Tales from the Coop

Tales from the Coop

Josh Karpf's eyewitness reports from the Park Slope Food Coop monthly meetings are based on posts from the New York Conference's item devoted to the popular Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope:

Let's Have Fun at the Park Slope Food Coop General Meeting!
Asking the controversial question: "paper or plastic?"

No Heads Broken at the Park Slope Food Coop General Meeting
In which a bloody revolution is narrowly averted

Fragrance-Free Muff Diving at the Park Slope Food Coop March General Meeting
Salad greens and a Colin Ferguson filibuster brighten the proceedings

No Glistening Intestines Ripped from Vegetarian Stomachs at the Park Slope Food Coop Annual and General Meeting
The "warm and fuzzy" meeting

Let's Have Fun at the Park Slope Food Coop General Meeting!

There were two major agenda items. The first was submitted by one of rebel board member Stewart Martin's Democracy Initiative Group (herein referred to as "Stewartistas"). The Stewartistas oppose the management of the 5000-member coop by the employees ("coordinators") and by the members who are often the coordinators' friends. This management occurs at the monthly general meetings, open to all members, where attendees (usually a couple of dozen) vote on major issues. The Stewartistas had formed a Governance Committee to propose alternatives to the current general meeting, such as an elected congress of members.

The Stewartista proposal was that the Governance Committee's founding members (most of whom, including Stewart, were present to pad the vote) be grandfathered if they so chose, rather than risk the upcoming election to restaff that committee. The proposer repeatedly refused to identify just WHO wanted to be grandfathered. The proposal got splashed with lots of vitriol from the coordinator camp. One person brilliantly noted the irony of Democracy Initiative Group members wanting to undemocratically hold their committee positions. It was a strong debate, though: In an organization where committees are lucky to be staffed by active members with time and energy, couldn't elected members, who might be less dedicated, slow achievement? But even though the Stewartistas retreated to a friendly amendment to grandfather only two members (who still refused to identify themselves), it was voted down. Stewart Martin hypocritically abstained.

Then came the agenda item for which most people had come to general meeting in the first place: What to do about the popularity of plastic produce and shopping bags? The Environmental Committee proposed punitive charges on plastic, and subsidizing the cost of washable, reusable muslin bags. Then came debate. The Better Living through Chemicals camp worried about losing membership because of eco-fascists who admit to hating not just plastic but also "dead" meat, salt, sugar, fluorescent lights, and polyester. The We're Poisoning the World with Every Breath We Take camp said we're poisoning the world with every breath we take. Arguments were surprisingly cogent, though, and many statistics were had by all. When the tide seemed against them, the Environmental Committee abandoned its punitive-surcharge-on-bags proposal in favor of a scorched-earth, but friendly, amendment to ban ALL plastic bags. But it was really late, so it got tabled till the next general meeting on December 27.

No Heads Broken at the Park Slope Food Coop General Meeting

No heads were broken at Tuesday night's monthly Park Slope Food Coop General Meeting, which I attended because I have no life.

Whether to convert a programmer from freelance consultant to salaried staff was the first order o' business. The current programmer wants to become a full staff member to get benefits. The coordinators like his work and don't want to lose him, knowing how hard it is for a new programmer to inherit a previous one's work if this guy quits. The usual anti-coordinator suspicion challenged this motion. The rebel Democracy Initiative Groupies and a newbie attendee asked why the post had not been competitively advertised, with sensitivity to race, gender, and astrological sign. They did not accept the coordinators' claim that the programmer had specialized skills and unique coop experience that are hard to replace via help-wanted ads. DIG de facto leader Stewart Martin voiced financial and procedural concerns, but his emotional howl at a coordinator, for which he later apologized, revealed personal animosity, although that nattering, evasive, disingenuous coordinator can be well worth howling at. The motion was passed.

The second item was to shrink the required size of the Governance Referendum Committee. That committee is a mostly DIG group to propose new ways of disemboweling the coordinators -- whoops, I mean, running the coop. But it seems that not even enough DIGers are coming forward to be elected to the group. Stewart, speaking for his supposedly teeming yet oddly hidden masses who want to reenact the French revolution against the Sun King, proposed shrinking the group to give it a better chance of existing for the upcoming elections. After much bickering it passed overwhelmingly, which surprised the shit out of me. Few people dig DIG. But it's politically sticky to oppose a critical group. Maybe it'll keep the DIGgers focused.

The third item was ignored due to the lateness of the hour and an overwhelming lack of interest.

Fragrance-Free Muff Diving at the Park Slope Food Coop
March General Meeting

Can't go to the coop's general meeting? Read about the fun parts here! Some of them are even true!

It began with a complaint about "professional shopper" members who charge around $15 to illegally buy the coop's cheaper food for nonmembers, and a debate on inconsistently dry salad greens. Wet salad greens will be donated to a soup kitchen to "become nutrients."

A coordinator (that's a paid employee to some, a conspiratorial dictator to others) who presents the financial statement said it wasn't ready. No one cared. It's always the same. The coop breaks even, or loses a petty few thousand dollars. Sales are good. Theft is bad.

Soon the coop will be open on mornings and afternoons Monday through Thursday, said another coordinator, expanding from 60 hours a week to 80. Unfortunately the rate of member increase, and maybe even the total number, has dropped due to overcrowding, the failure to expand into The Building Next Door, and the false rumor that the coop is refusing new members, of which it needs many if it's gonna add 20 hours to its work week. Almost all coop labor is donated by its members, which keeps prices low.

The first order o' business was electing three Disciplinary Committee candidates. The DC judges members accused of violating coop rules. The committee representative seemed to have a panic attack when asked to explain what the DC did. She was duly rescued by a coordinator. One hopeful candidate said he was a "naturopathic physician" who counseled many coop members. When asked how he'd handle a conflict of interest if a patient was investigated by the DC, Dr. Naturopath said that, if elected, he'd hang a sign telling his patients that "anything they said could be used against them." The other two candidates were approved by votes of 40-0. Dr. Naturopath was rewarded for his stupid joke by being approved only 30-0, with 11 abstentions. Maybe the coop newsletter reporter will print his joke and hurt his business. SHOULD naturopathy be a business anyway?

The next orders o' business were two proposals by an erratic member who lazily hijacked the next half hour. He wanted to offer FOUR proposals, plus a 13-minute monologue, but the chair tried to keep him coherent. After a pathetic preamble that would make Colin Ferguson jealous -- whining about short notice, computer failure, and a vague phone call -- he proposed that coordinators, coordinator reports, and committee reports not be allowed at general meetings. This would eliminate the coordinators as the leading voting power at the coop, and sacrifice information-giving in favor of "time for discussion." Almost all discussion of this, virtually none by coordinators, condemned the proposals. One person begged that the coordinators be kept as representatives of the "silent majority."

The proposing member, who always complains about being ignored, had been given what became half of last night's agenda for his own issues. Instead he spent less time on his proposals than he did wandering through nebulous issues and whining about being unprepared, and he ignored the discussion that followed by chatting privately. His two proposals were defeated 0-40 with 4 abstentions -- he didn't even vote for his own item! -- and 2-33, with 4 abstentions. I wonder if he even wrote his proposals, as he had trouble reading his own handouts and he is a member of the overthrow-the-coordinators Democracy Initiative Group, none other of which showed up. Another member chided the proposer for not bothering to invite anyone he knew might support his proposals -- not even the DIG.

The third order o' business proposed that the annual financial report be printed for all the coop, maybe with explanations, instead of being printed for and presented during the annual meeting. The earnest proposal faced mixed discussion, including coordinator concern that broadly publishing the figures would make the coop less competitive and accounting schedules impossible to meet. The proposer seemed bitter that none of the coordinators had responded to her request for input weeks before. A coordinator said that all the coordinators had thought the proposer had been called by one coordinator who was not at the meeting. The motion was withdrawn, to be resubmitted in the future.

Thanks to the Colin Ferguson wannabe's waste of time, we could not discuss the last and only kickass agenda item, on plastic bags, which was tabled till next month's meeting.

No Glistening Intestines Ripped from Vegetarian Stomachs at Park Slope Food Coop Annual and General Meeting, and I Am Puzzled Enough About It to Write a Very Long Post

Like I said, it was oddly dull, so I've stoked myself up properly to write about it. I'm halfway through a massive Baileys-and- Godiva on ice -- yum! -- and I'm playing my "Soundtrack from Jit" CD, Zimbabwean music with awkwardly translated lyrics like "Good things honestly good things cost a lot / So you want us to drink traditional beer / All the time when European beer is there? / You don't buy salted meats or nuts / Although you have the money / Can't we even smoke?" Yabba dabba do.

First was the annual meeting, at which the yearly financial statement was read and members of the board of directors were elected. My first coop meeting had been one such as this, and it had been a howling, screaming, carnivorous charnel house of New England town-meeting participatory democracy at which a populist rebel director, who had been appointed to replace briefly a retiring member but who had the effrontery to abstain from approving members' votes when he should have rubber-stamped them, as is a director's role no matter what the directors say otherwise, was elected for yet a longer term, apparently against the staff's wishes.

But this one was warm and fuzzy. The accountant explained the report, which said that the coop is selling even more metric shitloads of stuff despite the new slow growth or even decline of membership. And two coordinators (our name for paid staff) were reelected to the board with only a few abstentions, no opposition.

Thus ended the annual meeting. Then beganneth the monthly general meeting, which always beginneth with an "open forum" in which members can ask whatever they fuck they want before the formal agenda is beginnethed. The stage was seized by a . . . oh, I don't want to be sexist or ageist . . . a PERSON, one who walks around blanketed in political buttons and quaveringly asks perfect strangers, "Do you know where your tax dollars are going?" She had already asked the annual-meeting accountant if his 1994-1995 figures had been adjusted for cost-of-living expenses. (Several million dollars of commercial figures over two years are NOT normally tweaked to reflect the increase in the prices of eggs!) During the election this PERSON had also asked how many women were on the board, and congratulated the one (of five members) on representing "51 percent of the human race." Yadda yadda yadda.

So in the open forum she presented a list of more yaddas. Why was checkout-counter equipment plugged into the ceiling? Why did we perpetuate luxury produce by buying luxury produce? Mercifully, the chair got her to table her six additional yaddas, the first two having been answered more specifically than any member alive, much less present, excepting this PERSON, could want, and the meeting moved on.

After busywork motions were passed or abandoned quickly by the merry chair, who had fun using quiz-show-noise impressions, we got to the meat of the meeting: changing coop rules so the general membership could get to read the financial statement before it was presented at future annual meetings. It PASSED! Easily! Two months ago the coordinators had whined about their ability to get it done, and about the exposure of coop finances to competing businesses. Two months ago the populist director cited _supra_ had made his usual speech about his silent majority, who want to turn the coop into a Greek democracy, wanting such data released early. But now a mixed bag from both camps voted it in, and everyone left home happy.

I am still puzzled. Imagine you joined only Echo's Feedback conference. You'd think that there was perpetual war between the whiny Libertarians desperately struggling for enfranchisement and the fascistic conspiracy of elites on whose brilliance Echo depends, and that it was a miracle that Echo survives. Coop meetings are like joining only Feedbag. I post all over the place, so I know there's much more to Echo. Well, I shop and work at the coop often, so why don't I see the undercurrent of normality? And why did it suddenly assert itself Tuesday night? Maybe everyone was finally getting laid or eating meat protein?

I think I wrote too much. I think I drank too much. Beelzebub bless spell checkers. O how I need them.

visit Josh Karpf's Home Page!

go to New York the Way it Really Never Was

back to Index