A couple of weeks ago I attended the Association of Cooperative Educators Institute in Austin, TX. Several things have stuck with me about that conference, including the amazing work being done by the people at Cooperation Texas, who are leading the charge for developing worker cooperatives in Austin through the use of popular education and community organizing. But what I want to talk about now is the incredible awe I felt when meeting and working with the future (and the now) of the co-op movement â€“ the youth participants.
The youth participation at this year’s ACE Institute was approximately 1/3rd of the total attendance. When I’ve gone to this (great) conference in the past, I, in my early and mid twenties, have been one of the youngest people there, alongside only a few others. The experience of young people, from the mouth of young people, was not always at the forefront. This year, the youth voice was one of the dominant voices. And in many ways, that’s what we need. Throughout my seven years of involvement with the cooperative movement, it’s seemed very much like a world in the hands of an older generation. Over the last several years, that’s begun to shift, especially during the past few. We’ve seen the idea of cooperatives explode in progressive media, on campuses, and in community organizing spaces. Youth have truly stepped up, and, in large part, it’s appeared that the older generation has happily made room for them. That’s crucial. We can’t have a lasting, powerful movement if it doesn’t involve the heavy participation, and leadership, of youth.
So I applaud the efforts of those organizing the Youth Cohort for this ACE conference, the USA Cooperative Youth Council, and hope this effort similarly spreads to other co-op conferences. The organizers did phenomenal work in bringing out over thirty young participants who honed skills, made connections, and taught what they knew to others. In addition, these Youth Cohort attendees came from all over: from Alaska to Pennsylvania to Mississippi to Canada to North Carolina. Their passion, dedication, achievements, and down-right awesomeness left me without a doubt in my mind that the future of our movement is in good hands.
If you like this post on cooperative youth organizing, check out our cooperative education work with the Youth Action Coalition.