Co-operative Development, Policy, and Power in a Period of Contested Neoliberalism: The Case of Evergreen Co-operative Corporation in Cleveland, Ohio

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Rowe, James
Peredo, Ana Maria
Sullivan, Megan
Restakis, John
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Socialist Studies - Journal of the Society for Socialist Studies
This article was published in the journal Socialist Studies in 2017. We are grateful for their permission to share the article PDF here. ** Article Abstract ** After the financial crisis in 2008 and amid growing concerns about climate change, interest in systemic alternatives to neoliberal capitalism is growing. This cultural shift helps explain the enthusiasm from political elites, media, and academics that greeted the launch of Evergreen Co-operative Corporation in 2009. Based in Cleveland Ohio, Evergreen is a network of worker-owned co-operatives with scalability and replicability woven into its design. But how warranted is the broad-based enthusiasm around Evergreen? Is this a model that can be replicated across North America as its founders suggest? Based on site visits and stakeholder interviews, we argue that there are important limits on desires to reproduce the “Cleveland Model.” However, its ambitions for scalability and replicability position it to contribute to the important project of movement building that can facilitate the policy change needed to scale up the co-operative alternative.
Excerpt from Conclusion: Evergreen and its leaders have played a key role heightening the co-operative movements ambitions for growth and power in North America.There are efforts afoot to replicate Evergreen and experiment with related models, such as a new “union Co-op” model which allows for co-op developers to benefit from the expertise and capital of unions. Future research should track these cases of co-operative development, as insight into the successes and challenges of these initiatives can help facilitate sectoral growth. Evergreen’s leaders are well aware of the challenges they face expanding the network in Cleveland and sparking copycat co-ops across the continent. The Democracy Collaborative hopes that publicity around the Evergreen story will increase popular interest in co-operatives and ultimately grow the sector. Stabilizing the system in Cleveland is a crucial part of this movement-building effort, as is managing expectations around replicating the model. Our argument is that replicating the “Cleveland Model” will be challenging given the serendipity that allowed for Evergreen’s emergence (the two central contingencies being backing from the Cleveland Foundation and the City). This said, the period of “contested neoliberalism” has increased popular and elite interest in economic alternatives. Evergreen benefitted from growing fatigue with neoliberal economic development in Cleveland, and co-op developers in other regions may find similar openings. Evergreen’s growth locally and ability to become a replicable model nationally faces significant challenges. Its efforts towards scalability and replicability, however, along with the Democracy Collaborative’s larger effort to build popular power for systemic change, are precisely what the US co-operative movement needs to become a stronger political force, one capable of winning legislative change. Ambitious co-operative development initiatives like Evergreen, coupled with self-conscious efforts to strengthen the political power of the co-operative movement, are needed to make the co-operative economy a viable alternative to neoliberal capitalism.