July is always ushered in with a bang as we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, long weekends at the lake, parades, and picnics. On the Fourth of July, we celebrate our freedoms, our democracy, and our ability to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. This midsummer holiday gives Americans the chance to pause and reflect on all of the things that make our country great. As I pause to think about Independence Day, I cannot help but think about how cooperatives truly epitomize the American way. Nearly everything about cooperatives screams U-S-A, U-S-A.
Yes, it is true, the formation of the cooperative principles we use today can be traced back to the 1800s in England, but we don’t want to talk about those guys in this column because – after all - it is Independence Day. However, I do want to talk about those principles which guide co-ops – like Northern Electric – as we conduct business to serve our members.
Co-ops are formed by underserved populations to provide goods and services and fill a need in communities. Electric cooperatives, for example, were formed in South Dakota in the 1930s and 1940s because other utilities did not believe it was worthwhile or profitable to build miles of infrastructure to serve rural homes and farms with electricity. Those South Dakota farmers and rural residents decided to pool their resources and build their own electrical systems because no one else was going to do it for them. It is an example of how electric cooperatives were born out of the American spirit of hard work and self-reliance.
Cooperatives are also structured in a truly American fashion. All co-ops operate under the principle of being democratically controlled. Every member of a co-op – which is everyone who purchases goods and services from the co-op – has the opportunity to run for the cooperative’s board of directors and vote for the representatives who sit on that board of directors. Northern Electric has nine board members who represent nine different districts across the co-op’s service territory. Those nine directors serve staggered terms on the board so every year there is the opportunity for members to run and vote for board members from some of those districts. This year, Northern Electric is accepting petitions for directors in District 2, 5, and 9. More information on the petition process and running for the board of directors can be found on pages 10-11 in this issue. Petitions are being accepted until July 5, which is the day after Independence Day.
Democratic member control is just one of the seven principles which guide cooperatives as we serve our members. Other principles include open membership, equitable economic participation, independence and autonomy, education, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community. These principles represent the cooperative way, but they also represent the American spirit of working together to benefit the communities we live in. It is the reason co-ops are as American as those hot dogs we’ll be eating on the Fourth of July.