Viewpoint
Raise the Song!

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

 

 

Richard Johnstone

IDuring October we celebrate the power of cooperation, whether gathering in the harvest or distributing electricity across the countryside.

 Come, ye thankful people, come;

Raise the song of Harvest-home;

All is safely gathered in,

ere the winter storms begin.

— Henry Alford, 19th-century English theologian

Ah, October! A month both bitter … and sweet. Poignant … and exhilarating. There’s the invigorating uplift to body and soul from its balmy, blue-sky days and its crisp, starry nights. But there’s also the aching beauty that foreshadows decline: trees ablaze in a final curtain-call, summer birds taking wing to far-off lands.

There’s the crunch of tart apples announcing another growing season done. And there’s the enveloping tang of wood smoke, warming us while warning of winter on-the-way.

Humankind for millennia has moved in motion with nature’s rhythms and heeded nature’s call, every autumn gathering in the harvest and firming up the foundations ahead of the relentless approach of winter.

The harvest has been celebrated in song and story for centuries, in part because it involves gathering the food that sustains us, but also because this gathering generally involves the labor of many hands. Many cooperative hands.

The harvest embodies both how, and why, cooperatives work: everyone shares in —  and benefits from    the effort. So it’s only natural that for decades October has been celebrated as Cooperative Month.

Cooperatives are a strong but often silent presence in our lives, meeting needs as diverse as banking and babysitting, food and housing, commodities and communications, and, of course, electricity.

Your electric cooperative is one of over 900 spread across 47 American states, each one locally owned, locally controlled, and dedicated to providing its member-owners with the best possible service at the lowest possible cost, every minute of every day.

As we’ve discussed in these pages many times over many years, each cooperative is unique, and yet each is united with all the others by a shared commitment to seven cooperative principles. These seven principles outline how cooperatives operate, with:

           voluntary and open membership;

          democratic member control;

          economic participation by the members;

          autonomy and independence;

          a commitment to member education and information;

          cooperation among cooperatives; and

          concern for community.  

Like a farmer distilling sugar water into maple syrup, the first six principles are boiled down to the pure essence of a cooperative in the seventh principle, concern for community. Working hard every day to improve the quality of life for members is what cooperatives are all about.

In the 1930s, improving the quality of life for rural America meant lighting the landscape, at a time when only one in 10 farms had central station electricity. So hundreds of cooperatives sprang up to serve every corner of our vast land, and by the mid-’50s, virtually everyone had service. 

The result of magic? Hardly.

Sweat, not sorcery, built this remarkable network. Many hands joined together in the 1930s and ’40s — farmers and ranchers, merchants and teachers, rural people all — and worked together in small towns and country crossroads throughout the land to provide themselves with power, when the big electric utilities of the time were unwilling to do so.

The cooperative principle of member ownership proved a perfect fit for this undertaking, which was broad in scale, deep in involvement. And the not-for-profit business structure made a valuable service as affordable as possible for the rural people of the time, and for today’s member-owners as well.

So whether to harvest the land’s bounty or deliver power to its people, cooperation  is something worth celebrating. As 19th-century theologian Henry Alford implored, “Come, ye thankful people, come; raise the song of Harvest-home”!

ower across the land.

 

 

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