Living on the Sixth

ON JANUARY 6, my pen and thought process were halted by the horrifying display of division and acrimony that paraded itself as patriotism at the U.S. Capitol. There was no shortage of commentary on the incredible events America unfortunately witnessed. Each broadcast, printed article and radio account challenged the long accepted descriptive phrase, “…one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Yet, after the long-suffocating weight of the unimaginable was removed, I had a surprisingly new declaration, “I could breathe.”

However, the sixth is more than a day on the calendar. The cooperative community recognizes it as the principle linking us to others who embrace the cooperative movement. Cooperation among cooperatives as the sixth principle is intended to guide our unique economy and protect it from the impulses of any single person or entity. It supports the realization of a fully functioning network of like-minded people who have collectively decided to determine their destiny in a manner that is controlled democratically by its members. Unfortunately, many housing cooperative members limit their involvement to the housing sector and nothing more. Thus, they fail to live on the sixth.

In most American communities, one will not have to look too far to find cooperatives whose focus is more than just housing. These cooperative sectors, if properly linked, can be leveraged to build a robust economy to which each participant contributes. It is my goal and, therefore, that of NAHC, to broaden our circle of cooperation to include other sectors, to the benefit of our members. I believe we can educate and support our members in the quest to discover cooperative enterprises in their communities and find ways to overcome a host of economic and human challenges.

One sector that is most easily accessed is that of banking. Credit unions are built on the cooperative model and are owned by their members. Researching and becoming acquainted with local credit unions can be a first step in the effort to live on the sixth. However, don’t just join a credit union, become active in the organization. Seek out other members and identify yourself as a fellow cooperator. You will find, as in most conversations about cooperatives, those you meet will likely be unaware of the role housing cooperatives play. Invite the credit union to participate with your housing cooperative. Discover ways to cooperate for the benefit of your members, perhaps through share loans and depository agreements. Speak with your board members about moving accounts from banks to credit unions. That could be a good start to this relationship building between cooperatives.

I recently discovered a food cooperative in a neighboring community. Checking out its website, I noticed one of its board members is someone I’ve known for quite some time. After making contact and talking for a bit, it was apparent we had never discussed the cooperative movement, though we are both passionate about our involvement. I plan to join. It was a wonderful discovery.

I made another discovery. While seeking a solution for a cooperative’s web presence, I was fortunate to find a tech cooperative in the Boston area. It has developed a web platform that affords users the ability to create and maintain their websites and satisfy data management needs, using open-source tools created by and for cooperatives. I took the time to introduce the cooperative to the world of housing cooperatives. The members are excited at the prospect of working with our sector to help resolve the technical challenges we all face, given the high cost and steep learning curve of technology. I will be working to establish a substantial connection between this tech cooperative and our members in the near future. Stay tuned. NAHC will endeavor to expose our members to a variety of cooperatives, beyond our sector of housing and will lead the way, living on the sixth.

This article was featured in the Spring issue of CHQ. Click here to read the PDF newsletter.

Fred Gibbs, NAHC President

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