Keep the smiles on

By Jacob Brooks
Keep the smiles on

Jacob Brooks (right) tries to bring emcee Lou Green up to date at the national meeting of electric cooperatives in New Orleans in February. (Photo by Michael Lynch.)

It has been a great privilege of mine to attend the annual national meeting of our electric cooperatives these past few years. I always find myself learning more about our cooperative business model and the process of serving consumer-members. We come from an interesting background that promotes the values of community and cooperation. It is without a doubt something I am blessed to be a part of.

Our history as rural electric cooperatives has always fascinated me. In the early 1930s, rural America was without the comforts of electricity. While families and businesses in urban hubs were reaping the benefits of the light bulb and electric appliances, folks in rural areas hoped to see power lines go up. But reality was not lining up with those dreams. The privately-owned utilities would not expand into the countryside, because they thought expansion would be unprofitable; they would have to charge rural citizens much higher prices for electricity to ensure profitability.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents were stuck. Then they learned about a business model which revolved around the principles of autonomy, democracy and community. Strong support came from President Franklin Roosevelt's administration, whose New Deal policies offered social reforms and economic opportunity, including the Rural Electrification Administration. The REA offered loans to utilities formed as cooperatives, owned by the members. As they formed their own cooperatives, it wasn't long until our folks saw the power lines go up.

Today, electric cooperatives focus on providing reliable, safe and affordable electricity. But our cooperatives do more than keep the lights on: they keep smiles on, too. Cooperatives play a pivotal role in our rural communities. They change lights on ball fields, assist neighbors who struggle to make ends meet, fund grants to local schools, offer scholarships. They are a backbone in our local economies by providing stable employment. Cooperatives do not do such things for the sake of good publicity. They do it because it is the cooperative way. It is more than keeping the lights on: It's about improving the way of life for their communities.

As we head into a new age of business and rampant globalization, we must keep in mind the necessity to support our local electric cooperatives and their ideals of autonomy, democracy and community. It is our job to spread the cooperative principles to those who are unfamiliar with our way of doing business. If we use our collective voice, we can ensure our cooperatives will endure.

Let your elected officials know the cooperative family is united and deserves to be represented fairly. Join the "Our Energy Our Future" campaign online at www.ourenergy.coop. Rally your cooperative neighbors to ensure our mission will be sustained. Our grandparents and great-grandparents started this thing. It is up to us to keep it going.

About the Author

Jacob Brooks, sponsored by Blue Ridge Electric, was national spokesman for the electric cooperatives’ Youth Leadership Council. He attends Appalachian State University.

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