extra details, effort, and conflicts of democratic teams more manageable and efficient.

I’m the newest owner to Round Sky Solutions and so I’m energized by how much I’m learning from my co-workers. The Collab System and tools have trickled into many parts of my life outside of work, particularly in my anti-racist organizing collective meetings. I am noticing how the practices in Collab have made my communication and decision making processes stronger and clearer, which makes our work stronger. So, the relevance and connectedness of multiple aspects of my life feel really meaningful and exciting right now.  

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

The War on Cultural Appropriation!


Pictured on Left





Nils I. Palsson 

Transition US

Sebastopol, CA





Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

Dr. King, like most of the great spiritual teachers throughout history, reminded us repeatedly that “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.” I like cooperation because it recognized our implicit interconnectedness. I may be the authority in my own life, but each other person out there is their own authority as well. And I prefer to interact and do business in a way that allows for all these creators to come together as co-creators. No one person can do everything, but everyone can do something, and for our Movement (for planet and people) to succeed at this vital moment in our shared history, we’ve each got a unique and important contribution to make.

What excites you most about your work right now?

I am most excited right now about the confluence and coalescence of so many movements within the greater “Movement of Movements” as we all come to recognize our interconnectedness in the struggle to co-create a world of greater integrity and true justice for all. I’m excited to see this movement for social, racial, environmental and economic justice articulating itself in new ways that are accessible to more people than ever before—from urban youth to rural homesteaders, alternative energy geeks, permaculturists, peace activists and new economists, indigenous groups, parents, teachers—and everyone in between. I’m excited to see this movement gaining more political traction, as well. This year, I ran for U.S. House of Representatives in CA’s 5th District, challenging a long-established, corporate-financed incumbent. While I placed third in the primary (and, like Bernie Sanders, didn’t make it through to the general election), I feel a great deal of hope for our people and planet right now. We are waking up. It may take some more challenges and difficult initiations for us to truly realize the epic nature of the crises we’re living through, but consciousness is getting there, and I truly believe another world—a healthier, more just, thriving, resilient, abundant and joyful world—is possible.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

As a long-time local community organizer in the Transition Towns Movement (and now as Communications and Special Projects Coordinator for Transition US, national hub of this global movement for local community resilience), there is a very special place in my heart for this movement to build more resilient, thriving local community at a grassroots level. I celebrate the growth and deepening of the Transition Movement, now in its 10th year in the US, in which real people are coming together with their neighbors to build real solutions to climate change, resource depletion and systemic inequality. Together, one neighborhood at a time, we are envisioning and enacting a new way of being that puts community first, honors the work already being done by the people and organizations around us, and serves to connect and empower community stakeholders as we build more resilient systems of food security, energy independence, alternative transportation, new economies and much, much more!






Alexandra Peters

The Working World

New York, NY

Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

There are so many reasons! Cooperatives put the decision-making power in the hands of those who stand to benefit from the business, so that all members have a say in the running of the business as well as sharing in the success. The participatory nature of cooperatives leads to dignified jobs, fairer pay, and better prices for members. Cooperatives keep wealth in the local community and provide learning opportunities for members who might not otherwise ever have access to owning a business. The list goes on!

What excites you most about your work right now?

I get really excited about the potential that cooperatives have to empower workers in particularly vulnerable situations. We’ve been talking with a nail salon about a possible conversion to a cooperative structure, which would be a huge win for the workers; the salon industry in NYC has a history of exploiting immigrant workers, so it feels great to be working for change in that industry.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

I’d work to protect worker rights in garment factories around the world. While workers in artisan cooperatives (like Mata Traders and Global Mamas) can advocate for better working conditions, fair wages, and creative license, most garment factory workers make our clothes in exploitative and unsafe conditions for miniscule pay. We need to incentivize transparency in this industry, and help people understand that there’s a person behind every piece of clothing we buy!






Kyle Sawyer

Building Allies

Los Angeles, CA




Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

It seems to be an alternative to the (capitalist) systems already in place. An opportunity for us to do different, better, and work toward intersectional understandings of all the various identities and experiences that exist.

What excites you most about your work right now?

I’m most excited about our Becoming a Trans* Ally and Turning Privilege Into Change workshops in practice and development. With all the media coverage around trans* identified individuals there is also a great need for folks to know how to be allies to trans* and gnc communities, and that takes cooperation. What excites me is being witness to folk, in workshop, find that they are able to be active allies within the context of their own lives and determining ways to step into that role. It excites me to witness privileged folk be challenged, learn, and then take that information and create change in their environments.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

I think we’ve been moving beyond Peggy McIntosh’s awareness of the Privileged Knapsack to the next step of integrating change. I wish to build a movement that demands we work beyond awareness and towards direct change.







Steve Dubb

Formerly of The Democracy Collaborative

Washington, D.C.

Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

Co-ops embody principles of member control, community learning, community participation, empowerment, ownership and economic democracy. They are aware for ordinary people to amass capital locally and develop goods and services that they need for their own community.

What excites you most about the work right now?

I see co-ops more and more, especially worker and multi-stakeholder co-ops, increasingly being used as a strategy to build community wealth in low-income neighborhoods. For example, in Richmond, Virginia, where I was working earlier this year, the City, through its Office of Community Wealth Building is supporting the development of a network of for-profit worker cooperatives and non-profit social enterprises that can employ and provide ownership and living wages ($15 an hour or more) to residents in low-income, mostly African American, communities that can provide critical services to area institutions such as construction, property maintenance, and community health worker services that help post-operative patients recuperate and avoid being readmitted for further hospital care.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

Building networks of mutually supporting cooperatives in low-income communities and communities of color.





Bernard Marszalek

Formerly of Inkworks Press, blogs @ Ztangi Press

Berkeley, CA




Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

Because it is anti-“business” or rather, in its basic premise, anti-capitalist. Capitalism = one person, unlimited shares/ democracy = one person, one vote/cooperatives = one member/one vote.

What excites you most about the work right now?

What is most important in current co-op activity is the “turn towards politics” – not simply applying to local governments for funds (though that shouldn’t be abandoned as a demand) BUT rather allying with the larger social movement for a new social/economic program based on democratic principles.

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

Because the larger issue is not how to provide (good) jobs for all (or everyone in a co-op!) BUT to establish the Right-to-a-Livelihood as a basic human right. The current movement for that Right is not well defined in the US and inadequately defined in Europe and other places in the world. Such a movement must have at minimum a program of ecological sanity (reconstituting a broken system) coupled with a program for ethical life-choices for all (Basic Income, voluntary affiliation w/others to create universal good works).


Karen Ochoa, MD Spicer-Sitzes and Ashley Ortiz, co-founders L.A. Co-op Lab





Ashley Ortiz

Arizmendi Bakery, San Rafael/ L.A. Co-op Lab

Oakland, CA




Why do you prefer cooperatives/cooperation?

I prefer worker-owned co-ops because workers are empowered to make decisions and share in profits to generate wealth. These companies help create sustainable and dignified jobs and contribute to more equitable community and economic development.

What excites you most about your work right now?

I recently became a worker-owner at Arizmendi Bakery in San Rafael and it’s exciting to be running a business with other people. I’m inspired by the owners’ incredible dedication to the business, our products, our customers, and the larger community. I’m also supporting the work of the L.A. Co-op Lab collective remotely and I’m really excited about the growing network of cooperatively-minded folks and resources in L.A. (Photo attached: three members of the L.A. Co-op Lab.)

If you were playing Rise Up, what would your movement be?

Changing educational curriculum at all grade levels so it includes information about working and living cooperatively!


Look for TESA Collective’s “Cooperator Feature” series regularly. Interested in getting yourself or someone you know featured? Email md@toolboxfored.org for the most recent set of questions.

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