Why Has Weaver Street Market Co-operative Not Been Engaged In The 'Occupy'/Sustainable Economy Dialogue'?

When Occupy began last October, it represented for me a protest against the domination of our society and our economy by the uber-rich, their heartless banks and their gutless politicians.

I became involved when Occupy started up locally, and the conversation was about highlighting the deleterious effects of arbitrary authority and conventional corporatism in our local community.

In January of this year, Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro decided it was time to move from mere protest to discussion about alternative local possibilities, and engagement with the community to explore more community-orientation and democracy in our economy and political life locally.

One of the issues that has bothered me (note, I’m off the Carrboro Commune kick today!) is that at no point in this developing conversation has Weaver Street Market Co-operative been involved.

Here is an organization that declares to the world that it is a community-owned grocery store. The living, breathing exemplar of alternative, democratic economy and sustainable society in action – and we hear nothing from them in this new adventure in social economy we call ‘Occupy.’

Indeed, the only institutional contribution of WSM to the communal debate has been to keep very quiet and stay very still as the rest of us in Carrboro, NC try to work out where was the democratic discussion that preceded the sale by WSM of the plot of land soon to become the monstrosity known as CVS, to which everyone and his community-gardening uncle seems to be opposed.

The general understanding was that this property was going to be redeveloped by WSM, in concert with the wishes of the surrounding community, in a fashion that would be communal, and that would be commensurate with what we in Occupy feel is a developing consensus on what social economy could look like locally.

Instead, WSM, without any reference to that surrounding community, sold out the community to corporate America in the worst possible way. And closer examination finds that it wasn’t even the 15,000 consumer-owners or the 100 worker-owners of WSM who made this decision.

The property appears to have been sold by a company called Carrboro Community LLC, for which the sole registered agent is the founder of WSM – Ruffin Slater. Ok, you might say. Perhaps this was a one-off transaction, supported by the Board of WSM (albeit, without any reference to the owners of WSM and the surrounding community – remember, ‘your community-owned grocery store’?), that required a separate temporary company, for whatever reason … ??

Until we discover that the Hillsborough Weave, which we all thought we owned, lock, stock and barrel (building as well), is, in fact, owned by another company for which Ruffin Slater is the sole registered agent – this one called Hillsborough Community LLC (anyone noticing a pattern here?).

Ok. Once more. Maybe there is a good reason? Which is why I have been trying these past few years to obtain the fullest financial disclosure about WSM, any associated companies and the ownership of its assets (our assets). And have been refused.

None of this necessarily means that anything untoward is occurring. But then why not just release the financial records, and say so?

In the absence of such transparency (which the corporate office management of WSM and its Board of Directors claim are its norm), it may mean that those assets, which we believe are owned by the community, are, in fact, not. Which may mean that we are not really a community-owned co-op.

More to the point, it may mean that money that we, as a community, have pooled for use by the community in our community-owned grocery store, has been diverted into assets no longer owned by the community. And that should give us cause for pause.

And this, in turn, may explain why we have a co-op that does not seem to make decisions that support the community or its workers; that does not allow much internal democratic conversation; that does not release full financial records; and that does not engage in the wider Occupy dialogue about an alternative democratic and social economy.


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