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Nicholas Roberts
Prof. Rashaan Meneses
English 1A
7th December 2010

The Richmond Cooperative Experience: equity, environment and

entrepreneurship in Richmond, California

The citizens of Richmond, California have chosen the Richmond

Cooperative Experience[1][2] over the Chevron corporate experience.

The Richmond Cooperative is a community-led development emerging from

grassroots organizing and democratic institutions, creating ownership

and management in a group of green and clean, appropriate technology

businesses. This worker-cooperative network, the Richmond Cooperative

Experience will create health, wealth and economic democracy.

The Richmond Cooperative Experience proposal is a long-term,

community-led and controlled program to develop a sustainable,

locally and employee owned, democratic network of green worker-

cooperative businesses in Richmond, CA.

This proposal is based on the recently published MIT study

“Sustainable Economic Democracy: Worker Cooperatives for the 21st

Century” [3]. By following the MIT coop framework - based on two

successful cooperative complexes 1. Mondragon, Spain and 2.

Evergreen, Cleveland - the Richmond Cooperative project can quickly


and credibly leverage existing institutions in Richmond, CA to form a

sustainable network of worker-cooperatives.

The City of Richmond is a microcosm of the best solutions and

and the worst social, economic and environmental problems of any city

in California or the USA. A polluting, petrochemical mega-corporation

dominates, and many would argue, distorts economic, social and

political life in the area [4]. Surrounding the processing plants are

pollution [5], poverty and dispossession, with symptoms such as

disease and unemployment, drugs and crime. [6]

Pollution in Richmond, CA disproportionately effects people of color [1]

Source: Bay Area Environmental Health Collaborative

Green collar jobs are not enough to build sustainable wealth and

democracy. Community-led development and asset building must be done

through local ownership and management of small businesses.


Cooperatives are too easily dismissed as engines for democratic

and economic development. Let's demolish these counter-arguments with

reference to some simple and current facts.

Cooperative's don't scale: Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is

the 7th largest corporation in Spain. The Mondragon-inspired

Cleveland-based, Evergreen Cooperative is a multi-million dollar

enterprise and has scaled-up and scaled-out rapidly.[6]

Cooperatives are for communists: worker-cooperatives are

capitalist institutions where all employees are business owners and


Outsiders cannot do anything for Richmond: Mondragon was started

by a priest from outside the district. Ted Howard, lead Evergreen

Cooperative developers is from Maryland. Quinton Sankofa of Mandela

Marketplace is from Cleveland. Outside-in or top-down cooperative

development strategies can be synergize with bottom-up and inside-out


Cooperative's might work in socialist Europe but they won't work

in a capitalist economy like freedom loving USA: The Economist [7]

describes Evergreen as the “The hopeful laundry” that can restore

Cleveland. The Gates Foundation is funding the EdVisions Cooperative

networks expansion. The UK Conservatives are promising worker-

cooperative conversion of state-owned public agencies as part of

their Big Society push.


There is no history or culture of cooperatives in the USA: For

All the People, John Curl [8] documents a rich and vibrant history of

cooperatives in the USA. The Bay Area is home to one of the most

active English-speaking worker-cooperative scenes.

Participating in Network Facilitation

Image: Sustainable Economic Democracy: Worker Cooperatives for the 21st Century, MIT CoLab

Nicholas Roberts can help self-help [10] cooperative network

development by creative involvement in social media and websites,

study groups, seminars, mailing lists, site visits and field trips.

The proposal uses the MIT Community Lab's (CoLab's) recent

report “Sustainable Economic Democracy: Worker Cooperatives for the

21st Century” which analyzes and compares Mondragon Cooperative

(Spain) and the US Evergreen Initiative (Cleveland). From these

studies it extracts a general model for cooperative development. This


CoLab report was derived from the masters thesis of Nick Iuviene

“Building a Platform For Economic Democracy: a cooperative

development strategy for the Bronx” [9].

By using the MIT framework Nicholas Roberts will work with

existing individuals and institutions to facilitate mapping of

possible cooperative groups, anchor institutions and cooperative

support organizations. Possible cooperatives might be;

• Solar & Weatherization

• Composting & Recycling

• Landscaping and Urban Food

• Aquaculture and Aquaponics

• Bicycles and light transportation

• Water: Roof-capture, greywater and trickle irrigation

• Biofiltration and bioremediation

• Soil-Testing, Environmental Justice & Citizen Science

• Media: hyper-local & Advocacy

• Worker-cooperative development

Application of the MIT CoLab Framework

• Place: “The Iron Triangle”, Central Richmond

• Cooperative Network: Richmond Cooperative study group

• Localized Economy: open-source, appropriate clean-technology



Nicholas Roberts' three activities of 1. research, 2. websites and 3.

participation work together in the pre-start-up phase.

1. Research: aligning personal education and research

2. Website: free, educational, public interest social media

3. Participation: connect research with the actions

Service 1: Research

By aligning personal education and research he can facilitate

the education and organizing stages of the cooperative.


Service 2: Websites

By publishing free, educational, public interest websites which

aggregate, collate and synthesize various sources of information

regarding the education and organizing

• http://permaculture.tv

• http://bayarea.permaculture.coop/newsmap

Service 3: Participation

Participating in various activities in a volunteer basis with a

goal of doing participatory action research, in other words,

connecting research with the actions on the ground.

There is No Alternative

The Richmond Cooperative proposal is superior to the two

alternatives for development 1. Casino Capitalism or 2. Corporate


1. Casino Capitalism

Richmond Cooperative is superior to the Casino Capitalism scenario

because it creates real economic growth of tangibly beneficial

products and services and does not have a negative effect, creating

greater social costs than economic benefits.

• casinos create more social costs than create economic benefits

• casinos are elite institutions that do not benefit the majority

of society

• casinos do not create any economic value, just profits for

owners and losses for gamblers

2. Corporate Services Gentrification

Richmond Cooperative is superior because it creates and anchors

community-held assets in under-served communities.


• gentrification of central Richmond pushes long-time residents


• services jobs are low-pay, unskilled and alienating

• services jobs do not pay enough to create wealth in community


The people of Richmond chose via political representation a

green, cooperative, democratic economic future [11]. Through

participation, research and websites Nicholas Roberts is helping

people help themselves in the Richmond, CA area. This can be done

through the development of a place-based, localized economy that is

based on a democratic model of cooperative networks servicing local

anchor institutions, residents and businesses. As the inter-

cooperation and richness of the local economy grows, problems such as

poverty, pollution and poor participation will be solved as employee-

owners of the Richmond Cooperative build wealth assets as well as

jobs [12]. There is an opportunity for the existing progressive,

green and cooperative institutions in Richmond to re-align towards

worker-cooperative network development [11]. By doing this, a

platform for sustainable economic democracy can be built rapidly in

Richmond, CA.


[1][4] Connelly, Christopher. November 3, 2010, "Progressives prevail

on council" Richmond Confidential, November 3, 2010




[2] Friedman, Becca. October 13, 2010, "A new business model for

Richmond" Richmond Confidential, 13 October 2010,



[3] Iuviene, Nicholas G., et al. Sustainable Economic Democracy:

Worker Cooperatives for the 21st Century, MIT Community Innovators

Lab, 2009

[5] Lopez, Christina. September 29, 2010, "Poverty levels in Richmond

worsen in 2009" Richmond Confidential, 29 September 2010,



[6] Duker, Dick, et al. 2009 Air Monitoring Network Report, July 1,

2010, Bay Area, Air Quality Management Distrcit,



[6] "Cleveland Goes to Mondragon", The Democracy Collaborative,

October 2008, Accessed 2010, <http://www.community-


[7] "Restoring Cleveland: The hopeful laundry. Micro-projects aim to

restore a shattered area" The Economist, Jan 7th 2010, Accessed


December 7th 2010, <http://www.economist.com/node/15213793?


[8] Curl, John. underline For all the people: uncovering the hidden

history of cooperation, cooperative movements, and communalism in

America. Oakland, PM Press, 2009

[9] Iuviene, Nicholas G. (Nicholas Gourlay). "Building a platform for

economic democracy: a cooperative development strategy for the

Bronx", Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies

and Planning, Accessed Dec 7th 2010,


[10] Ellerman, David. Helping People Help Themselves: From The World

Bank to an Alternative Philosophy of Development Assistance, The

University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2005

[11] McLaughlin, Gayle and Lezamiz, Mikel. “Letter of Intent and

Endorsement”, September 17, 2010,



[13] Grant, Gabriel B. et al, Information and Communication

Technology for Industrial Symbiosis, Journal of Industrial Ecology,

Vol 14, Issue 5, Blackwell Publishing Inc