My sweetheart and I went to the Sustainable Economies Law Center’s (SELC) annual celebration last week and came home with a large Sibley squash, whom we have christened Hulky. (That’s Hulky on the left, reading The Weave.) Since there’s no rush to put Hulky on the dinner menu – it’s a winter squash, so it will keep for quite awhile according to the farmer who grew it – we’ve been photographing its exploits.
I’m not quite sure what the connection is between SELC and squash. Jim tells me that squash have been used as décor/party favors at every SELC event he’s ever been to. It might be because SELC works with some farmers who happen to grow squash, which comes ripe just in time for autumn parties.
Or maybe SELC executive director Janelle Orsi is just extremely fond of squash.
Anyway, while we are enjoying Hulky, my real purpose in this post is to express my gratitude for SELC and its cousins throughout the world: progressive organizations that are working to create effective economic structures that work for everybody.
When I was young, my involvement in progressive political movements led me into co-ops. While I found (and still find) many things to protest in our society, I liked focusing my efforts on building a solid institution instead of just demanding change. One of the food co-ops I helped to found in the 70s – Wheatsville – is still going strong in Austin, and the co-op movement in that city has seen a rebound in recent years. (If you’re in the area, check out Black Star Brewing Co-op. Awesome beer.)
My last job as a practicing attorney was running a non-profit legal services program that, among other things, helped tenant groups buy their apartment buildings and turn them in to owner-occupied co-ops. And of course, today I’m part of Book View Café, which, as most of our readers know, is a publishing co-op. My interest in coming up with better economic systems has not diminished.
But I wish I’d been able to go to work for an organization like SELC back when I got out of law school. Or perhaps what I wish is that I’d have had the inspiration to create something like it back in the day.
SELC doesn’t just advise groups on how to set up their co-ops or related businesses. It actively works to change laws that get in the way of those businesses and it also has people in charge of coming up with creative ideas for programs that don’t exist, like a statewide water trust for California or an investment co-op to help people make investments and borrow money.
Every time I talk to someone from SELC, they’ve come up with another good idea.
SELC is not alone. There are many similar organizations out there. Another one I’m grateful for is the Ohio Employee Ownership Program, which was started by an old friend of mine from college, the late John Logue. They have helped a lot of employees buy their companies and keep their jobs when the corporations that originally owned them wanted to shut them down.
The Austin Cooperative Business Association is helping grow more co-ops in Austin. And there are many other organizations – some listed on the website of the New Economy Coalition — doing something interesting and similar.
I’m very grateful for all of these people working for constructive economic change.
And also for squash.