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Building a Better Occupation -- Through the Occupation

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The Occupiers of Wall Street have good reason to be angry. So do the rest of Americans who are not participating in the demonstrations. As noted by countless political scientists, the U.S. has changed. Its democratic system has become less accessible and less accountable to the plight of the average American.

As in every system, the rules of the game -- which tend to determine the winners and losers -- have been changing in a way that makes it increasingly more difficult for regular citizens to participate within their democracy. And while the system is in dire need of repair, unfortunately, conventional wisdom and solutions are harder to come by with this particular Congress and Supreme Court. Making matters worse, most of our news media are not set up to help people understand these deeper matters in ways that help citizens understand the changes or how to engage constructively with their governments.

So what are the options for a citizenry that feel set up by expectations of a fair system only to find they have very little voice supposed to do? Many have turned their anger toward the very wealthy beneficiaries of the system in their "occupation" as a means to demand change in their own occupations and economies. But perhaps there are additional options toward building a better occupation that are even more effective. One would be to use that assembly, and the energy and time to brainstorm ways of building a better occupational -- or economic system. That could include both a more representative governance and a more just and democratic economic system. For the latter, we have a number of models to explore. One of them is the cooperative economic model, a ground-up way of doing business that functions democratically on principles of equality and justice within the workplace. Workers own the company together and vote on the business decisions -- one person, one vote.

The world's largest cooperative is Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain, the occupational home to more than 83,000 employees who work cooperatively and democratically, not just for their own company, but for the larger community. Guided by values such as social responsibility, innovation, the 256 companies within Mondragon work toward the development of their workers and their social environment.

Here in the U.S., worker-owned cooperatives have also taken root though on a smaller scale - -so far. Since 1975, the Bay Area's Rainbow Grocery has operated as a democratically-run cooperative. And more recently, Cleveland's Evergreen project connects a group of cooperatives including a green industrial-scale laundry, a solar installation company and a commercial greenhouse. The Bay Area is also home to a new association of cooperative bakeries under the umbrella of the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives

And while we're at it, given the pressures on traditional journalists, they, too, can look to the cooperative model of media. Mexico's newspapers, Excelsior, Uno Mas Uno, and their progeny, gave birth to a new media that challenged Mexico's less-than-competent PRI government in the last century. Their cooperative structure allowed journalists to decide together how to approach their business decisions and content. And as I've found in my research for Kill the Messenger: The Media's Role in the Fate of the World, when journalists get to control their content, profound results can occur, just because they get to do their jobs without having to cave to non-journalistic pressures.

The cooperative is, of course, only one of many ways to build better occupations (and economies) for ourselves. There are numerous additional ideas already in existence and some that have not even been born yet. Multiply that by the issues in governance and society, and we have a storm of ideas to help us build a better long-term collective occupation. And what better place to start exploring and planning these then on either Wall Street or local neighborhood streets.