Jackson Rising conference brings together social justice and cooperative activists
While the words “co-op” and “civil rights” do not commonly appear in the same sentence, with more than 300 cooperative and social justice activists gathered in Jackson, Mississippi, last weekend, the question was hard to avoid.
Aiming to build wealth and create economic opportunity for underserved people and communities, Alternatives Federal Credit Union serves as a credit union and a nonprofit community development organization, providing traditional deposit and loan services as well as financial education, small business supports, incentivized savings programs, and free tax preparation for low-income people. To promote youth savings, Alternatives operates 11 school-based, youth-focused branches and runs a College Savers Club, through which low-income students can open a 10 percent APR college savings account. To help low-income members build assets, Alternatives’ IDA program provides a 2:1 match to participants for savings directed towards homeownership, post-secondary education, or business development. Also committed to its employees, Alternatives pays all employees a living wage and is the only financial institution certified as a Living Wage Employer by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center.
Established in 1953 to serve Cornell University employees, CFCU Community Credit Union has grown into one of the largest credit unions in New York state with over $900 million in assets, 10 locations, and more than 60,000 members in Tompkins, Cortland, Cayuga, Ontario, and Seneca Counties. Committed to the community, the credit union supports 100 area nonprofits and provided $40,000 in scholarships and awards to local high school graduates in 2017.
Started in 1973, the Ithaca Farmers Market is a year-round, owner-operated cooperative market focused on nurturing connections between producers and consumers, and promoting and strengthening local agriculture. The Market currently has over 160 members selling a range of farm products, crafts, and prepared food, all produced within a 30-mile radius of the Market. Committed to sustainability, the Market encourages shoppers to use their own bags, has given away hundreds of its own reusable totes, and requires vendors use fully compostable BioBags. To help support youth entrepreneurship, the Market hosts monthly Youth Vending Nights in the summer.
Launched in 1991, EcoVillage Ithaca has grown into the largest participatory, sustainable co-housing community in the world, with 220 residents living in 100 homes within three neighborhoods. Community decisions are made through a consensus process, and residents volunteer several hours a week on work teams (e.g., cooking, dishes, outdoors, maintenance, etc.) based on their interests. Situated on 175 acres, EcoVillage also encompasses an organic CSA vegetable farm, an organic CSA/U-Pick berry farm, office space for entrepreneurs, a neighborhood root cellar, community gardens, and meadows, ponds and woodlands.
GreenStar is a consumer-owned grocery with over 12,000 members and three stores. Aiming to making the food system more equitable, sustainable, and locally-based, GreenStar launched an affiliate nonprofit in 2007, GreenStar Community Projects, which supports community initiatives around food justice and sustainability. Also committed to sustainability, the cooperative owns a 426 panel solar farm (the largest solar array owned by a food co-op in the U.S.), which can generate 146,000 kilowatts a year.
Students at the University of California, San Diego run four separate cooperatives: 1) Che Café, an all-ages DIY music venue, vegan café, and event space; 2) Groundwork Books, a bookstore specializing in progressive literature and low-priced textbooks; 3) The Food Cooperative, San Diego’s oldest organic vegan grocery store; and 4) The General Store Co-op, a worker cooperative selling affordable food, school supplies, and other products. To help support these cooperatives, in 2017 UC San Diego agreed to provide each enterprise with free utilities and rental space for just $1 a year.
Established in 1938 to serve local government employees, the San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU) is now the largest locally-owned financial institution in San Diego with more than $8.3 billion in assets, 43 branches, and over 381,000 members. Through its SDCCU Biz Kid$ program, the credit union provides free classroom curriculum and resources designed to teach youth about money and business. The credit union also offers weekly free seminars to the public on a range of finance-related topics through its Financial Wellness Wednesdays initiative.
Founded as a small neighborhood buying club in 1971, Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market has grown into a consumer-owned cooperative with 13,000 member-owners that specializes in selling certified organic, wholesome, minimally processed, vegetarian, Fair Trade, and environmentally safe foods and products. The co-op operates out of a 6,000 square foot energy-efficient green building constructed with recycled content steel, engineered lumber, and non-toxic, recycled, and sustainably harvested building materials.
Founded by a group of educators in 1928, California Coast Credit Union is the oldest credit union in San Diego. The nonprofit has more than $2.3 billion in assets, over 150,000 members, and 25 branches across San Diego and Riverside Counties. To support local education, California Coast established the Cal Coast Cares Foundation in 2015 through which it awards over $60,000 a year in scholarships to local students pursuing higher education and small grants to teachers to support projects in a STREAM field (i.e., Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math). Read more about California Coast Credit Union...
The Philadelphia Free School (PFS) is a democratic school operated by its students, staff, parents, and community members, with each individual within the school community having one vote in decision-making. Opened in 2011 with 16 students, PFS now has 80 students aged 4-19 who work collaboratively on self-initiated activities and govern themselves and the school.
The Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) is a cooperative membership association for cooperatives in the Philadelphia region. Guided by a mission to improve the lives of people in the Philadelphia region by supporting democratically organized businesses, promoting the principles of the international cooperative movement, and growing the cooperative economy, PACA develops and implements programs to connect, educate, and serve Philadelphia area co-ops and cooperators. The nonprofit also advocates at the municipal, state, and federal levels for policies supporting the growth of cooperative businesses.
The Philadelphia Service Cooperative strives to bring people closer together and inspire them to be part of their local communities rather than isolating themselves and competing for resources. Its flagship project is its West Philadelphia-based Service House, an 8-bedroom housing cooperative comprised of resident-owners who perform regular community service. The house also serves as a venue for socially conscious events and as a base-of-operations for social entrepreneurship.
Beaumont is a resident-owned, resident-governed cooperative continuing care retirement community designed to fulfill the social, recreational, and health needs of adults aged 60 and older. Committed to reducing its environmental and carbon footprint, Beaumont composts nearly 50 pounds of biodegradables on a daily basis (which it then converts into organic compost for its gardens), relies on geothermal wells to augment traditional heating and cooling systems, and uses LEDs in all common area and exterior lighting, among other eco-focused practices. Beaumont has about 300 owner-residents.
Founded in 1977, Ardent Credit Union now holds $631 million in assets and has 32,000 members. To support its members, the credit union awards ten scholarships every year to members pursuing higher education and runs numerous seminars focused on financial education. Committed to its employees, Ardent offers staff up to $6,000 a year to cover job-related tuition expenses, has an on-site nutritionist, and has been recognized as one of the best credit unions to work for by CU Journal.