When we think about independence this time of year, we think of the 4th of July, fireworks, picnics, parades, fairs, and all the trappings of the nation’s Independence Day holiday. It’s a federal holiday. We all get the day off and we like that too!
On this holiday we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. Begun over issues of taxation without representation, the American Revolution was our fight for freedom.
A More Modern Revolution
In the 1930s only 10 percent of farms in this country had electricity; the rest were still reading and milking by kerosene lantern. Cities and towns had long since been electrified, but only extended lines to the closest farms. The charges to go beyond were steep and most farmers could not afford the line extension fees.
That is when farmers created self-help organizations to bring electricity to rural areas; that is when electric cooperatives were born of a need. That is how farmers won their independence from darkness to light, from manual labor to machines. We continue to maintain our electric cooperatives as autonomous and independent utilities, democratically controlled and owned by the members they serve. Members have equal voting rights—one member, one vote—to elect the members who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions.
If you receive this magazine, you are likely a member of an electric cooperative living in a rural area or on the outskirts of a small town or village. Did you know that you may be a member of another type of cooperative? The local farm supply and convenience store where you buy dog food and gas is a co-op. You may buy your car and house insurance from a mutual insurance agent in town—that’s a cooperative. Did you know that the credit union where you store your money or get a loan is a co-op?
Same Principles Apply
Last month I talked about earning equity by paying your electric bill. Well, the same is true for other co-ops—you earn patronage credits for doing business in your local co-op run by local folks. You would have to do that business somewhere, but by choosing a co-op you support local small business, and oh, by the way, become a part owner. You have a say.
Also remember that as owners of a co-op you have voting rights. And if an investor company is trying to get its hands on the local co-op’s business, you deserve the right to vote whether or not your co-op or credit union changes from a co-op to an investor business. You also have built-up equity, or ownership, in your co-op. Don’t take that lightly.
In the 2012–13 Wisconsin State Budget proposal there was a provision to significantly reduce the threshold of credit union member votes required to demutualize (a fancy term for turning into a for-profit bank). In other words, it called for allowing only a few voting members to approve changing your credit union to a bank, and it would call into question what might happen to your equity.
We spell out the issue in our feature on page 10, and we’re happy to do so on behalf of our fellow cooperatives that provide financial services.
The Seven Cooperative Principles
All cooperative businesses adhere to
these seven guiding principles:
1 Voluntary and Open Membership — Membership is open to all persons able to use the co-op’s services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.
2 Democratic Member Control —Members actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. Members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).
3 Members’ Economic Participation — Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative.
4 Autonomy and Independence — Cooperatives are self-help organizations controlled by their members.
5 Education, Training, and Information — Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, and employees. They inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
6 Cooperation Among Cooperatives — Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
7 Concern for Community — Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.