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Collective Work & Cooperation

Co-Familia: Bilingual Childcare Development Center
By Silvia Inez Salazar

Organizing and buying our rent-controlled building in 2011 was a huge accomplishment that took 7 years. Our building used to be called the Norwood Apartments and today it is called 1417 N Street NW Co-operative. We converted our 84-unit building into affordable housing and no longer had to worry about being pushed out because of gentrification.

In 2015, we began to think about the need to have stable and dignified work with livable wages and benefits. Many people in our co-operative work two or three jobs in the service sector and they have no potential to be promoted or gain stable employment. We soon realized that a worker owned co-operative was the solution. A group of 16 women from the DMV area and our housing co-operative were interested in launching their own worker owned co-operative business that would provide childcare services in DC.

Although I had experience organizing my building into a co-operative, I did not know how to organize a worker-owned co-op. The support and collaboration provided by ONE DC was instrumental in getting started. Emily Sladek, Bryant Sewell, Tania Guerrero, Katharine Richardson, and Erin Kessler volunteered their time and expertise with the early phases of business planning. Luther Place Memorial Church lent their support and provided a place to meet. Professor Louise A. Howells, Clinical Instructors Jerome Hughes and Eva Seidelman and a team of law students with the UDC School of Law provided expertise with formulating bylaws and governance. The DC Childcare Collective continues to provide childcare during organizing meetings.

We worked collectively to share the basic concepts of a cooperatively owned business and more importantly, we set aside time for the women to transition from seeing themselves as employees and changing into owners of their own business. By 2018, Co-Familia Childcare Co-operative had evolved into a core group of women leaders with a vision of how their business would function. ONE DC interns Citlalli Velasquez and Esmi Huerta worked with the leaders to create visual illustrations of services to be provided. A grant from the Meyer Foundation provided funding for the worker-owners to take childcare development classes at Montgomery College.

In spite of our collective accomplishments, I was not sure about what direction to take or where we were along the co-op development lifecycle. ONE DC provided support to me and Emily Sladek with applying for a training provided by CooperationWorks! at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The training was focused on implementation and providing practical tools and skills for co-op developers. The courses and case studies presented during the training provided perspective on where Co-Familia is towards launching and what steps to follow. Learning the viewpoints of fellow co-op developers helped us understand the challenges we are facing and how common they are. As a result of the training, we can now provide Co-Familia with the support and direction they need to establish their business.

Co-Familia worker-owners are currently taking child development courses at Montgomery College and are scheduled to graduate this coming July. We plan to celebrate and move forward with renting a locale that will house the co-operative.

Dulce Hogar Cleaning Cooperative

Dulce Hogar Cleaning Cooperative, a worker-owned cleaning cooperative, became operational in February of 2019. Dulce Hogar is being supported by ONE DC, Beloved Community Incubator, and Luther Place Memorial Church.The seven worker-owners participated in a year long training process, which included logo and brand development, governance, financial literacy, and cooperative principals. Dulce Hogar has now begun taking on clients across DC and in the immediate Virginia suburbs.
Check them out or request an estimate at dulcehogarcleaning.com


ONE DC Learning Circle
The ONE DC learning circle has started study groups focused on specific types of co-ops.  As Jessica Gordon Nembhard remarks in her seminal book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, "[e]very African-American-owned cooperative of the past that I have researched, and almost every contemporary cooperative I have studied, began as the result of a study group or depended on purposive training and orientation of members."  We are taking this guidance, and starting study groups.
 
The Housing Co-Op study group will meet on Wednesday, June 26, from 6:30-8pm at the ONE DC office. At our first meeting, we'll set goals, decide how often we want to meet, etc. Contact Eric Fullilove (eric.fullilove@ri.org) or Gabrielle Newell (gnewell14@gmail.com) if you're interested in being part of this group moving forward. 
 
Kim Lee (klsourceinc@gmail.com) will convene the Health Co-op Study Group! Reach out to her if you want to join in this effort or learn more.
 
The monthly Learning Circle explores the principles and legacies that ONE DC moves forward. The Learning Circle continues to meet on the first Wednesday of every month, from 6-8pm at the Black Workers and Wellness Center. The next session on June 5th (6-8pm at the BWWC) will explore 400 Years of Inequality. Click here to RSVP

Contact Gabrielle Newell (gnewell14@gmail.com) for more information about the Learning Circle or to join the Learning Circle email list

Summertime Cooperation: Co-op Community Cookout

On August 4, the Black Workers and Wellness Center (BWWC) hosted ONE DC’S first Co-op Community Cookout event of the year. Following up from a successful People’s Platform event in February, Cooperation DC held a summer cookout event in order to engage in popular education about cooperative economics while gathering community and enjoying food with one another. The Black Workers and Wellness Center was a full house that day! We spent our time reviewing the Seven Cooperative Principles and understanding how they work to address shortcomings experienced in the workplace. We explored how Cooperation DC’s work fits into ONE DC’s overall vision for building people-driven power in Ward 8 and throughout the District.

ONE DC members learn about the 7 cooperative principles

As use of the Black Workers and Wellness Center expands through building renovations and new staff organizer positions, we look forward to building on the growing excitement around our co-op work by hosting more events like this in the coming year! Stay tuned for fall updates from our two partner cooperatives: Dulce Hogar Cleaning Cooperative and Co-Familia Child Care Cooperative, and from the Working World Cooperative Organizing Retreat.

7 Cooperative Principles

  1. VOLUNTARY AND OPEN MEMBERSHIP
    Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, whose services and membership are open to all due to having minimal barriers of accessibility.
  2. DEMOCRATIC MEMBER CONTROL
    Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Co-operative members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote), and are typically structured in a way that does not resemble traditional business leadership.
  3. MEMBER ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION
    Members contribute equitably to collectively own the money and assets of their co-operative. Members put profit towards any of the following purposes: developing their co-operative; benefiting members based on interaction with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
  4. AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE
    Co-operatives are autonomous, self-maintaining organizations controlled by their members. Agreements that may be made with other organizations and institutions and any funds they get from outside of the co-operative are processed in a way that keeps democratic control and ownership over the co-operative.
  5. EDUCATION, TRAINING AND INFORMATION
    Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, and worker-owners so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public, especially in the communities they occupy, about the nature and benefits of the cooperative movement and other popular and political education topics.
  6. CO-OPERATION AMONG CO-OPERATIVES
    Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the Co-operative Movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures. Co-operatives are conscious about how their decisions may affect other co-ops and are concerned for the well-being of those co-ops.
  7. CONCERN FOR COMMUNITY
    Co-operatives work in the best interest of the communities in which they reside. They are open to providing support and resources for community members in need.

Member Reflection: Philly Coop Learning Journey Trip

By Art Brown

For the past three months, members and staff of ONE DC organized three Cooperative Learning Journey trips visiting Baltimore, Maryland (Red Emma’s, a coop book store), New York City (Build with Prospect Construction Coop; The Working World, The Participatory Budgeting Project; COLORS) and Philadelphia (Childspace West-worker owned child care coop; Mariposa Food Coop). The purpose of these journeys was to prepare a cadre of people/workers who will invest time and commit effort to building a cooperative movement in DC. Also, a DC Worker Coop Coalition has been established and has been meeting since March of this year to initiate and coordinate a cooperative building effort.

As an added bonus to the Philadelphia Cooperative Learning Journey, participants got the opportunity to attend the US Social Forum (USSF). We took part in the Advancing the Solidarity Economy Peoples’ Movement Assembly and met with Peter Frank, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA). The PMA addressed such topics as: Participatory Budgeting, The Mapping Process of Current Local and National Networks, Urban Agriculture, Cooperative Infrastructure, Land Banking and Land Use Distribution, Divestment and Reinvestment Ethics, Loan Funds to the Grassroots and Climate Justice Projects.

The discussion with Peter Frank of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance was to gain insight into its operation and to receive guidance for the recent start-up of the DC Worker’s Cooperative Alliance. Prior to our return to DC, members and staff organizers from ONE DC held a debriefing session as a prelude to the creation of a cooperative economy in DC. The group agreed to meet on July 8th, 6:30pm at Impact Hub DC to map out next steps.

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