9.15.2006

The Cooperative Ownership Society

The "ownership society" is a hot topic todays, but, like most big-government propaganda slogans, it doesn't mean much in an of itself. What exactly is owned? Does it mean people take ownership of their actions? That people own more things? That somebody else owns your genes, water, air, roads and future?

Well, I decided when I moved to Syracuse to put the best spin on the topic that I could and run a little experiment. I wanted to see if I could become part of a cooperative ownership society here in the 'Cuse, one where people worked together to improve their common lot.

So far, the three main vehicles that I have used in this quest are three Westcott institutions: the Real-Food Co-Op, the Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union and the Westcott Community Center. I joined all three the first week, which was perhaps a bit hasty, since you can't access your SCFCU account for 10 days after it is opened (security reasons of some sort) and joining the Co-Op takes a hefty $105... so I was a bit short of cash for a few days.

Since then, though, things have gone quite a bit smoother. I have all of my money in credit union accounts, buy about 85% of my food from the co-op and I keep my eyes peeled for interesting Community Center events. For those looking at the dollars and cents of the picture, my actions seem a bit idealistic and costly. I will admit that the Co-Op tends to be a bit on the expensive side and that I would probably make 5x more on interest if I invested my savings instead of putting them in the low dividend credit union accounts. To make up the difference, I've been mending my clothes instead of throwing them out, shopping in thrift shops and yard sales and walking or biking almost everywhere.

However, there is something that I've noticed as I walk around the neighborhood doing my daily chores. Out front of the branch library, I see a sign that says that rennovations were done to the building partly through funds donated from the Co-Op and the SCFCU. The community center has given out free lunches to children and perennial bulbs to brighten my walk, also with money from those two organizations. They've invested in pocket parks, shaded benches, the Westcott Street Cultural Fair and local businesses. Because of them, local farmers grow food with dignity and without poisoning the land and local restaurants open up serving great food.

Through investing in a cooperative ownership society, the people of the Westcott Neighborhood have transformed what could be a "student ghetto" into a diverse and vibrant neighborhood. Though I wear mended shirts and have to sometimes walk when I don't want to, I can also enjoy parks, flowers and the fellowship of my neighbors.

How can you get into this type of ownership? Its not required that you throw all your money in low dividend accounts or shop only at a co-op carrying canvas bags; a good friend of mine who is has a bit tighter budget than me has instead put half of his savings in the Credit Union and buys food from the co-op when he can afford it. You neighborhood may have community centers, co-ops, credit unions, neighborhood assemblys, cultural groups, etc that you can throw your support to.

The way I see it, those dollars are better spent building parks and libraries, feeding kids and planting flowers than they are in the big banks paying for soft money contributions, funding the destruction of the rainforest or putting guns in the hands of dictators. It's all about what kind of ownership you desire.

-by Jesse

1 comment:

NYCO said...

I see you've discovered the Westcott Nation! Being a suburbanite, I am not a member of the Nation... just an occasional visitor. However, over the past year I have had to go there for various meetings and things more and more, so I'm getting to know it a little better too. I think people who aren't from Westcott sometimes still get the impression that it's a "college student thing" and not a real community thing. I sometimes feel that it would fantastic if the Nation could take over the whole city, but I'm not sure if that is going to happen.

I will be tabling for NOON tomorrow afternoon at the street fair, so maybe I'll see you around.