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  • Writer's pictureD. Maurice Kreis

"Think About Rosa Parks, Guys"

I'm asking nicely: Please leave our food co-ops alone.

That's my reaction to the story I just read in the Keene Sentinel, and to this video available on You Tube. The subject was an incident that occurred March 12 at the Monadnock Food Co-op.

Apparently a bunch of people who don't like the Governor's emergency order, mandating the wearing of masks in public in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, decided that the food co-op in Keene was just the place to stage a direct-action protest.

Maybe it's my inner libertarian, but I am not without sympathy for the anti-mask protestors. The Governor has extremely broad emergency powers during a public health crisis -- I know because I have checked the statute -- and his exercise of them sometimes makes me queasy.

That said, my sympathy runs out quickly when I hear comments like the one made by the protestor who made the video linked above, which begins inside the co-op at the store's front end (where the cashiers are). "Think about Rosa Parks, guys," he shouted.

How outrageous to compare the mask mandate to the enduring struggle to overcome the centuries of the racial oppression that was, in many ways, central to the founding of the European colony that eventually became the United States of America. You lost me with that one, even if there are sincere disagreements with the Governor's mask mandate or its enforcement at the Monadnock Food Co-op. According to a letter published in the Sentinel from a disgrunted co-op customer, she was unfairly hassled by Co-op employees on Feb. 17 when she pulled down her mask to comfort her fussy four-month-old baby.

"Babies need to be able to recognize their mother’s facial features and expressions. It is extremely dehumanizing for a baby to look at their mother’s face and not be able to recognize her," the uphappy shopper told the newspaper and its readers.

Ya know what? I don't even care whether the unhappy shopper or the protestors who gathered at the Keene co-op a couple of weeks later have a point. Human beings -- which, last time I checked, includes people who work the aisles and cash registers of food-cops -- are fallible. The rules about masks, which do include some exceptions, are convoluted, confusing, and premised on the notion that everyone, including shoppers, is working together in good faith to get past the pandemic.

So if you want to compare yourself favorably to Rosa Parks, or if you want to accuse a grocery store (as the letter-writer did) of "training its employees to be a modern-day Gestapo" in connection with the mask mandate, how about you leave the state's food co-ops alone and take your profound grievances to Shaws, Hannafords, Aldi's, Whole Foods or any of the other supermarkets in New Hampshire that are the property of huge multinational investor-owned, profit-maximizing corporate empires?

I say that as someone who spent more than a decade on the elected board of the state's biggest food co-op, is a member of several others, and, by virtue of being active in the co-op movement since 2003 can say from personal knowledge that the people who govern, manage, and work in these customer-owned community-oriented stores do not deserve to be besieged. They just don't.

The big supermarkets have vast HR bureaucracies, multi-layered management, and sufficiently draconian personnel practices as to be able to respond fully and adequately to protests against mask policies. Here's what the food co-ops have: Open and voluntary membership -- that's the first of the seven Cooperative Principles -- and democratic member control. That happens to be the second of the Cooperative Principles. So if you don't like the way your local food co-op is run you can become a member and, in all likelihood, get yourself elected to the organization's board of directors. But that requires some work and persistence.

Or, you can just haul out a video camera, march around self-righteously, and holler about you're the reincarnation of Rosa Parks. Your choice, I guess. But you have my respectful advice.

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