Cooperative Identity

As I gear up to seek funding for Corner Garage, one thing keeps being asked in all my discussions with potential investors: why are you making Corner Garage a co-op? The short answer is that running a democratic republic is more work than running an autocracy, but I’m still very glad that I live in the former. The long answer is a bit more involved.

The surprise people express when I explain our business model isn’t entirely unfounded. After all, cooperatives have special treatment under Texas law, meaning everything from doing taxes to finding a lawyer is more difficult. On top of this, they are corporations (unlike an LLC) meaning they have a 5+ person board, more aggressive financial reporting requirements, and generally require lots more overhead and work to get off the ground. However, they also have something else that LLCs and traditional corporations don’t have: accountability.

Like many Austinite’s, I previously worked in the software industry. Big web companies like the ones I worked for have little to no oversight. They are only beholden to the richest few who can afford to buy millions of dollars worth of shares. This creates immense pressure to prioritize short term gains over the needs of the user, and patterns of bad behavior that result in violations of the user’s most basic rights. Co-op’s are different. In a co-op, all members have an equal say regardless of how much money they make and there’s no wildly swinging share price influencing short term decision making. After meeting the financial goals required to keep the lights on, the needs of the community are a co-op’s only priority. In short, being a co-op keeps us honest, and accountable.

According to the ICA’s 1995 Statement on the Cooperative Identity, A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Like Justice Brandeis said of the states, co-op’s are “laboratories of democracy” (albeit on a much smaller scale). Being a co-op means that everyone has the opportunity to participate in a social democratic enterprise and shape it to best serve the community. Instead of competing with our neglected social infrastructure, a business should strive to develop a symbiotic relationship with the community that sustains it.

These may sound like grandiose claims for something as small and insignificant as a neighborhood garage, but it is important that we express and nurture the values that we cherish in everything that we do. This isn’t just what we believe, it’s who we are as an American people. I can’t think of anything, grand or small, that I would rather create to embody these ideals than a Corner Garage.

Corner Garage Co-op is a DIY garage and automotive hackerspace opening in Austin, Texas. If you’re interested in getting involved with starting Corner Garage, consider supporting us financially by becoming a member or become part of our leadership by joining the Board of Directors. If you just want to know more about how we are governed and operate, you can find our current bylaws and policies on the membership page.

UPDATE: Since this post, Corner Garage has moved to Atlanta, GA. For more information, see our announcement post.