The choices we make, as Co-op Owners and general consumers in today’s economy, are under the microscope more now than ever before. From economists to marketers, psychologists to politicians—even video game programmers are taking note of our behaviors, and the trends evolving from them.

In a landscape where wealth inequality is out of control, political systems are at an impasse, and environmental conditions present a surplus of challenges, it’s often hard to see the opportunities we have as individuals to push toward a more equitable, collaborative and sustainable society.

During October’s Co-op Month, many of us learned something new about co-ops, reinforced our beliefs in the co-op idea or took action to join and do business with more co-ops. 

Co-op Connection event
Last month saw a large turn-out at the Co-op Connection event, introducing many of Madison’s co-op options to the general public. On International Credit Union Day, a cash mob organized by the Wisconsin Credit Union League’s young professionals chose Willy Street Co-op as their location to “mob” by visiting, joining and shopping here. This points to the fact that more people are realizing we can’t solve our economic problems with the same broken systems, and are looking to explore alternative models like co-ops. 

Vote with your fork
It’s been said that you vote for the world you want to live in three times a day with your fork. In that same way, we also make a vote with every dollar we spend. Therefore, the choices we make do have an impact on our communities and economy, and collectively we can make substantial progress toward reaching the ideal world we wish to live in. 

The everyday decisions we make are dictating the new consumer trends—showing that we value economic equality, inclusive democracy and environmental sustainability. When these decisions become trends, they gain legs and illustrate the true potential we have as a group of concerned and committed individuals. 

co-options
If you’re like me, you’ve already committed to the values and mission of the Willy Street Co-op. But have you thought about other opportunities you have to support the cooperative system through your everyday actions? There’s almost always a co-op option for whatever goods or services you may need. And if you’re here in Madison, those options are likely not hard to find. 

Take that leap, and make the decision to keep the “Co-op Month” concept going strong all year long. Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • As the holiday season approaches, look to shop with not only local and small businesses but also those that use the co-op model. Choose to gift cooperatively.
  • Much like you trust Willy Street Co-op to make responsible food decisions, trust a credit union to help you make responsible financial choices.
  • Think outside the consumer co-op… there are a lot of other co-op sectors that are deserving of your business, too. Housing co-ops, health-care co-ops, purchasing co-ops and worker co-ops all produce goods and services that we as consumers can support. Gas, coffee, baked goods, transportation, machinery, technology, you name it—there’s almost always a co-op option for what you need.
  • If you’re starting a small business, or know someone who is, look into the options and opportunities you may have by adopting the cooperative model. Or if you are retiring out of your business, consider the tax advantages of selling to your employees and turning it into a worker co-op.

Once you’ve “co-opified” your decisions, take advantage of your rights to participate in the system. Celebrate the one-person-one-vote nature of your cooperatives by placing your vote. And if you want to help decide the strategic direction of your co-op beyond your vote, run to be on the Board. The co-op model allows you to become as involved as you wish to be.

The co-op model is not perfect, and it’s not without its shortcomings, but I believe in the potential it has to solve many of today’s economic struggles, especially those in relation to wealth equality, fair democracy and sustainable practices—and that’s why I choose to support the co-op idea and take the co-op option whenever I can.

What else are you doing to support the cooperative idea? I’d love to hear your stories! Email me at hollyfearing@gmail.com.

Dr. Ingo Mahn