CoopYouth Statements Conclusion

The Cooperative Movement is incredibly fortunate for the ambition and engagement of young people over the past decade. The authoring of these statements, which are indispensable cooperative canon, and the creation of the Youth Committee (formerly Global Youth Network) are huge accomplishments that were initiated and stewarded by youth. While the International Cooperative Alliance does not dedicate a full time staff person to youth activities, the staff person who commits partial time to supporting coopyouth, Director of Membership Gretchen Hacquard, was one of this century’s earliest coopyouth organizers. The primary author of this toolkit, Emily Alice M Lippold Cheney, was present and a participant in the authoring of all except for the most recent coopyouth statements. This is testament to the degree to which movement institutions and infrastructure have listened to and embraced the organic Coopyouth Movement that has been slowly taking shape. 

There is still more work to be done for the voice and perspective of coopyouth to be fully integrated into the intergenerational Cooperative Movement. There are four main themes that reverberate throughout the coopyouth statements. Some of these themes took on more precise and direct language over time, making them far more actionable and accountable. As such, they are now a test of whether or not the Cooperative Movement will respond to youth’s calls for change and work. 

  • Name Capitalism & Other Isms: Youth used direct and less euphemistic language in their statements with regard to naming foes and ills, which is a departure from prevailing movement practice. Specifically, from the coopyouth perspective, the Cooperative Movement is inherently anti-capitalist, and that fact necessarily needs to be expressed in word and deed in order to maintain integrity to the Cooperative Identity. Accordingly, two statements specifically called for the rejection of capitalist behaviors, values, and comparisons by the Cooperative Movement. They also pointed out that there is a tendency for cooperatives and the movement to emulate capitalist enterprises, noting that this was even reflected in how aspects of movement governance and educational events are organized. 
  • Autonomous Youth Organizations & Roles: A recurring issue within youth organizations at all levels is the bureaucratic member eligibility and approval processes demanded of them by their host or affiliate cooperative institution (e.g. International Cooperative Alliance Global and Regional Boards, National Federations). Often, the affiliate institutions require that youth be paying members of their organization before they are eligible to participate in any youth organizations. This is, candidly, both in opposition to cooperativism and unreasonable. Many of these organizations have membership costs beyond the capacity of most youth, and these entities often have programming and services that are of little to no relevance to individual youth or small youth cooperatives. Still further, this overfocus on a fiscal transaction as the root of membership and participation is deleterious in ways well beyond the relationship between youth and the broader movement. Youth experience this kind of control as a violation of the Fourth Principle and its underlying values. Youth demand that all youth organizations, no matter their source of funding or origin, be allowed to self-determine who can and how people become full members.
  • Redistribution of Wealth: Over the years, youth have called for the redistribution of wealth using a range of different word choices until coming into alignment with historical social movement calls for “wealth redistribution” as a potential curative for some of capitalism’s harms. The specific ways in which youth have called for this redistribution within the movement include: fully funding coopyouth programs and projects, fully funding the participation costs of youth attending movement events, and prioritizing and funding the participation of other frontline community members (e.g. people of color, the poor, equatorial island residents, queer people) at movement events. The Argentinean movement provides a model for this, as they regularly fund and empower rank and file workers from their national movement to attend international events and meetings.  
  • Participatory Governance & Education: Youth have consistently self-organized participatory discussion and education sessions, which is in stark contrast to the very conventional presentation styles and performative governance models typically used for international events and meetings. Youth routinely call for the abolition of falsely representational governance models, the renewed use of consensus-based decision-making, a more diversified selection of session styles (e.g. open space discussion, skillshares) that use more accessible education methods (e.g Popular Education) and don’t require an attendee to submit a proposal (requiring technological access and special skills) before being allowed to have a meaningful voice in the proceedings.

The collection of coopyouth statements, their interpretation of cooperative philosophy, and the wisdom they represent is a tremendous asset to the intergenerational Cooperative Movement. Youth have more than answered the call by cooperative philosophers of the past to interpret, refine, and restate the Cooperative Identity for themselves within the contemporary context of their lives. The worldview they have so well-presented within these statements was the primary guidance during the writing of this toolkit.