There is an instinctual rhythm and balance within walking; a comfort and release that creates space to connect with self, others, and place. Walking and talking go hand in hand, step by step. As social beings, we choose to walk with members of our community. Walk2Connect gathers neighbors, business owners, and community leaders to establish that safe space for organic conversation. Conversation is a form of education, an exchange of knowledge, fundamental for the political and social change possible in a grassroots organization. An innovative social enterprise led by member-owners, Walk2Connect achieves strong sustainable community through its worker-owned co-operative.
Niki Okuk, breaks down the positive outcomes of the worker-owned model in her TED Talk, “When workers own companies, the economy is more resilient”. In her talk, Okuk touches on economic liberation movements by mentioning Black Wall Street and the Zapatistas. Black Wall Street was a predominantly African American neighborhood made up of a great number of people migrating from the South to the newly established state of Oklahoma as an escape from slavery before the brutal massacre of their black community in 1921. The Zapatistas lead an Indigenous Mexican movement seeking control over their local resources, especially their land, since 1994. Both Black Wall Street and the Zapatistas are examples of pursuing economic liberation. She emphasizes the need for resistance to the oppression of capitalism, a system that relies on racism, sexism, ableism, etc. to create a disparity in class that empowers 1 % of the population. We must remember, WE have the power and they need us. One way to reclaim and retain the financial and social power that businesses and organizations accumulate is to prioritize the worker-owned model, an alternative to big investors bringing chain-stores into communities which would run the mom and pop shops out of business, limiting entrepreneurs to hourly wages and consequently landing local money in the pockets of outside, uninvolved stock holders. An example of a successful local economy is Mondragon, Spain, a community that is entirely built around worker-owned cooperatives. There are 260 businesses which employ 80,000 people, and generate 12 billion euros of revenue a year.
Okuk pushes us to unionize, advocate for legislation which would fund and support worker-owned organizations, learn about the model, and to actively support businesses and organizations that have instilled this model. A great resource about worker-owned businesses is Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center’s website. It lists businesses in Colorado that have established this model and instructs how to become a worker-owned company. Niki Okuk used her platform of the TED Talk, to talk, the essential tool needed for change. Okuk has talked the talk, walked the walk, and now urges her audience, to continue the talk and start their own walk. I challenge the reader to check out Colorado HB17-1214, or “Encourage Employee Ownership of Existing Small Business”, a bill that provides the support and funding needed for a small business’s transition into a worker-owned business. An awareness of current legislation fuels the creation of social and political empowerment.
Walk2Connect has successfully laid the foundation of a worker-owned model for their cooperative and embodies core values such as equality, democracy, and an alternative economic structure designed for environmental and social justice. Although, the cooperative has not yet achieved the desired conventional benefits for its employees or a revenue comparable to that of Mondragon, Spain, the pace at which the organization grows promises its future success.
Through an exploration of the worker-owned model of Walk2Connect, I feel enlightened with a better understanding of local economics, legislation, and community building. This in itself is an accomplishment of the cooperative, which has ignited in me, a sense of pride and the goal to spread my new-found knowledge to my family members, owners of multiple small businesses around Denver. Change starts with a single step and Walk2Connect motivates advocacy and community empowerment in the duration of a fun, lighthearted walk!
(All photos courtesy of @walk2connect on Instagram)