Thursday, 02 July 2015 06:49
By Joe Romano,
Racism has been for everyone like a horrible, tragic car crash, and we've all been heavily sedated from it. If we don't come into consciousness of this tragedy, there's going to be a violent awakening we don't want. The question is, can we wake up?
— Anna Deavere Smith
Recently, nine members of a Bible study group were shot and killed in a historic South Carolina church. There was a clear reason — the white shooter, who had photographed himself adorned in racist South African apartheid badges, wished to commit a crime heinous enough against black people to start a race war in America.
This time, a storied community suffered the loss of nine of their strongest members, including their pastor, who was also a state senator — all because some people can't imagine people of different races living together in harmony. Many black communities live in fear of a similar attack, while many white communities live in fear of having to talk about the enduring racism in this country, and fear the loss of their long-held privilege.
GreenStar wishes to reinforce our commitment to address the ingrained institutional racism that divides our nation and community. We wish to reach out to any and all of the members of our community who feel the pain of this horrible tragedy and who wish to heal our nation and ourselves. We will continue our rewarding journey toward becoming a truly open, welcoming, and racially diverse organization, because that is the only path to our true cooperative values. All Americans must unite against racial hatred.
Earlier in June, the Annual Meeting of the Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) was held in Boise, Idaho. It was an exceptional event that brought deep insight to the current social and financial landscape for food co-ops. We sent seven members to represent GreenStar: three Council Members and four staff, including our General Manager, Brandon Kane.
He and three others sat on the conference's first early-morning breakout session, a panel discussion titled, "Changing our Co-ops for our Changing World: Diversity and Inclusion Case Studies."
Though it was early on the first day, the panel was a lively one. Brandon spoke first, and detailed our ongoing work on diversity. He spoke about how GreenStar was able to engage community leaders to help address racism at GreenStar. He talked about how we were only able to address our problems once we were willing to see them. He talked about how our efforts have diversified our board and how the percentage of our staff who identify themselves as non-white has grown from around 4 percent in 2010 to over 22 percent by 2014. And he told the audience about our efforts to make our food more affordable, citing our exemplary FLOWER and Basics programs, as well as how we've tried to offer deep discounts on many products throughout our stores.
We also heard about the more fledgling diversity efforts of Wheatsville Co-op in Austin, Texas, from their general manager, Dan Gillotte. He discussed his co-op's efforts to make good food available to underserved areas in his community, an area that was founded by freed slaves whose families were pushed out to the fringes of town in the early 1900's by Jim Crow segregationist laws.
We then heard from LaDonna Sanders-Redmond, who told us how her co-op, Seward Community Co-op in Minneapolis, Minn., was shining a light on long-held biases, and making changes to become a more diverse organization. She showed some slides that included a cartoon of a black person holding an "I Can't Breathe" sign next to a white person holding an "I Can't See" sign. She then proceeded to tell the mostly white cooperators in attendance about an issue at the conference that they might have missed the night before.
That evening, the conference kicked off with an event called "Party at the Pen," held at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. It was billed as the "perfect setting" to open our conference. Attendees would enjoy "locally sourced food, beer, and wine along with photo-ops on the picturesque grounds."
Our GreenStar contingent, due at least in part to our diversity efforts and a cultural sensitivity learned largely through our staff and community trainings, refused to attend, and made the organizers aware of how, in a nation torn by racial discord, this was not a place for this largely white group of socially conscious cooperators to take "photo-ops." Not while African-Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people, and are killed by our police on the streets without any justice. In today's America, there are more African-American men in the prison system than were slaves before the start of the Civil War.
LaDonna pointed out to those assembled that we can't continue to underline our privilege by playing in a place where so many people of color suffer imprisonment, torture, and degradation. She went to the "Party at the Pen," to see what would happen there, but did not allow her picture to be taken lest people think she endorsed the event.
She, and others, and members of your co-op, continue to be in communication with the event's coordinators about this tone-deaf party. The thoroughness of that conversation carries the intent to make it stick. We tell you this to report that the members of your co-op spoke up, not to shame or put down or be more politically correct than others, but because there is a blindness that we at GreenStar continue to work to overcome, a blindness that can only be overcome by shining a light on it.
Those in attendance were able to attend the conference together more wholly, and in a more connected way, once we had addressed the problem, and once the error was acknowledged.
We are having ongoing and uncomfortable conversations, but the result will be that CCMA events going forward are likely to be more relevant and conscious because people spoke up.
In light of this most recent tragedy in South Carolina, we thought it was important for our members to know that your representatives are engaging in the difficult conversations at our co-op, in our community, and in the national cooperative movement as well. We are attempting to be part of a change for the better.
While many black communities live in fear of an attack like the one in South Carolina, they are also afraid that news of this attack will pass and nothing will change. In more privileged communities, white people resist having to talk about the enduring problem of racism in our nation and fear losing their long-held privilege.
If talking openly and changing are what it will take, we at GreenStar are more than willing to do that, to try to end this racism that has us ALL bound. We believe we can be a whole community. Our very first cooperative principle mandates that GreenStar be "open to all persons ... without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination."
We at GreenStar mourn the needless, tragic loss of human life that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the loss of a bit more of our humanity as a nation. "To hold a man down, you have to stay down with him," said Booker T. Washington. It is time for us all to rise up.
Sunday, 01 February 2015 20:40
By Joseph Romano,
Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.
— Cornel West
In a chapter on New Orleans in Life on the Mississippi (1883), Mark Twain described "a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get." In Twain's words:
We picked up one excellent word ... a nice limber, expressive, handy word — "lagniappe." They pronounce it lanny-yap. ... It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a "baker's dozen." It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — "Give me something for lagniappe."
The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor — I don't know what he gives the governor; support, likely.
When you are invited to drink — and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say, "What, again? No, I've had enough"; the other party says, "But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe."
Thursday, 01 January 2015 16:24
By Joe Romano,
That Hydrofrack won't taste so good in your beer, milk, and soup!"
— Graffito near our West End store, on a since-demolished building
For years now, The Ghost of Future Lost, the worst of Marley's apparitions whom we had yet to meet, had haunted our sleep and our waking dreams, terrifying the members of our GreenStar community, leaving visions of fracking nightmares dancing in our heads.
Like every year before, 2015 could have been the year that tens of thousands of trucks, 75,000-lb. tanker trucks, shrieked down our quiet roads both day and night. Thousands of concrete oil pads, noisy compressors, harsh lights, and the industry of destruction could have overtaken our sylvan hills and valleys. Befouled water, soil, and air, dead animals, and chronically ill family members might have been what passed for life in our quiet upstate community. While we fought with our all against these terrors, it didn't seem likely we would prevail.
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By Alexis Alexander,
In response to several requests, I am happy to announce that we're offering a new information session for member-owners and nonmember customers this summer, called Co-operative Enterprise 101. Membership Administrator Laura Buttenbaum, who developed a similar and well-received training for staff this past fall, will lead the session. Join us for one of two scheduled sessions on Thursday, July 9 or Monday, August 24. Classes will run from 7 to 9 pm in the Classrooms @ GreenStar. I...