Ed Whitfield visits Madison to help us make sure we’re making a difference

Ed Whitfield speaking in the Mutual Aid Workspace in the Social Justice Center. Photo by Charity Schmidt.

MCDC was very pleased to be among the organizations that collaborated to bring social activist Ed Whitfield to town. Ed has a long history in activism dating back to his participation in the Black Power Movement, and today, he works in non-extractive finance.

Evelyn Wright, also a visitor to Madison, was in the audience and has written about both MCDC and Ed’s talk at the Social Justice Center. His main point was central to MCDC’s mission:

The night’s topic was “Making Sure We Make a Difference.” Ed urged the coop movement to be clear about the sources of inequality and the urgency of redressing it. “We have slipped into language and thinking that miss how we got to where we are,” Ed said, “as if inequality were the result of chance, bad luck, or character defect.” We need to be clear that it came about because of specific historical processes.

“If a community has zero wealth, zero assets, it’s because someone else has them, someone else has taken them. It’s not about the color of your skin. It’s the history. Something happened. People ask me, ‘Ed, when are you going to stop talking about that old stuff?’ When I don’t see the impacts of it all around me anymore.”

Ed also has views that Madison activists need to hear and consider. For example, he’s opposed to universal basic income, because it would reinforce the existing power dynamic in our society, when we need to working to change it. That same reasoning leads to two other perspectives the audience may not have expected:

Photo by Charity Schmidt.

Ed said that he doesn’t favor expressing calls for social justice, for housing or health care, in the language of human rights. “Who would enforce housing as a human right,” he asked. “The UN?” He prefers to talk about human needs, the power to meet those needs, and where that power currently resides.

“When we talk about power imbalances,” he said, “we are talking about access to tools, and the skills to use those tools. Capital is a tool. Markets are tools. Like any tool, they are good for some things, but not others. Potatoes yes, health care and justice, no.” Access to those tools and skills is fundamental to controlling our own labor, and ultimately our lives. That’s why, he says, when he talks about reparations, he doesn’t talk about giving people money. “They’ll just spend it. We need to give people productive capability, so they have the tools to meet their own needs.”

In other words, the most important thing we can do to make a difference is empower people to take care of themselves, not debate who’s going to take care of them.


The Power of Worker Cooperatives in Building a Democratic Economy

Alderperson Rebecca Kemble recently hosted WORT’s A Public Affair show with a panel of guests discussing the power of worker cooperatives. Rebecca has been a cab driver at Union Cab Cooperative for nineteen years and is a fierce promoter of worker co-ops here in Madison, across the country, and abroad, including in her former role as President of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. She now sits on the Common Council and advocates for the City’s initiative to form worker co-ops that address income inequalities and racial disparities, the Madison Cooperative Development Coalition (MCDC). She was joined by Ruth Rohlich of the City’s Office of Business Resources, who oversees that initiative, and Charity Schmidt, Cooperative Developer with MCDC and the UW Center for Cooperatives.

Rebecca was also joined by Georgia Allen, Josezette Bridges, and Geraldine Perry of the newly incorporated home-care agency, Soaring Independent Cooperative. Additionally, Mariela Quesada Centeno of Centro Hispano called in to talk about the Roots 4 Change Cooperative, a co-op of community wellness workers. They shared their inspiring experiences building worker co-ops that serve the needs of their communities and put ownership, control, and decision-making into the hands of workers. Listen here to hear how worker ownership can improve the working lives of these women and their coworkers.

They were joined at the end by Ed Whitfield, who works to help communities build self-reliant economies to meet their needs and elevate their quality of life. Ed is co-founder and co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities (F4DC). He serves on the board of The Working World (TWW) and the New Economy Coalition (NEC) and chairs the board of Southern Reparations Loan Fund (SRLF)

While Ed was in Madison, hosted by the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice, MCDC, and MadWorC, he dropped by the WORT studio to talk with A Public Affair host Allen Ruff. He stressed the importance of an alternative freedom narrative and provided informative insights from the co-op movement and the world of democratic non-extractive finance. The full interview is here.


Dreaming and Building Freedom — two talks by visiting scholar Ed Whitfield

“Making Sure We Make a Difference”

Tuesday, March 26, Social Justice Center, 1202 Williamson St.

“Three Paths for the Academy in the Freedom Struggle”

Wednesday, March 27, 12 noon, 6191 Helen C. White

ED WHITFIELD is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas and was a long time social justice activist from the Black Student Movement and the Black Power Movement before becoming involved in cooperative development and philanthropy. He now spends most of his time trying to help communities build self-reliant economies to meet their needs and elevate the quality of life. Ed is Co-Founder and Co-Managing Director of the Fund for Democratic Communities.

Presented by the Havens Center, and co-sponsored by the Madison Co-op Development Coalition and MadWorC.


MCDC celebrates its first worker co-op!

Members from Common Good Bookkeeping with technical assistance team.The Madison Cooperative Development Coalition (MCDC) recently celebrated the incorporation of its first co-op, Common Good Bookkeeping! The new worker co-op was recognized at a February event at the Madison Labor Temple. MCDC is a collaborative of co-op developers, unions, and community organizations – including UWCC – implementing the City of Madison’s initiative to strengthen the local worker co-op ecosystem. At the event, MCDC also welcomed Dennis Olson of the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI) and UFCW International, as well as the local UFCW (1473) that Common Good Bookkeeping Cooperative unionized with. Many people from the Madison co-op and labor communities also joined.

This is just the first of many MCDC events – keep an eye on the UWCC website for events to come. Future events will provide education on worker co-ops, the City of Madison’s Co-op Initiative, and will bring our community together to address Madison’s racial and income inequalities through living wage jobs and democratic workplaces.

If you are a service provider, worker-cooperator, or a community organization, we want to work with you! This initiative provides and funds technical assistance to worker co-ops and can connect them to start-up financing. Learn more on UWCC’s website, or write to info@mcdcmadison.org.



MCDC Scholarship awardees Mariela Quesada Centeno and Karime Perez from Centro Hispano and Elijah McCloskey from Freewheel Bikes at the Cooperation Works! Training in Fall 2017

MCDC offers scholarships for cooperative development education and training. These scholarships can be used toward education offered by our partner organizations such as the UW Center for Cooperatives and MadWorC, as well as education by outside groups, such as Cooperation Works and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. For more information or to apply for scholarships, contact MCDC Coordinator, Charity Schmidt at charity.schmidt@wisc.edu or 608-262-5905.