‘Free’ Market Failure, Gerrymandering and Democracy

Marshall Clabeaux
Dec 1, 2019 · 7 min read

Accountability.

the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility.

“their lack of accountability has corroded public respect”

.5 mile, 2 cities and a township. Surely nothing fishy about a map like this?

From 1812 to today, across the land of the free ~ states, cities and towns have been gerrymandered for political gain. Where did the term come from? Find out more here

Shout out to fellow Caledonia, MI activist — Katie Fahey — for making The Guardian and helping make our democracy more of a democracy here in Michigan! Article found below.

Republicans tried to rig the vote in Michigan — but ‘political novices’ just defeated them

Sadly, as you can see in the map above, the political tradition is alive and well in Lansing, Michigan. Lansing Township, City of Lansing and City of East Lansing occupy different territories in a half mile stretch. In between the more populated and known cities of Lansing (114,000+) & East Lansing (48,000+) lies Lansing Township (8,000+) in the map above. Along the emerging ‘corridor’ — 3 mile Michigan Avenue stretch from the Capitol Building to neighboring Michigan State University. The location where democracy and the free market have failed us today, in 2019, lies at Clippert and E Michigan Ave.

The purple map highlighted above shows Lansing Township territories. Without too much speculation on why the even township exists, whether it be General Motors (GM) facilities and operations, the operations and facilities of the local utility Lansing Board of Water & Light or just simply an outlet in passing easy legislation, I digress.

For the past 4 years I have been a member of East Lansing Food Cooperative. During these tumultuous years of the cooperatives 40+ years in existence, we have closed a storefront, re-envisioned a new storefront, found a storefront, hired a new GM and have organized support from community members and community producers alike. I have served the cooperative as a curious shopper, an engaged community member, board member and project manager over my 8 years time in Mid Michigan.

Taking a step back.

What’s a cooperative anyway?

A cooperative is a democratic business that exists to serve the needs of its members. Cooperatives began in 1854 with the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, a group of English textile workers who formed a common shop to purchase goods they normally couldn’t afford. By using their collective power to purchase goods and market them wholesale to their members, although their shop began selling only a small selection of goods, within a decade they had gotten a reputation for selling fine products and the cooperative movement had expanded dramatically.

Today, the modern cooperative movement still uses The Rochdale Principles as the basis for cooperative philosophy:

1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.

3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5th Principle: Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public — particularly young people and opinion leaders — about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7th Principle: Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members

1 billion people are members of cooperatives worldwide. 1 in 3 Americans are co-op members holding 350 million co-op memberships worldwide. U.S. cooperatives generate 2 million jobs each year, contribute $652 billion in annual sales, and possess $3 trillion in assets.

Our most recent effort in meeting our cooperative ends of again serving the Mid-Michigan community healthy food needs, has reached an impasse from Lansing Township and the powers that be.

To understand the process and rationale behind such an impasse against an effort of such community value lies within — the powers that be — hands of control. I do not confirm my thoughts validity from other than from my experience, but I leave the following words for your interpretation.

To start, here is a selfie of me on October 10, 2019 at our potential site of 326 E Michigan Ave.

This was an interesting day volunteering. Across the street, cars, suits and rockin’ tunes met for a ground breaking event ! The fancy irony is around 20 cars parked in the illegal lot I was clearing. Not one person curious enough to ask me about my whatabouts or if it was ok’ to park there!

The nicest visitor was a kind Monarch butterfly who dropped in sending its warmest of blessings.

The Red Cedar Redevelopment has begun and Lansing tax dollars are hard at work!

https://www.fox47news.com/news/local-news/red-cedar-redevelopment-project-breaks-ground

To my last account, the Lansing City Council approved this Red Cedar Development with some 50 million tax break for develop ment & ers. Lansing City Council meeting minutes would solve your exact curiosity on the 240~ million project.

The misplaced distant blue, white and grey skyscraper visible, SkyVue, received a generous anticipated 25 million tax break for developers all but 3 years ago from Lansing City Council unanimously.

It’s a hot corner.

I am looking forward to the future approved tax break for the development of the old Sears across Michigan Avenue. That project will be headed by building owner and local developer Gillespie.

https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/2019/11/08/sears-lansing-close-early-2020/2527780001/

To me, the failure of the food cooperative to re-open amongst these giants is an unfortunate representation of a far greater problem, the free market and democracy.

A democratic business model competing in a non-democratic market didn’t stand a fighting chance.

From the onset, our bureaucratic obstacles were immense. Without elected representation the powers that be held their power strongly over us. For months we were given tasks one by one to complete before we could receive a business permit. This all before an ultimate list of conditional items, including some new tasks of which made the project unviable. Skipped scheduled meetings as the ‘right’ person took off for the day until the next week, didn’t only happen once. Such unaccountable behavior makes me question what’s so free about the market?

We weren’t the players they wanted playing on Clippert and E Michigan Ave so we don’t get a chance to play.

Fresh food? Community owned?

These didn’t meet the needs of power brokers. We didn’t ask for free tax breaks — just free hours of our members and community volunteers — thanks and hugs to everyone who donated time in the project and site❤

What’s wanted? What’s free about this?

Writing much more on Lansing Township malicious behavior makes me sad and a little fearful. We tried to play nice for months and were only met with rude, unprofessional and downright dirty behavior. I am happy to share more in person if you seek a good ole tale of corruption.

The food cooperative path forward will find its way. I have no more to give for now but thank everyone who has made efforts big, small, money or time to mission of serving the Greater Lansing area fresh, healthy and locally sourced foods.

My hope for the region going forward is that democracy and accountability find commonplace amongst the community. I also hope to see a similar sign make it’s way back into the Lansing community!

I believe cooperatives hold a unique ability to promote democracy and deeper community connection. Though not without limitations, coops are messy, but that’s the people power in them. They take time, patience and people who care just a little bit more about someone other than themselves.

all power to the people

~Marshall Clabeaux

Cooperative Community & Energy Enthusiast