The Co-cyclists have returned to Amherst, MA, completing their 4,000 mile journey. Co-cycler Riko Fluchel made some reflections along the way. Below is an excerpt:

“A curious shift occurred as Co-Cycle made its way through the Midwest. We have begun to articulate what exactly it is we’re learning. Our identity is still forming, but, as compared to the first half of the tour, Co-Cycle is beginning to grasp the impact and importance of its own mission.

The Midwest has a strong history of cooperatives, beginning with Scandinavian immigrant farmer co-ops. At this point we have visited over 50 cooperatives, so it makes sense that we are beginning to really get a sense of what it takes to be a cooperative, and to see the many different manifestations of cooperative principles: from credit unions, bakeries, bike shops, mental health care clinics, engineering and manufacturing centers, to coffee roasters and bicycle delivery services— we have stumbled upon a whole alternative economy made up entirely of cooperatives, who, guided by Principle 6 (cooperation among cooperatives), strive to support each other by buying each other’s services and products.

The past few weeks have been peppered with many busy but tremendous occasions: from seeing all these cooperatives in one space together in multiple towns and cities as they connect and organize; having the pleasure of presenting the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives’ endorsement of legislation to increase the lending cap of credit unions to 27.5% to the Credit Union National Association; and consequently, Mayor Soglin of Madison declaring August 6-10th ‘Co-Cycle Week’ in Madison. We are giving co-ops an occasion to talk to each other, organize together, and strengthen themselves, each other, and therefore the overall movement. This is perhaps best exemplified in Madison, where we witnessed the signing of articles to make MadWorc, previously merely a network.

We have seen so many examples of how co-ops (particularly worker co-ops) have empowered individuals, and in extension, entire communities during times of struggle. The therapists of Center Point Counseling Services in Viroqua, WI, resigned from a conventional agency after the clinic failed to break even. The group then formed a worker-owned cooperative, revitalizing the love they had for their profession and serving their community, whether clients are insured or not. Union Cab in Madison, WI, a worker co-op since 1979, has been a long-time champion for worker rights, and, via taxi cab parades, showed its support for protests last year over Governor Walker’s decision to eliminate collective bargaining rights as a part of the budget repair bill. Just Coffee Cooperative in Madison, WI, seeks to support coffee farmers in Central and South America by creating their own standards of Fair Trade coffee so that those small farmers can make a profit and afford certification —and in an attempt to increase their transparency, Just Coffee’s products have a label at the bottom of the bag which can be used to track where exactly the coffee was grown, who grew it, when it was roasted, and how much of the money you pay for each bag of coffee goes directly to the farmer.

A year ago I didn’’t know what a cooperative was. Now, after the nine weeks of touring cooperatives across the continental United States, I know firsthand that cooperatives empower people’s lives. In this historical moment of social unrest and fluctuating forms of economic oppression, I’’m beginning to see a possibility, a hope, of really making things better: by eliminating the cost of upper management and organizing into worker-owned collectives and cooperatives, where the employees write the rules, vote on every decision, decide the wages, and actually have a stake in their business, care about the work they do, and serve their community at the same time. In response to the recent economic crisis and the Occupy movement that followed, I suggest a shift towards a worker cooperative economy as a viable solution.”