Last week we bade farewell to our Quaker Voluntary Service fellow, Liz Anderson. Over the last year, Liz has been instrumental in building the capacity of the USFWC, heading our newly available dental plan, supporting our communications work, and working alongside us to support and engage our membership more deeply. We are excited for Liz’s next chapter as Director of Education for the North American Students of Cooperation, and are happy to share a reflection on her time with us.
As my year long fellowship with the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives comes to a close, Mo asked me to reflect a little on my experience.
At the beginning of this year I had a little experience with cooperatives through the ones on my college campus. I had worked with a variety of nonprofits and found them to be very silo-ed when it comes to funding, collaborative projects or strategic action. However, on my first day at the USFWC, my supervisor took a good chunk of the day to begin telling me about our partners in the movement and how we are connected and supporting each other.
This is what the new economy looks like to me. I knew I was in a movement when I attended conferences on behalf of the USFWC and I saw the diversity of sectors that co-ops operate in. Worker-owned cooperatives are more than coffee shops or bike shops with few workers. Cooperatives are health care professionals and manufacturing workers cooperating to seek justice for themselves and their industry. In NYC women in Si Se Puede cleaning cooperative are organizing themselves to demand better industry standards that do not endanger workers health or dignity. In Washington D.C. there is a cooperative forming of returning citizens that wants to not only give returning citizens a job but to support their emotional health. I was blown away by the passion and determination that is in the co-op movement. This year I learned what it looks like to work with dignity.
While in the office I organized our dental benefits for members. From the first “vision” session to the first day of coverage I got to know just how difficult our healthcare system is for small businesses. For some of our members this is the first time they have gotten dental care. It was huge to come into an organization like the USFWC and be trusted to make sure we can provide that care. I may not be a worker-owner but when the attitude in the office is based on trust and respect it does give you a sense of ownership over your work.
It did not take long for me to decide that working with cooperatives would be an amazing way to work for social and economic justice and I will continue that work in the coming year with NASCO as the Director of Education.