Can Philadelphia launch a new wave of worker cooperatives?

Our friends at the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) have recently won a pretty amazing grant, and Oscar Perry Abello over at Next City just wrote an article on it called Following the Footsteps of African American Cooperatives. The article highlights a Philadelphia-based program called 20 Book Clubs 20 Cooperative Businesses that PACA is organizing, where participants choose their own readings, activities and movies about co-ops to explore and discuss. Participants will also identify a need in their community for a business and, later in the project, start building actual business plans.

PACA’s Caitlyn Quigley authored the grant and said that the 20 groups will start getting together in September and will form clubs of 12 people or less.

Book clubs will convene bi-weekly, with a PACA staff coming to every other gathering.

From the article:

“We want there to be a little bit of our presence but also space for them to do things without us,” Quigley explains. “PACA is also compiling a curriculum, essentially a list of resources including books, articles, films and even suggested field trips, from which the book clubs will pick and choose to suit their specific needs. PACA co-op book clubs will get funding to rent meeting space, provide meals and also childcare during meetings.”

The meetings have been inspired by the tradition of sharing cooperative knowledge and are intended for participants to learn and bring ideas together. Specifically, Quigley was inspired by Jessica Gordan Nembhard’s reinvigorating chronicles on African American cooperatives, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice.

Nembhard’s account acknowledges that we can see the impacts of the economic crisis every day, especially among historically marginalized and oppressed groups. She looks to the history of the African American cooperative movement for examples and highlights their stories, which serves as a guide for those interested in creating economic change in their communities today. Readings such as these have been life changing for those looking to envision beyond the traditional capitalist extractive model, like PACA.

Six months after each book club ends, PACA will bring the groups back together and begin the process of cooperative business development, starting with building each group’s business model. While the hope is to create worker owned cooperatives, the greater goal is to change participants framework on how they see themselves in their work and everyday lives.

TESA hopes to see more book clubs like this popping up in the future, especially for the purpose of building a more just, equitable, and cooperative economy!

Further resources on this program and cooperatives:

*featured image from PACA website