I’m interested in the unfolding drama that surrounds our local food co-op, partly because, after all, it’s my co-op too, and the place where I shop for any food that we don’t grow here at the GANG or get dumpster diving or at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. And, I’m interested in this drama because it mirrors the larger global drama, where, in classic David v. Goliath fashion, we the people during this ongoing Uranus/Pluto ferment (2012-2016) are challenging the hegemony of multinational corporations.
But wait a minute, you say. Bloomingfoods is a Co-operative, not a Corporation!
Well, yes. It’s supposed to be. But between its visionary, idealistic birth in 1976 and now, 38 years later, with a growing base of 12,000 members, something happened along the way to begin to torque our original member-owner operation into a quasi-corporation, with an expanding physical presence (three major stores, two minor ones, and counting), a long-time CEO-like General Manager, a budget that is not transparent, workers who are both underpaid and feel disrespected and disenfranchized, and a board that vets anyone who wants to serve on it to say whether they can even be nominated to come up for a vote!
Here’s some background:
Bloomingfoods, yesterday’s rally to unionize workers, and our moment of creative opportunity as member-owners of our beloved Co-op
BTW: 1976 to 2014: 38 years. Right on schedule for the opening moves of what’s called the “Uranus opposition” in any entity’s life. Uranus, the planet of excitement, sudden changes, wake-up calls, and unpredictable surprises, comes with its Aquarian ruler’s vision of the equality of all peoples, and has a cycle of 84 years. This means that it’s half-cycle is somewhere between 39 and 42 years. So that this Uranian drama is beginning to unfold now is a wake-up call to both the member-owners and the board. We are being called back to our original By-Laws, and our founding purpose as a cooperative. Right on time.
So for Tuesday evening’s board meeting, two days ago, here’s a photo essay of sorts.
The March was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. with the Co-op Board Meeting at 6:30. I got to the East Side Store, where the march was set to begin, at about 5:20. Not many folks there yet. Would they come?
Ten more minutes, and the crowd had swollen enough to make a good showing for our short march to the board meeting.
Oops! Once there, we were stopped. Not allowed in. What?
Somebody opened the door to tell us. The fire marshall has decreed that only 40 are allowed in the room. Are you on the list. Did you RSVP? Oops, maybe four of us RSVPed. Okay, you can go in.
The rest of us, and that’s most of us, milled around some more, kvetching about not having even known that we were supposed to RSVP! Was this the first time a board meeting had required an RSVP from member-owners? The answer to that was never clear to me. Whatever was going on behind that innocuous looking front window
was something we were not going to be privy to?
At one point I looked down, to find a neatly written word on a relatively new tree stump.
Oh my! And was our mood murderous, too? Not exactly, but frustrated, certainly, with more than one of us surprised that the board had not realized this would be a meeting that member-owners would like to attend.
At one point the president of the board came outside to try to pacify us. I asked him point blank (but in a civil tone) why they had not chosen a larger venue, since they must have known member-owners would be attending this meeting. He didn’t have an answer.
At some point, amazingly enough, some of us did get by the gate keepers, including myself. I went and sat on the steps above the table where the board was meeting and those of us that had already gotten in were seated or standing. So I heard much of what went on. And noticed especially that the General Manager — the focus of many pointed questions — didn’t ever seem to look at anyone, but just sat there, his head down, busily writing.
To the board’s credit, they did reserve the first hour of their two hour meeting for our comments, which were unanimous in favor of increasing the accountability of the board to its workers. Many other comments as well, most of them very articulate, and respectful, almost anguished. Over and over again, “This is our co-op! If our co-op doesn’t act like one, and especially if doesn’t meaningfully respond to its member-owners recommendations I won’t be able to shop here any more!”
Here’s Lauren (red sweater), a worker at Bloomingfoods East who spoke with passion, grace and concern about the co-op we all know and love and want to return to its founding principles.
Here’s a twitter feed that logs all the comments.
When it was my turn to speak I focused on that strange rule that says anyone who runs for the board has to be vetted by the existing board, saying that it implies that disruption of existing policies are not allowed. That as a result Bloomingfoods feels more like a corporation than a co-operative.
During the meeting a tornado warning sounded, twice, each time for long minutes. It seemed fitting, turbulence and danger in the weather outside mirroring the turbulent feelings and sense of danger to the founding principles of our beloved co-op inside.
Here’s the final tweet of the final comment, and I’m sure it echoes the feelings that all of us have who still work there, who still buy our food there, and who still want very very much for our co-op to remember that it is a co-op and not a corporation.
Next up: Annual Member Meeting, Let’s all be there! It’s your co-op, too.
P.S. I just now RSVP’ed.