Check Out Our New Podcast – CoHum Chats!

Cooperation Humboldt is excited to present our new podcast series, CoHum Chats. The podcast will feature guests and topics to amplify the work of Cooperation Humboldt, in addition inform and enlighten. Some of the topics to be discussed include food sovereignty, worker-owned cooperatives, and more.

Our inaugural show features economist Emily Kawano to discuss solidarity economy — what is is, how it works, why it should be favored over extractive capitalism. Joining in the conversation are Cooperation Humboldt’s Tamara McFarland, Tobin McKee and Lorna Bryant. Lorna, who brings her public radio background, is the podcast host.


The podcast will be available where podcasts are generally found (Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, etc.) in the very near future, but we are releasing the YouTube format here and now! Feel free to view, comment, ‘LIKE’ and share it on your very own social media platforms.

If you’d like to support this and other projects of Cooperation Humboldt to ensure the work continues, consider donating now. Thank you in advance for your support.

Cooperation Humboldt’s Street Outreach Project Supports Basic Human Rights

Arcata, CA June 13, 2022 – On Thursday, June 2, Cooperation Humboldt’s Street Outreach workers were present at the Samoa Boulevard pullout encampment in Arcata (formerly Soilscape Solutions) on the day that residents were forced to leave their camp or risk arrest. Upon learning about the eviction, our team worked diligently to help people prepare for relocation. We were able to mediate conflict between homeless residents and the Arcata Police Department to ensure that no one was arrested and everyone was treated with dignity. We also managed to help several individuals salvage their belongings and move to a new location. While we are relieved that this transition was able to take place without anyone being arrested, we also recognize that day as emblematic of the constant upheaval, trauma and insecurity that our unhoused neighbors face on a daily basis. As a community we must build long-term solutions and advocate for transformative change that goes beyond simply playing musical chairs with the lives of our fellow human beings.

As a community, we need to begin working on upstream solutions instead of just continuing to push people around from one unsanctioned place to another. Ending homelessness once and for all will require a coordinated community-wide approach to total economic transformation, to build a society where everyone has their needs met without exploiting people or the environment.

The repeated pattern in our community of forcible removal of people from the areas that they choose to live has only resulted in the perpetuation of one of our region’s biggest problems. For example, while we were helping a few individuals from the Samoa Boulevard encampment re-settle in an alternate location, business owners near that new location were already phoning in complaints to the police. It is evident that there are plans in the works for the eviction of the residents in several of the other large and well-established unsanctioned camps in Arcata, which will do nothing to help the people and only exacerbate the problem. Past evictions like the one at the Palco Marsh (Devil’s Playground) with the intention to, “destroy sense of comfort and entitlement,” failed to address the problem of homelessness, and instead, contributed to the traumatization and persecution of our homeless community members. The Palco Marsh eviction was determined to be unlawful, and some victims were paid damages. Law enforcement and municipalities need to abide by the case law established in Martin v. Boise.

We urge local governments and law enforcement to:

● Cease the eviction of unsanctioned encampments unless and until there are accessible, sanctioned places for all evicted people to live;
● Cease the dispersal and arrest of homeless people living with disabling conditions such as mental illness, PTSD, and substance use disorder;
● Provide adequate waste disposal and clean toilets for all residents regardless of their socioeconomic status, dysfunction, or behaviors;
● Increase funding and decrease crippling regulations for housing, healthcare, food security, street outreach, service centers, and employment preparation programs and projects;
● Concentrate large-scale funding and program development on broad-reaching upstream economic solutions.

At Cooperation Humboldt, we recognize that access to potable water, toilets, waste disposal, food, healthcare, and shelter are all fundamental human rights – not commodities or privileges that must be earned through specific behaviors or paid for with currency. Regardless of questions of entitlement or enablement, every human being deserves to have their most basic needs met with dignity and respect – even if they are unwilling or unable to behave lawfully or engage productively with well-intentioned service providers. Mental illnesses and substance use disorders are disabling conditions resulting in impaired function – they are not behaviors. Homelessness is a symptom of our failing socioeconomic system, and while absolutely necessary, downstream projects like our Street Outreach project, which aims to address the immediate needs of homeless people are not solutions. Likewise, services like rapid re-housing – which must be offered without preconditions such as employment, income, absence of criminal record, presence of pets, or sobriety – transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing are all absolutely necessary downstream responses, not upstream solutions. Cooperation Humboldt fully supports the governments and organizations working tirelessly to provide and expand those essential services.

A housing crisis is often the result of a financial one. Current incomes are often much lower than is needed to comfortably pay average rental costs, leaving many people financially vulnerable to housing instability. Income support programs that can assist low-income people, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or unemployment compensation, help many people withstand economic crises. Often, however, people experiencing homelessness find these programs to be inaccessible and the benefits offered are often insufficient to help them achieve stability. Truly affordable housing development, rent stabilization, and programs designed to assist low-income people to increase their income are critical to supporting housing stability.

For the past year, Cooperation Humboldt’s Street Outreach team has been working closely with homeless members of our community to address their most pressing needs. The Street Outreach program is funded through an Emergency Solutions Grant for Coronavirus Response with the Department of Health & Human Services, and was formed through Cooperation Humboldt’s Community Health Worker Collaborative with the help of Eureka City Councilmember Leslie Castellano.

The Community Health Worker Collaborative builds independent Community Health Worker groups in close partnership with chronically underserved populations including people experiencing substance use disorder, people with extremely low or no incomes, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, LGBTQIA+ identifying people, and people experiencing mental illness and homelessness. The Street Outreach project is a compassion-based program that was designed under the direction of people currently or formerly experiencing homelessness; the program employs people in need to care for people in need.

Feminist Leadership and the Co-owner Mindset for Worker Owned Cooperatives

“From each according to [their] ability, to each according to [their] needs.”

As children most of us tend to either accept the authority of our primary care providers or reject it – rarely do children have the opportunity to exercise autonomy or true collaboration with adults. It’s the same in school: the teacher is the authority and we are required to do as we are told, even when we are collaborating with our peers. As adults we become the parents and the teachers, exercising our authority over children, continuing  the cycle of power-over indoctrination. When we enter the workforce, we either become employees or employers – we either hold ultimate financial and governance authority, or we obey that authority. 

Most of us have little experience with non-hierarchical, collaborative power-with cooperation with a group of our peers. When we decide to start a worker owned cooperative, we like the idea, we study the idea, but we have very little experience putting it into practice. Our deeply ingrained power-over habits tend to take over in times of stress. Since owning and running a business is often stressful, that means our deeply ingrained power-over habits often take charge. We revert to what we know best.

Power-over behaviors often manifest as:

  • Raising our voices, speaking rapidly, speaking a lot
  • Pushing our ideas forward without hearing others
  • Displaying negative emotions to make others uncomfortable so they will capitulate
  • Passive and passive aggressive language
  • Turning away from essential communication
  • Getting frustrated with what we perceive as the inadequacies of others
  • Complaining to others about what we perceive as the inadequacies of others
  • Forming cliques and group divisions
  • Taking over someone’s task just to get the job done
  • Dropping the ball or quitting because it isn’t worth our time and effort any more

In order to counteract our tendency to revert to these and other power-over behaviors, it is essential that co-op owners learn and use a democratic  process for task management, communication, decision-making, and accountability. This should not be an informal process – it should be intentional and deliberate.  When selecting our frameworks for cooperation, we do not expect to succeed immediately. Working with a method of cooperation is the consistent and ongoing exercise of “failing forward.”

Failing forward is about leveraging and learning from mistakes. It is about making a realistic assessment of risks and learning to live with the downside and experiment with new approaches. Failing forward is an investment in human success. It  is not only necessary, it is essential. Because we will fail. The question is what we do after a failure. When communication breaks down, when power struggles emerge, instead of reverting to our deeply ingrained power-over instincts, we look to our framework and our mentors for guidance.

Initial inspiration for a new idea or project often comes from one person. Someone thinks, “I want to start a worker owned cooperative,” and then they set out to do just that. They research their idea, they sign up for classes, they begin to gather a group of similarly interested people. In many cases, the person who does this initial work is a person who is used to taking a leadership position. Perhaps they are an older sibling; perhaps they cared for their parents or lived on their own. Perhaps they were consistently put in a leadership position because of the structures of white supremacy; perhaps they have money. Perhaps they are just that kind of person. There are many reasons why some of us end up in leadership positions. No matter what the reason, almost all of us were raised in a culture that puts that kind of person in power-over relationships. Cooperative groups do this unless we learn new systems and processes. Some of us will accidentally slip into positions of leadership and some into positions of subordination. 

For those of us who find ourselves in leadership positions within our groups, it is our responsibility to use that power to redirect the group’s attention back to the fundamental cooperative structure, and to constantly look for opportunities to divest ourselves of our power-over position and shift to power-with. Some of us will be more comfortable and capable of understanding the cooperative structure and holding ourselves accountable within that structure.  It is our responsibility to act as mentors, and to find teachable moments to offer pathways for redirection. It is challenging to accomplish this without falling into a power-over position, telling others what they should and shouldn’t do. 

One of the simplest and most effective tools we can use is a question rather than a statement or a command. “Would anyone like to take on the task of improving our meeting facilitation so that I’m not always the one taking the lead?”

For those of us who find ourselves subordinate to others in the group – either by choice, by accident, or because others in the group have fallen into power-over behaviors – it is our responsibility to share our experiences directly with the group. Ideally, we communicate our experiences as they are happening. The practice of Non-violent Communication (NVC) is an excellent tool to learn to do this. Groups that choose to study and practice NVC together are more likely to recognize what is happening and be prepared to actively listen when someone in the group shares how they are feeling and why. “When you just raised your voice, I felt uncomfortable. I stopped listening and became defensive. Will you please use a different tone of voice so that I can better hear what you are saying?” To accomplish this kind of effective communication, we must study, practice, and fail forward, again and again.

Another reason that we find ourselves in subordinate positions has to do with accountability. If a person isn’t accomplishing their tasks in a timely or effective manner,  the group will naturally contract around those who are, shifting the balance of power in order to keep things moving along. Because of our deeply ingrained capitalist mindset, we may respond to that lack of follow-through by unconsciously assuming a sense of superiority. For those of us who find ourselves taking on more responsibility when others are falling short, we can practice asking, “Why is this person not showing up? How can I help?” rather than saying, “This person isn’t showing up, so now I have to do their job, and I resent that.”

Assume good intent. Recognize that energy fluctuates, circumstances fluctuate, and everyone is always learning. Cooperation and equity do not mean stability and equality, they mean flexibility and mutualism. It is healthy for us to take the burden from our comrades when they are tired. 

When we are the ones dropping the ball, we can ask ourselves, “What kind of support do I need right now?” The idea that a person must maintain maximum productivity at all times without faltering or fluctuating is an extractive capitalist mindset that has no place in a regenerative feminist economy. Of course, if a person shows no signs of taking care of themselves or others, then eventually they will so blatantly violate the agreements of the co-op that a well designed governance and accountability structure will provide the pathway for their movement out of the group. But not before the group nourishes, heals, and supports that person as best we can.

Those of us who tend to find ourselves in leadership positions have the responsibility to empower, mentor, and support those of us who find ourselves more frequently subordinating to others. But our mentorship is not accomplished by delegating responsibilities, telling others how they can improve, or directly or indirectly punishing or rewarding others with blame, praise, and social capital. That’s how parents, teachers, and employers do it in patriarchal systems. Instead, we nurture everyone in the group. We are a garden. Before we bear fruit, we must sprout and grow. Then, we will cycle down. We need different things at different times. The process of mentoring a person who has not had many opportunities for leadership is a slow dance of offering resources and opportunities, and stepping back to let nature do what nature does best.

Those of us who tend to find ourselves in subordinate positions have the responsibility to resist the structures of patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism that have taken our bodies and our minds as resources to be extracted. When we see those forces at play within ourselves and our cooperative members, our work is to look deeper into the heart and soul of everyone involved, and to heal the wounds inflicted upon our people, by our people, for generation upon generation. When we do so we will heal ourselves and each other, and develop the strength to step up and take co-ownership. When for our whole lives our value is measured by what we produce, while at the same time the value of what we produce is taken from us, our healing is to discover the inherent value of all people and resources, and then to treat all people as precious, starting with ourselves. 

When we see ourselves as co-owners and we have the space, support, and capacity to act as co-owners, we don’t just think about our own needs and our own responsibilities.  We see the interconnectedness of all living things, and begin to see our proper place within that interconnectedness.

Because we are so used to compartmentalized work environments with tasks assigned to us by others, it takes some time to adopt an ownership perspective. In practice, being a worker-owner means being able to accomplish direct, important tasks on the ground-level (worker) and to walk up the mountain and look over the whole ecosystem to see our broader relationships (owner). If we find ourselves stuck in one perspective or another – either bogged down in the details, micromanaging others, or up with our heads in the clouds of fantasy and idealism – then it’s time to take a walk, either up the mountain, or down into the valley. No worker-owner is going to be in both places at once, but over time we can develop trust that no matter where our comrades are, they are taking care of us all, and needing the care of us all.