This post is part of our Solidarity Series, telling the stories of other cooperatives to educate about the power of the cooperative model. Cooperatives: get your co-op featured with a blog post exchange: email hi [at] artisans [dot] coop for more details. Read the others here.
It’s a weekday in May 2022. I’m at my kitchen sink, washing dishes from afternoon lunch. Between glasses, plates, and silverware, I’m staring out two corner windows, overlooking Kihei before land concedes to the Pacific Ocean, which becomes the horizon. For some reason, I’m remembering a conversation I had with author and radio personality Michael Baisden, back in August 2017. We met at the Park MGM, at a bar outside the Park Theater just before Stevie Wonder would hit the stage. I shared that I am a writer but not yet published. He told me when he started, he sold books from the trunk of his car…
I paused with that thought. Stopped washing whatever dish was in my hand. Left it in the suds, dried my hands, and made a beeline for my laptop. I first searched to find out if selling books from car trunks is still a thing. It is! Then, I searched the domain trunkofmycar to see if it was still available. It was! So, I bought it. I had no idea what, if anything, would come of it but I also knew I had nothing to lose – except maybe $12.
At the same time, I was helping a group of midwives here in Hawaii figure out how best to organize to serve our community. I suggested they set up a cooperative – one that would be owned by both the midwives and the people they serve. Hawaii had recently passed a consumer cooperative law and it made good sense to do it, if they truly wanted to be a community organization. When considering the intention behind the enterprise – non-profit and for profit models just didn’t work.
I hadn’t had much involvement with cooperatives up until that point, except reluctantly shopping at one as a child growing up just across the DC line in PG County, MD, and later volunteering with one in Savannah, GA in order to receive a discount on my weekly food orders. But I had started reading all that I could about cooperatives, going all the way down a rabbit hole that would change everything about my life.
Despite not having deep roots in cooperativism, I’d definitely promoted the idea of community supported service organizations. And come with a background in business law, where I’d advised and promoted nonprofit and other social good enterprises for years. A few arts organizations I encountered along the way complained about restrictions and requirements placed on them by nonprofit organizations carrying purse strings. I noted how nonprofits often operate forand work to communities, but not with the community. And that for and to can be violent. Doing for creates dependency. Doing to represents programs created far away from and without input or even request by communities being served.
When discussing this concept with the leaders of a MD based arts program who’d recently organized a successful music and art festival but found themselves limited by moneychangers, I suggested that they go to their community to create the projects that they want to. To connect with small businesses and afterschool programs already existing in their neighborhood who might need what they offer. To seek new ways of funding – crowdfunding and membership offering came to mind. And I expressed the necessity of no longer seeking funds from people disconnected from their work and their communities. That they could go farther without that added strain.
I’d also been speaking in circles about how our capitalist-based society is pretty much sociopathic. And how in reading deeply about sociopaths, I learned that the best thing you can do is turn your back on them. Leave them alone. I started to see that all of our systems operate sociopathically – education, justice, healthcare… They lie. They break laws when convenient for them to do so. They act impulsively. The lack regard for their own safety and that of others.
I’ve been saying for a number of years that we have to turn our entire backs on this society. That we can do that by redirecting our energy and efforts into our communities. Work together for our greatest good. Stop letting people who hate us teach our kids to hate themselves. Stop relying on family courts to determine the best interest for our children – when the people who know them in community have a better idea and can hold neighbors accountable. Truly transformative instead of restorative. I started to see that there was another way we could be in this world.
I looked to the Black Panthers and Fannie Lou Hamer and prior programs that were community based and oriented. I realized that this idea I had was not new and that we could learn from the things our ancestors did to create a world where things are done with our communities, no more to and for.
And then I started writing more. Found an online writing community which had me writing at a level I’d not before. I knew that I wanted to do something with these words but didn’t know where I would publish them. The idea of traditional publishing just didn’t sit well with me – a cycle of conformity, followed by rejection and denial – nah. Which left self-publishing… I’ve made one purchase from Amazon since 2019 (after they cut benefits for part-time Whole Foods employees) and that was to support a friend’s book. If I don’t shop there, why would I want to sell my books there? But as any self-published author will tell you, they are pretty much the industry.
Months go by and still, I had this domain. And that’s when it occurred to me. Trunk of My Car should be a cooperative. It should take the lessons learned from old school authors and how they did things to sell their books and keep that money in their communities – but online. That we could support each other’s writing and marketing and create community through the written word. A community of readers, writers, editors, cover art designers, whomever wanted to join us. That self-publishing could not only redistribute publishing resources from the people who take, to those who create, but could also turn self-publishing into community publishing.
That was a year ago. Since, I’ve been plugging away, learning as much as I can to make sure this vision remains true to what began at the kitchen sink. I’m also earning my MFA in creative nonfiction to increase my craft and to polish the book that inspired this journey. I’ve been networking – joining and supporting other cooperative enterprises, being more vocal in spaces about the need for cooperative industry. In July of this year, Trunk of My Car was named a 2023 Innovation Fund Fellow with the Workers’ Lab, where we are learning more ways to make this a successful venture.
I am confident that this is only the beginning. It has not been an easy road at all, so many times I’ve wanted to walk away and maybe go hang out where the land concedes to the Pacific Ocean. But that’s not why I was given this vision, this mission. I can’t wait to see where it leads.
Learn more about Trunk of My Car Cooperative at: https://trunkofmycar.org
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