Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Neutral Spaces

Our Coop is a food store. Our work requirement is the key element that allows the coop to provides our low prices.   There is a bonus; we get to work and interact, even form friendships, with diverse  groups of people, many of whom we would never meet otherwise.

Life provides many opportunities for interaction within our own particular communities, be they political, religious, ethnic, national, regional, etc. To build broader communities, we require neutral spaces where people with different politics, religion, sexual orientation, etc. can meet and interact with each other as people, without regard to the barriers that separate us in other settings. The coop is one of these neutral spaces.

When we interact in these neutral environments, we learn to recognize our common humanity, to dispel stereotypes about each other and to begin to respect those with whom we disagree or who are different from us.

Politicizing neutral institutions destroys this source of community and opportunity for interaction. If an organization like the Park Slope Food Coop were to adopt positions on divisive political issues, then it really would no longer be open to everyone. No one joins or continues to support an organization espousing political positions he or she abhors.

If the Coop considers adopting divisive political positions, its membership will fragment. This is what happens when previously open communal organizations take sides on political controversies on which their members strongly disagree.

Our Coop is worth protecting and preserving. Our members must resist attempts to use our Coop as a political weapon to be fought over and captured.

The above was adopted from a March 2010 essay by Alan Brownstein, professor of constitutional law at the UC Davis School of Law. The essay was written in response to the BDS effort at the Davis Food Cooperative. It was originally published in the Davis Enterprise, and re-posted on the Davis Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East web site. You can read the original here.

The Board of Directors of the Davis Food Cooperative ultimately rejected a member initiative to vote on joining BDS. It was determined the initiative did not have a "lawful and proper purpose" according to their by-laws.

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