Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why I Live in a Cooperative

(Originally published in the Greenbelt News Review September 30, 2010.)

Living in a co-op is an act of courage. It is risky and imperfect dialogue, deliberate and constructive action, and every once in a while, it’s a celebration. When I explain it to friends from my old apartment building I say it’s the best of both worlds in terms of what is mine and what is shared. My water heater will be replaced when it no longer works, but I also get a vote for the future, and opportunities to shape what the cooperative will look like then. I like defying people’s stereotypes of what a suburban life might feel like, look like and sound like. I like knowing I’ve chosen another way and that I continue to choose day after day to build the community I live in. It’s an act of courage to work hard at something that you know will never be perfected. There is a sense of accountability – a daily reminder in the public eye to live cooperatively, to communicate, to be mindful of others. My house is small but the whole community is my home, full of comforts and ways to contribute.

Anne Frank once said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” and I feel that way about the time I spend working to improve our co-op. It is such a relief to fall asleep knowing that my time each day has been well-spent. It’s not as easy as having someone do the hard work for me but I have chosen the richer, more variegated path. I have the freedom to participate, the responsibility to participate, and most importantly, the opportunity to participate. We decide collectively how to improve our homes. We decide how to make the most of our assets. We decide how to craft policies that ensure respectful relationships among neighbors.

Living in a cooperative is a form of waging peace, and peace is never an accident. Show me people living peacefully and I’ll show you people who have taken active steps to plan for their future, share their resources and include each other in the collective well-being. It’s stepping forward and saying that we’d rather collaborate than compete, that we’d rather reach out than keep to ourselves and that we’d rather create than destroy. It’s carving something out of the world that is ours, that we know we built and cared enough to maintain. It’s doing what’s necessary to make our community a better place to live.

October is National Co-op Month. What does living in a coop mean to you? Tell your neighbors, post it online somewhere or in the News Review.

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