David Morgan has been a member of the TESA Collective since 2012. He also served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. This summer, he’s stepping down to head to grad school. Here he reflects on what he’s learned at TESA and what’s next.
The realization that drew me to TESA five years ago is the same one that compels me to embark on a new adventure this August and pursue a Master’s degree in urban planning: there are systems-level solutions to the crises we face, and many reasons for hope. Now, with a deepened understanding of the scope of the social problems I set out to address—and with a broader array of remedies for them—I’m moving in a new direction, one that I hope will bring continued support to our shared cause.
Though it was culturally familiar to me, I was formally introduced to the worker co-op model when I started on a worker-owner track at TESA. Its benefits were obvious from the start. Shared ownership and decision-making brought democracy into the workplace, a welcome step toward equality. Like many converts, I took to it zealously, and committed to advancing the model by building a strong organization and movement. A half decade later, I feel we’ve achieved both. TESA left its startup phase and is a stable and profitable socially-responsible business. Our budget has grown by at least 50% annually for the last three years and our culture has become increasingly transparent, accountable, and supportive.
There’s a saying in our field: if you want to get an MBA, start a worker co-op. Stepping away from a successful organization that I helped build certainly feels like that level of accomplishment.
More broadly, our movement has found more numerous allies than I could have imagined when I joined. Elected officials at every level, whole social movements, community economic development agencies, academics, and so many others have looked to us for ideas about addressing racial, immigrant, and economic justice in their many dimensions. From Black Lives Matter to New York City’s Small Business Services, worker co-ops have sway and are poised to do far more.
I arrived at my decision to go into planning after bearing witness to the successes of TESA’s clients and strategizing about how to build our field as a board member for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. Our movement has built and exercised power democratically, and our example points others—organizations, economies, entire governance systems—in the right direction.
If complex systems can be so dramatically altered with relatively small interventions, what can be done on a broader scale? In the coming years, I’ll be seeking answers to that question in the context of climate change adaptation and community-wealth building strategies.
Should these next steps bear any similarity to our work together, those popular Dream Defenders t-shirts will make good on their promise. They read: “I’ve been to the future. We won.”