The Cooperative New School and Popular Education

As some of you know, I'm semi-retired from organizing. I love the people who I'm close to that I did work with, but I can no longer handle the pressure and the toxic personalities so prevalent with movement work. There are many that I miss, but there are also many that I don't miss at all.

The question was posed to me last night of what my role was going forward. I think there was a concern that I wouldn't continue to share my experiences, my successes and my many failures. I certainly want to continue to mentor activists and organizers and I think that I have the capacity to share my knowledge and especially my mistakes. In fact, Memoirs of a Mad Redneck is about sharing many of those mistakes and also of helping people understand my point of view and why I've come to the conclusions that I've come to.

One way that I am doing this is through The Cooperative New School for Urban Studies and Environmental Justice, which is a revolutionary institution for movement work and popular education. Thus far, we've done a little consulting and a lot of webinars. Let me be clear, the webinars are not lecture based. They are based on a popular education methodology that values relationships over anything traditionally thought of as education. We have four faculty members, Meleiza Figueroa, CNE Corbin, Paul Roge, and myself. We will be offering semester long classes in the Fall.

The classes we will be offering are on globalization, agroecology, and community organizing. I will be teaching the community organizing class which focuses on radical community development and the creation of economic institutions of self determination. I have significant experience with this, co-founding two such organizations, Magic City Agriculture Project and this one. I have also aided in the founding of at least half a dozen others, some of which failed and some which are still around. The class will begin with Paulo Freire and Myles Horton as the foundation for radical community development, understanding that learning is the key to building communities. Learning in this sense means that people in the position of organizers or teachers don't necessarily impart knowledge, but create conditions in which the community can learn together. All of the learning in this institution is of this type. It's about building relationships and sharing knowledge and experiences.

There are costs associated with The CNS. The first is student-ownership, which is $100 per year. This gives students ownership and decision-making power in the school. They each have one vote just like the faculty. It also gives discounts to classes and consulting. The other cost is the cost of the classes. Each semester long class in the Fall will last 12 weeks and there will be a nominal fee for taking the class and the fee will be on a sliding scale based on income. You can take the class if you are not an official student.

Some people have balked at the fee for the classes. Let me be clear, nothing is free. If a non-profit is offering classes, rich people are paying for them. We are not a non-profit; we are a hybrid consumer/worker-owner cooperative that is incorporated under Alabama's cooperative law as a C-corporation. Where in a non-profit, rich people pay for the services, in our model, the community pays for the services. This means that the institution's orientation is to the community and not toward rich people because the community pays our bills. In a non-profit, the customer and the community are two different groups of people. In our cooperative, the customer and the community are the same thing. Even though our focus is on movement education anyway, this model ensures that it will stay this way.

We have three students and four faculty thus far. Our goal is to have ten students by the Fall and to grow from there. My vision and hope is that this educational process extends far beyond the classroom and that my phone is ringing off the hook with informal conversations about movements, politics, life, and really anything. I hope that we are able to build relationships across geographic space and that we can have a profound influence in many different locales. I'm extremely proud of the faculty and students of the school as they represent some of the most passionate, loving, and brilliant people that I have ever met. I hope that you join us in the Fall.