The Change Makers

Inspiring stories in their own words from community members who are co-operating to effect social change in the Americas.

Cooperative communities

Author, El Cambio Silencioso (The Silent Change), Prometeo, 2003

The recovered factories have built networks within the community. At first it was probably more a matter of survival—bringing more people into the factory made it harder for the police to evict them. But it's proven to be more than that, because it adds a lot to the life of the factory to have a cultural center or a kindergarten or adult school. When people really understand what's going on in the factory they're willing to help in other ways so the factory can grow and develop, and it's good for the whole community. So that's what cooperation is all about. You being better is going to make my life better. That's really powerful, I think.

Excerpt courtesy Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin, from their forthcoming documentary, “Argentina—Turning Around.” Their website is


Photo of Pedro Garcia Pollila
Co-founder, La Aliancia Co-op near Barquisimeto, Venezuela

In this globalized world, some say they are happy because they have money in the bank. But that's why the world is in so much trouble. The forests turn into money in the banks, but that doesn't produce oxygen!

We are indigenous people, campesinos with dirt under our fingernails. We once worked for a landlord, but when we got the soil productive, he would take it away.

So we got together and asked the landlord if we could buy the land. He laughed and said, “What? Peasants buy my land? Sure! I'll sell it.” We got a loan from some nuns in Caracas and bought the land. Over time, we paid back the loan and bought more land. Today, we own 50 hectares.

In the cooperative, everything is shared. The property is collectively owned, and money goes into a joint account. Sometimes our income reaches minimum wage and sometimes not. But there are things we can't count—happiness, tranquillity. And today our young people are starting on the cooperative path.


Photo of Gaudy Garcia
Co-founder, Moncar Cooperative near Barquisimeto, Venezuela

In the past, we wanted to be like those in the United States. If we wanted something special, we went to Miami. A lot of our culture was lost—our knowledge of our history and our music. Some would even rather eat hamburgers than black beans and empanadas.

This is something Chávez is helping to change. Now, we are again fully identifying with our culture. And now, women are participating in literacy programs, and we are fighting for our emancipation. During the coup, it was women who gathered in front of the palace to demand our president back.

Cooperativism puts the human being at the center. The accumulation of goods is not important; what's important is that people have a house and a school for their children. Some people say in the co-op we work hard and we have nothing, but what we have is a sense of being human. We share, we take care of each other, we think everyone is important.

We know a cooperative society is possible, because we are living it.


Photo of Rosalind Guillen
Community to Community Development, Bellingham, WA

I think the best part of the Social Forum is that we all understand that getting along together, transforming our relationships, and finding solutions is forever evolving. I like the saying that's used by a lot of the Social Forum activists, “We make the road by walking.” And the walking never stops and the path is forever going forward.

I see it as critical right now in the current political environment for social justice movements to come together and look beyond our own regions, and look beyond our own specializations in the work that we're doing and begin to intersect our issues. To me, the exciting part of the US Social Forum is to begin to build that path, so to speak, so that we're all walking together instead of waving at each other from different paths along the regions.


The U.S. government is trying to drive a wedge between African Americans and the immigrant community, particularly the Latino community. We think it's really important that we unite, that we don't allow that wedge to be driven. And, you know part of our future plan is to build a black-brown alliance through the process of the US Social Forum and beyond. We think that a movement for social and economic justice in the United States is so necessary. We have got to build that movement up so that it's worthy of uniting with the movements that are developing across the globe. We look at the US Social Forum process as a major movement-building moment. And so that's why we're putting so much effort into it.


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