Monday, April 28, 2014

The Wild Wild Honest Food West...

Reporting from the First Unitarian Universalist Society's Channing Hall in Albany, New York...

It was a wild wild night at the old Honest Weight Food Co-op corral where perhaps two hundred of the many thousands of Co-op members gathered to elect new Board Members, five in all. The meeting began with a bang. Out going Board Member Lynne Lekakis took the podium using one of the microphones that consistently worked and raised questions about whether the Board could function properly if staff with pro-union members were elected to it. This despite the fact that all Board candidates were vetted prior to the election. They had to be because now that Honest Weight has a beer license no one with a arrest record can serve on the Board. Some might, I suppose, see Lekakis's use of executive privilege to raise questions about whether staff and pro-union members should and could be on the Board as possibly tainting the Board election that followed since at least two of the candidates were staff and one had clear pro-union leanings.

After Lekakis finished her campaign against staff and staff unions speech, in which I momentrarilly thought she was chanelling the spirit of Joseph McCarthy, she tagged the moderator into the squared circle. The moderator followed up on Lekakis's query by asking Board candidates to identity whether they were now or had ever had been staff members at HWFC. Though some in the audience expressed displeasure that Lekakis brought this up and one Board candidate found the issue of staff and the union a red herring (I would call it a mcguffin), the moderator, using that tried and true wild west wrestling move we now call moderator's privilege (there was a significant hint of privilege in the air tonight), proceeded to ask candidates to reveal whether they were staff members or not. Under questioning one candidate said she would step down as staff member if elected. Another noted her pro-union proclivities and revealed that she worked for a labour organisation. Interestingly the moderator did not ask candidates to identify whether they were capitalist restaurant business owners with pro-growth at any cost mentalities, which some might see as a potential conflict of interest for potential Board members. Nor did she ask whether Board candidates knew and had relationships of some standing with other Board members or with members of the Leadership Team, both of which too might be construed by some as potential conflicts of interest for potential Board members .

With the rite of selective self-incrimination complete candidates were asked the usual softball questions--questions which would give those asked of American presidential candidates at the "debates" a run for their money--to which they usually responded with the standard array of abstract cliches about the need for good communication, the necessity of good customer service, and the joys of diversity (one inevitably wonders how broad proclamations of diversity are and whether, for example, pro-union folks would be welcome on the organising board for the big community square dance). Genre formulae, it appears, aren't solely the monopoly of film, television, or popular literature. Concrete questions put into the question box before the candidate question and answer session began, such as hypothetically if the membership had voted down having product X on the sales floor on several occasions because they felt it violated HWFC rules but the LT put product X on the sales floor anyway what would you as a Board member do, were ignored by those who chose which questions to ask the candidates during the q&a. This reporter, by the way, took a stab at asking this question of Messrs Kuchera and Philomena and Ms. Dennis after the debate officially ended. Only Candidate Kuchera seemed to be able to respond to it. He gave a viable and much appreciated answer to the query.

Voting ended a half hour or so later. As midnight approached the vote, though without vote totals, was announced through the online mouthpiece of the HWFS Board, the Inside Scoop, and Kelly Carrera, Deb Dennis, Ned Depew, Jose Philomena and Roman Kuchera, were declared winners in this exercise in republican democracy. Loosers, including the one union friendly candidate in the race, in that time honoured way, were thanked and urged to try again.

Sociological and Ethnographic Observations:
It is the same old story again and again and it is the same old story that applies to human societies and cultures at almost any time and in any place: it is all about power. The powers that be control the terrain. The powers that be control the discourse. They are the ones who run the show. They are the ones who chose and "summarise" the questions. They are the ones who chose those who will be allowed to ask questions. Others are left with little other option than to raise their voices in protest from the audience. Presumably they are the ones that call all this democracy.

Another story that is reflected in the Honest Weight Board vote meeting is yet another old one. The larger an organisation (coop, corporation, nation) gets, the more there is a decrease in member involvement. Bureaucratisation, which is an outgrowth of growth, leads inevitably, in other words, to decreased member involvement.

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