Back in the spring of 2002, I wrote a piece in GEO chiding the (USA) worker co-op and workplace democracy community for being part of the problem. Our collective voice, so I argued, has remained silent as the Bush terrorists prepare to launch unending war for peace, flaunt the international community, and jettison basic constitutional rights of dissent and privacy. We seem on the whole content to build isolated enterprises here and there, disconnected from one another as well as from other progressive movements. Beyond this carping criticism, I called for incremental insurgency, a view advanced in the 1960s by George Benello in Liberation magazine in a passage worth quoting again: To counter the power of the present elites and the alienation of citizens and workers a combination of organization and insurgency must create new centers of power based on new models of decision-making, where human beings confront each other directly and responsibly From this alone can a new set of priorities arise, a new sort of moral commitment, which can defuse the war system. The article drew a sprinkling of responses, mostly from Canadian readers. One of these, by Greg O'Neill, an advisor to the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation, was especially positive. Greg wrote that he was particularly drawn towards its insurgency aspect, defining insurgency as a positive, creative, non-violent series of entertaining and engaging events. After a few email exchanges, we discovered a wide area of agreement, much of it grounded in this definition.
We agreed, for one thing, that the co-op movements of our two countries had yet to find ways of reaching out effectively to the general public, and, secondly, that these seemingly uncongenial times afforded new openings for this sort of essential work. As Greg put this second point: I have been thinking for a while now that there is a ripening of public opinion about the need for alternatives to the existing economic regime....As people absorb the shock of the events of September 11th and try to make some sense of what happened, there is a growing awareness of the fact that economic disparity may be a root cause of terrorism. A recent poll in Canada found that 84% of Canadians hold this view in varying degrees of strength. But how to seize the time? After some additional emails, an idea finally jelled underground summits (or, perhaps better, summit-free spaces). In contrast with elite rule from summits out of sight and off-limits to commoners, our idea was to create a new kind of social space, one open equally to all, in plain sight, in the midst of everyday life on village greens, in public parks, coffee houses, church basements, union halls, and community centers, on Main Street and in Times Square....Such free, public spaces would allow area co-ops to discover one another, meet the wider public, and link up with other progressive organizations and to do all this in a face-to-face, ongoing, celebratory way, e.g. at bi-monthly or quarterly festivals that also include the full range of local cultures, music, theater, poetry slams, community-based organizations of many types, etc. In this way, in Greg's words, summit-free spaces could provide opportunities for the convergence of popular opinion, popular culture and the Co-operative concept. Successful cooperatives would strut their stuff along with the green entrepreneurs, the artists and others who celebrate life on this planet; insurgency would couple with creativity in irresistible ways. وو We are now seeking feedback on this idea of creating summit-free spaces where cooperatives can celebrate and be celebrated.
Together with Hazel Corcoran, director of the Canadian
Worker Cooperative Federation, Greg and I will be presenting it at
a Cooperative Studies Conference to be held during the final week of May
2003 at the
University of Victoria in British Columbia. (Click here to view our
encourage readers of GEO to attend this Conference, which will bring
together nearly 100 cooperative advocates and researchers from almost
And we especially invite all of you to send any and all comments, suggestions,
criticisms of the summit-free festival idea to us; these can be emailed
to Len Krimerman at email@example.com or
by phone to 1-800-240-9721.