You spoke of emerging co-ops. What kinds of ideas are being attempted? Can you talk a little more about the lessons coming out of these efforts?
The emerging co-ops include a copy shop, a screenprinting business, a tech support firm, and a worker-owned restaurant. Most of them are directly related to operations that were put into place during the occupation of Zuccotti Park last fall. OccuCopy provides flyers, stickers, buttons, and posters to working groups within Occupy Wall Street in addition to outside orders. The screenprinting co-op is emerging from a guild of dedicated volunteers who produced t-shirts and posters at large mobilizations and on site at the park for anyone who wanted on a donation basis. The tech support firm is emerging from the work of several talented web developers who have been behind the many websites and applications we've used at OWS. The worker-owner restaurant folks also want to develop a community supported kitchen as part of their model, and they're all folks who were involved in the OWS Kitchen that at one point fed more people each day than any of the largest soup kitchens in NYC. All of them have representatives who meet regularly to discuss our projects and our shared vision for co-op development in our city.
A few of the lessons learned have been specific to OWS and our relationship to General Assembly, which I won't go into, but suffice to say we learned pretty early that not every self-identified radical supports co-ops as anti-capitalist economic development. I think that came as a bit of a shock and made us aware that there is a lot of misunderstandings about how co-ops work and what their role has been in social movements. We also all felt somewhat uneasy about incorporation--should we be nonprofits, LLCs, co-ops under NY state law, B corporations, etc.? What we learned from the wonderful folks at the Urban Justice Center is that incorporation doesn't really matter that much, actually, and it's really about how you write your by-laws and structure your practices that matters.
"I saw kids slipping into situations where the circumstances were predestining them for a life of welfare or jail," said Allen, 38. "I wondered what else could be done outside of the non-profit model? How can we build an institution that can change their circumstances for real?"
A worker-owned business means that all six of Alchemy’s members have the power to vote on management decisions and the direction of the business, and all receive an equal share of the profits. It’s a model that intended to create employee equality in the workplace with the goal of delivering a higher-quality product….
“We’re lucky to live in a place that has good examples of cooperatives,” Myers said about working in Oakland, “They’ll be more like us popping up and we’re excited about that.”Look for the Alchemy Collective at the North Oakland farmers market at 5717 Market St. on Saturdays and for their espresso cart at the Biofuel Oasis next month.