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Vermont Guardian

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We’re in this together

Posted November 3, 2006

With the Nov. 7 elections upon us and about to pass us by, now is a good time to reflect on what is it we hope to gain from those we elect to represent us in Washington and Montpelier.

In this issue of the Guardian, we focus on a number of ways in which people have come together without government intervention, prodding, or support to build community, or take action against what they see as a threat to their community.
Cooperatives have long been a mainstay in Vermont’s economy — from credit unions to agriculture. And, they continue to be a driving force of the state’s rural economy.

Being a member of a cooperative is more than just being with like-minded folks: It’s about being entwined with a purpose that is greater than the sum of its parts.

One of the principles of cooperatives, according to the International Cooperative Alliance, is to be “democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote), and cooperatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.”

In Vermont, successful cooperatives include many community-owned food stores, credit unions, as well as the makers of Cabot cheese and the Washington Electric Cooperative, meaning that most Vermonters have already come into contact with a cooperative in one form or another.

According to the National Cooperative Business Association, co-ops serve four out of every 10 U.S. residents, providing telephone service to 2 million households, financial services for 84 million credit union members, maintaining almost half of all electric distribution lines in the country, marketing 30 percent of all farmers’ products, and providing homes for 1.5 million households.

In Vermont, as we debate the need for changes in education governance and expanding broadband technology to rural parts of the state, we should think co-ops as a model.
Think of it: a co-op set up with a single focus on expanding broadband service to rural Vermont, its members including businesses and individuals with the focus to improve the necessary infrastructure to have a more dispersed and diversified economy in Vermont.
Such cooperatives could also be a way in which local communities could expand the investment pool needed to develop small-scale renewable energy projects such as wind, solar, and biomass.

As Montpelier, and Washington, look to “solve” some of the vexing problems facing our society, we should all take stock in the model that cooperatives bring to the table and perhaps use that as the new model of how to bring people together rather than politics or heavy-handed government involvement.

Soldier’s duty

The Vermont seaman involved in last week’s national call by active duty military personnel to get out of Iraq should serve as a wake-up call to all those fence-sitters around the Iraq War who believe we can simply wait it out and hope that the situation will improve.

Regardless of who “wins” the election, it is unlikely that we will see a major shift in U.S. policy in the Middle East. While some Democrats have called for pulling out troops “real soon” and bringing them home “with honor,” it is unlikely that any realistic, firm timetable — let alone immediate withdrawal — will be put in place.

So, what will we be left with? The words of a growing number of soldiers like Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden, of Rockingham: “The real grievances are if democracy is our goal, then I believe we are going about it all wrong. The occupation is perpetuating more violence and I think it is the biggest destabilizing thing we can do to the Middle East. It’s costing way too many human lives — Iraqi civilians and American service member lives — and brings us no benefits. The only people who benefit in my eyes are corporations like Halliburton. I don’t think that the war is being paid for in the right manner, and I think that if people want to support the troops then they should support us coming home.”
The question that remains: Is anyone really listening to these troops?