Over the weekend, three of Round Sky Solutions’ staff attended the Worker Cooperative National Conference in Austin, co-produced by the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and Democracy at Work Institute. We learned so much about cooperatives, about the economic, racial and social justice movement, about ourselves, and about each other.

One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote speakers – creative, driven, and inspired folks who have come from all different walks of life to collaborate with us all in the cooperative movement. Jose Antonio Vargas, one of the keynotes, is the founder of Define American, a non-profit media and culture organization that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration in America. Another keynote speaker, Doug Rushkoff is an author, teacher and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other’s values. These were rich conversations that delved into the depth of some of the struggles around power and influence in the economy, and how we can work together to change the standing paradigms.

In addition, we participated in sessions aimed at strengthening our work and connecting with each other in the cooperative movement. Some sessions we attended included Organizing Local Collaborations, Marketing Worker Cooperatives, the Role of State Employee Ownership Centers, AGILE Management for Worker Cooperatives, Platform Coops and Worker Control, Facilitation in Motion, and Power, Privilege, and Principles in Cooperative Development. We’re coming back to our own communities full of inspiration and ideas!

One of the most exciting parts of the weekend for us was Cecile Green’s workshop on Participatory Management and the Death of Stale Hierarchies on a panel along with Leslie Leyba with Rainbow Grocery Coop and Jonah Fertig with the Cooperative Development Institute. She shared information about the importance of an effective participatory management system that allows for quick and inclusive decision making. One of the key practice elements Cecile highlighted was a well-established process that includes clear decision making models for different kinds of decisions. Cecile emphasizes that “we need a good understanding of power and how it works…” in order for our systems to be responsive to changing conditions and organizational needs, and consistent practice is the only way to face the challenges that do come up.
Outside of these conversations, Cecile reflects on one of the highlights of the conference for her:

The Worker Cooperative National Conference achieved a lovely expression of solidarity from the rocking dance party on Saturday night to practical skill building sessions on facilitation and participatory management. One conference highlight for me was participating in the spontaneous formation of a line dance lead by three young girls and watching their faces light up with amazement as the entire dance floor followed their lead. What a fun way to experience the power of participatory leadership! It was an honor to come together with worker cooperatives from all around the nation to increase our collective capacity and impact.

Cecile Green

And Charlotte Root describes how the conference impacted her:

The Worker Cooperative National Conference was fulfilling for us in terms of being really connected to the rest of the labor movement and learning about where everyone is in terms of inspiration, drive, and tensions in the current climate. I thought that the range of activities and workshops that were planned were both facilitative for growing relationships and well thought out and educational. Kudos to the organizers! I’ve never had so much fun building a movement!

Charlotte Root

I, Rebecca, feel blessed and empowered to be a part of this movement and to have connected with so many great people this past weekend. I felt particularly excited about the optional tour that Charlotte and I attended in East Austin’s African American Cultural Heritage District guided by Mr. Harrison Eppright, a born and raised black Austinite.

In the tour, he described the rich and dynamic history of East Austin. He pointed out churches and landmarks that have served the community for over a century such as the Ebeneezer Baptist Church that was organized in 1875. We passed by Downs Baseball Field (Samuel-Tillotson College’s field, a historic black college) where some famous and talented black baseball players have practiced and played, including Willie Wells known as “El Diablo”, Jackie Robinson, and many more. Mr. Harrison also showed us this beautiful and power mosaic Reflections outlined by the portraits of important black leaders (mostly) from Austin. Ms. Bertha Means, one of many people honored on the mosaic, fought for desegregation in Austin’s Ice Rinks. Read more about the mosaic and it’s inspiration here. I wholeheartedly recommend taking a tour with Mr. Harrison Eppright–you can find his information here.

We’d love to hear the things that others took away from this conference and your thoughts! For more information and highlights from the conference and beyond, check out our twitter feed!