Editor’s Reflection

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Coffee pot from a 1985 Coop Scoop.
Coffee pot from a 1985 Coop Scoop.

Moving Forward: Building Bridges, Not Walls

There’s one thing we can all agree on at Honest Weight: we love the place. At times, it may be a love-hate relationship, but one of the reasons we stay connected is because of the love. As we move on from the events of the past five months, it’s good to step back and see how we can build bridges – not walls. Because, at heart, we have a shared purpose. It’s our vision of that purpose that varies, and that’s a good thing.

I offer these thoughts from where I sit, as an outgoing member of the Voice’s Editorial Board. These past few weeks, I was dealing with a particularly tenacious strain of the flu, massive dental surgery, and a quick trip out to the West Coast. Between air travel and healing, I did a lot of sitting – and thinking. In this reflection, I want to speak from a place of going forward.

Most people understand that, despite what happened at the January 28th Membership Meeting, for us to succeed together we need to re-establish trust and cooperation. The lack of these two critical elements was evident at the January meeting. The human need for a certain level of trust and cooperation holds true whether we are wage earners (that is, traditionally salaried staff), owners, member-owners, Board members, front end staff, back end staff, management, vendors – or any combination thereof.

These are not easy conversations to have; they shouldn’t be. But neither should they be paralyzing. People, being people – thank goodness – respond positively to rational discourse and connection. There’s an emerging realization that the Voice needs to remain independent, not under “oversight” by a Board that already has several channels for public relations and communications.

Courtesy Fritz Ahlefeldt

The fact that there has been tremendous Board turnover since last year, and that no fewer than EIGHT (count ‘em!) Board seats (out of nine!) will be open in April says something about where we are at right now in terms of governance; the stakes for the Co-op are high. We all have to participate so we can pick up the pieces and go on. We have an opportunity to build bridges.

Since the January meeting, many of the conversations that I’ve had with staff, Board members, and member-owners have been insightful and heartening. A member-owner – one of the many who voted in favor of the Voice’s proposal at the January meeting – spoke to me as he stocked produce. I listened (something I’m trying to do a lot more of at the Co-op these days) as he said he definitely wanted the Voice’s independent role to be preserved. But, he wisely added, the Voice needs to answer to the Membership, and the Membership needs to step up to the plate to make that happen, so that certain voices will not drown out others in the future, nor strong personalities speak for the whole. I couldn’t have agreed with him more. We need more members like him, members who take a strong position on ownership and participation, and who get involved.

Towards the end of broadening and defining the avenues of the Voice’s accountability to the Membership, then, Voice team members have agreed to meet and work with a group of HWFC Board members. There has already been one such meeting, on February 15th, and another is scheduled for March 21st. When we reach an agreement on what “increased accountability to Membership” looks like as a result of these conversations, we’ll let you know in these pages – so you, too, can add your voice, weigh in, and get involved in a concrete way.

“But please,” you say, “for goodness’ sake, no more process! No more talk! All I want to do is to shop at the Co-op and have an enjoyable ‘shopper experience,’ uncontaminated by politics!” Well, I hate to inform you, dear reader, but everything is political, even when it appears apolitical on the surface. If you don’t like what you see, use the Voice to say so. If you think change is needed, familiarize yourself with our By-laws and get involved in making that change. We’re only as strong as our collective involvement.

In closing, I’d like to make a proposal; I am a big believer in assessment and data. As we move forward, I wonder if the Co-op could benefit, and if its sense of shared purpose could be enhanced, by using a variation of a group communication and sharing process called Appreciative Inquiry. I see this as a way to really call out our organizational strengths in narrative detail, on all levels, because it’s the stories we tell about ourselves that will inspire us and enable us to succeed as a democratically run co-op. I’d be willing to work on a committee to do just that – not to divide us, not to be a big voice, but to really see what’s working, and what’s not, at the heart of our system, through the sounding of many voices.

While I’m on the topic of calling on our strengths, I’d like to commend Saul Rigberg and other members in their efforts to bring the arts back into our community. From last summer’s drumming circle (which brought familiar member faces I hadn’t seen in years,), to the art gallery in our hallways, to our monthly coffeehouse in the Community Room (delightfully run by Roger Allen and Cynthia Mulford), the arts are alive and well within our Co-op. What would a cooperative community be without the arts? I’d like to see this space expanded to include poetry slams, and a broader swath of artistic talent.

We all know that democracy – with a little “d” – is working if the process feels messy and, at times, uncomfortable. Because, in order to reflect diversity and unity, there are many avenues to building community, to working on shared purposes and processes, to building the trust that comes with healthy, effective, inclusive conversation, and to managing the change that once again we’re faced with. Start having those conversations right now, and let us know what you find out, because it’s in positive human interaction that some of the most positive change takes place. At a place like the Co-op, at any place where people come together to work, shop, and live, that is as it should be. The Voice includes your voice, and it’s here for you.

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Donna Aitoro-Williams is a writer, teacher, parent, wayfarer, and drummer who lives and works in the Capital District. One woman. Many hats. She has been a member of the Honest Weight Food Coop community since 1991.