The On Co-op Blog

Educate and Improve Lives

Posted on: August 19, 2009

From my desk here in beautiful Guelph, Ontario the health care debate that currently embroils the United States is playing out like a bad movie in clip after clip of outraged (and outrageous) Americans decrying the impending collapse of their way of life in the face of government funded health care.

As the American health care circus shifts its focus away from discussion about a public option to increased consideration of co-operatives, the mainstream media and the blogosphere is alive with mis-information about the capacity and role of health care co-ops.

Always excited about public participation and convinced of the great things that can come out of democratic engagement, I’m also a strong believer in the 5th Co-operative Principle:

Education, Training and Information

According to the International Co-operative Alliance’s Statement on the Co-operative Identity,

“co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.”

I refuse to believe that if given adequate facts and shown how co-ops can work effectively for them, Americans would want to keep their current health care system, dominated as it is by profit-hungry mega-corporations.

Dismantling the culture of distrust around co-ops requires a heavy dose of facts, figures, and stories of co-operative success across the United States and around the world. The NCBA and individual co-op advocates have taken up the cause, but as we all know, overcoming ignorance is always an uphill struggle.

Consistency and persistence are the surest, though never shortest, route to changing public opinion through education.

So what does this have to do with co-op advocacy in Ontario?

Though not an issue of direct concern to those of us working for change in the Ontario co-operative sector, the situation in the US underlines the need for better education, both formal and informal, about the co-op model and its value to people, their communities, the economy, and our province.

With education in mind, I ask you to take the 5th Co-operative Principle to heart and not sit back while misconceptions and misinformation about co-ops overtake facts and experiences. Talk to your neighbours, your friends, your co-workers, and anyone else about the value of co-ops in your life.

A first step to political change is a changed attitude and a broadened perspective. Let’s work together to build a stronger model of co-op success and show the naysayers and fear mongers, wherever they are, that co-ops offer real solutions to real challenges, everyday.

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