Since the start of Wisconsin’s Recall effort in November, the Co-op has received numerous (35+) requests, written and verbal, from Owners and other Recall supporters. They have requested that we put aside the Cooperative’s policy to refrain from partisan or electoral politics per the Tabling Policy (see sidebar) and allow them to collect signatures to recall the State’s Governor on Co-op property. Some of these requests have added that if we were truly committed to community, we would have a place in our organization for electoral politics, and everyone’s rights to express their opinions to other Owners and shoppers while visiting our stores.
The philosophy of cooperatives’ political neutrality has been refined and continually discussedfrom the mid-1800s to today. The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) report Commission on Co-operative Principles (1966) includes information from their discussion around the subject of neutrality, which may be helpful to better understand our history of this decision and our need to stay committed to it. We quote it at length.
“[P]rudent co-operative leadership has constantly tried, as far as possible, to concentrate the attention of the Movement on them and avoid the risks of disunity and dissipation of energy incurred when issues of no obvious relevance, on which people are bound sooner or later to disagree, are imported into the consideration of Co-operative affairs. The strong feeling that this treacherous ground must be avoided at all costs found expression in the formula ‘Political and Religious Neutrality’ employed in the Report adopted by the ICA Congress of 1937. The Report not only gives Neutrality the authority of a principle, but also imparts a wider significance to the term by linking it with race and nationality, as well as politics and religion. In the present Report, even where race and nationality are not specifically mentioned, they may be assumed to be covered by politics, for both are capable of erupting into political conflict in more than one region of the globe.
“From the point of view of keeping the members’ loyalty and support, those organisations which adopt a consistent policy of non-partisanship, that is to say, independence of party and entanglements and intervention based exclusively on co-operative interests and co-operative principles, are obviously on safer ground. The overriding consideration is that any weakening of a co-operative’s unity impairs its power to act effectively, not merely in the political field, but in all the other fields as well.”
Specifically at Willy Street Co-op, our Tabling Policy does allow non-partisan, 501c3 organizations to table. In the past this has included The League of Women Voters, as well as environmental, cooperative and agriculturally based organizations, who are welcome to use this venue to create awareness about legislation affecting their organizations. Because 501c3s are also restricted from participating in any political campaigning, they have reported no objection to our request. With respect to transparency, we can oppose or support issues (such as when we supported workers having a voice in their workplace during the protests last winter), but not any of the political parties or figures.
To quote ICA again, “In this way, the practice of the Alliance illustrates the statement in its rules that Co-operation ‘is neutral ground on which people holding the most varied opinions and professing the most diverse creeds may meet and act in common.’
“Just as peace is not simply the absence or cessation of war, so the attitude of Co-operators to political questions is not simply the negative one of abstention, but the positive reflection of their resolve to meet and work together on common ground.”
During this difficult period, if this policy has caused anyone to suffer or is unsatisfactory to any of our Owners, we would encourage you to express your opinion on the matter on our website, or read what others are saying on the page created for this topic: http://www.willystreet.coop/no_partisan_politics_tabling_including_gathering_recall_signatures_co_op_property#comments. This policy was, like all Co-op policies, made deliberately and with consideration toward multiple perspectives. But, being a consumer cooperative, we are open to revising policies based on feedback from Owners, as long as any revisions are still consistent with our bylaws or mission.