You know what reunions are like: a bunch of old folks sitting around talking about how great things were back in the day and how nothing else has ever been that good.
This reunion wasn’t like that at all. I didn’t come away nostalgic and depressed; I came away energized and ready to do the next thing.
That was partly because it wasn’t just a reunion of people from the 70s, but rather one that included everyone involved from that time up to the present. If you spent a lot of time organizing something, it’s very exciting to hear that it not only survived, but is thriving.
Take Wheatsville. I was part of the group that started this food co-op back in 1976. I helped it get a scottish trust deed with a loan from the University of Texas student government. I brought a legal action against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission so it could get a license to sell beer and wine. I even served on the board of directors.
It’s had some rocky times, but today it is a solid grocery store, involved in the larger co-op community and highly visible in Austin. At the reunion I met current board president Rose Marie Klee and manager Dan Gillotte. Both of them have a combination of idealism and practicality that is just what all co-ops need.
The student housing co-ops are equally exciting. College Houses, owned by its resident-members, provides housing for 400 people in buildings that the co-op owns. The ICC has nine houses with 180 members. Both have paid staff, but it’s the student residents who run the corporations and make the rules.
Now I will confess that back in the 70s when I worked for Austin Community Project, a co-op of co-ops, we wanted to see cooperative businesses multiply to the point of being a significant part of the economy. That didn’t happen.
But as someone said on New Year’s Eve — and forgive me, but I can’t remember who it was — the main influence the co-ops had on people wasn’t economic so much as social. Everyone I talked to was engaged, involved, doing something interesting.
That includes the older people, the baby boomers who were the moving force behind the 1970s wave of co-ops, the people who laid the base for the healthy co-op scene in Austin.
A few examples:
- John Dickerson (who dragged a lot of us into the food co-op side of the movement) is working to get true public accountability in local government in California — check out Your Public Money. He’s not doing anti-government rants; he’s analyzing complicated problems and looking for solutions.
- Burgess Jackson, an early manager at Wheatsville, is a lawyer specializing in setting up land conservation trusts. He spent most of New Year’s weekend working to finish a couple of projects so they’d have a 2011 date.
- Jim Jones, who was the first full time staff member at College Houses, put the reunion together as part of the documentary he’s making about the Austin co-ops. He’s making sure we don’t lose our history.
According to Walden Swanson — also a former Wheatsville manager who has built a career doing co-op business related consulting worldwide — co-op development is on an upswing right now. There’s a cycle in the world of co-ops — as there is in most things — and we’ve hit a point here in the 20-teens that is similar to that of the 70s.
It came to me that Book View Cafe is part of that current co-op upswing. Because that’s what we are: a co-op of writers doing epublishing.
In some ways I’m still doing the work I was doing when I was young.
Flashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.
My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.
Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, prc, and pdf.