Diary: 'An awkward segue from outdoor nudity to the boardroom of Co-operatives UK'

IssueAugust - September 2021
Comment by Cath

Today was weird. On whatever untrained basis, I ‘mediated’ two people from another housing co-op for six hours. A really overwhelming sentiment was the disappointment, disillusion and disengagement created by other people’s apathy.

It’s hard to hold a neutral space and encourage creative, open thinking when you’re hearing your own cynical and depressed thoughts repeated back to you.

So what I need now is to celebrate all the joyous, proactive, connected, determined, adventurous, curious, friendly actions I’ve experienced recently – to acknowledge my comrades, thank my friends and big up all the inspiring people doing their thing.

First up – my co-op! My housing co-op is super-excellent at supporting our members. Well, I mean, it’s hard work to live here, it’s tiring to engage with so many people all the time, it’s definitely easy not to feel emotionally connected or supported by others you live with, BUT… but we sometimes get our shit together. This week we

l agreed to loan an exiting member money towards her new home

l carried on improving our equitable ways of charging rent and sharing wealth

l recognised that a load of vacancies in one house means less money for bills and so we’re sharing that burden between the houses

l planned how to collectively support a member with acute physical short-term needs

l donated money to good causes

And some individual people were particularly excellent.

One exiting member will stay in the treasury team for months after they leave; another member is developing an exit interview format; another exiting member will continue to support maintenance efforts and might leave their tools for a while.

It’s really nice to have people leaving with such continuing goodwill. And so cool that people have actively and willingly stepped up to take on the daunting roles of treasury, secretary and rent, without the usual difficult silence in a meeting while we wait to see who’ll break first.

What’s next? How about some spontaneity?

How about stripping off in a thunderstorm to stand naked in the rain (while obviously ensuring that clothes were kept in a dry place for later).

Always wished I was the sort of person who would do that and then I realised that being in a field with mates in a thunderstorm and no plans is exactly the right conditions to be that sort of person.

It turns out that I’m just usually not in a field without other commitments.

It also turns out that it’s very important to be able to cuddle lots of people afterwards to get warm again.

How lucky to have those people and that time and that warmth and that freedom. What riches!

OK, an awkward segue from outdoor nudity to the boardroom of Co-operatives UK.

I want to big up the new CEO. Yes, I know this is outside of my usual anarchist, collectivist passion, but Rose Marley is bringing such enthusiasm and action with her, that it’s surely infectious.

My own little nugget of joy is that, instead of continuing to wring our hands about possibly losing expensive-to-maintain Holyoake House, she’s networked, cajoled and catalysed support and creative financial thinking to maintain and improve it.

I’m sentimental. I still set irrational store by place, history, tangible manifestations of collective action and Holyoake House holds that for me, so it’s wonderful that it might become a welcoming and open hub of co-op movement education and activity.

What about determination then?

Well, here I come to my Marx reading group – we are determined to read Capital, at least Volume 1.

I admit I’m not reading every page, maybe only every other page, but we are getting through it together – goodness it’s work! But it’s stimulating and absolutely full of lightbulb moments and incredible historical context.

It makes me angry on many different levels, but also better prepared for making arguments, for identifying power relations, for seeing why certain strategies will never work so we can direct our energies more usefully to things that might.

Kudos to my reading groupies for preparing slides and presentations and helping each other understand it all.

And the last word goes to all the lovely friends and comrades of Dongria Kondh, whose funeral was last Saturday.

There was such an overwhelming desire to join in, to contribute, to do something for her, as she had always done so much for the world.

I couldn’t help set up the post-funeral picnic, but I contacted the right people and they contacted some more people and when we arrived at the park from the funeral, the whole area was covered, beautifully, in banners and flags and love.

Everyone was there to honour the antidote to apathy – Dongria’s gift to the world of doing, of optimism, of ambition, of playfulness and of commitment. And we all drank to that :-)

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