North Carolina District 1 Congressman G.K. Butterfield Jr. in Washington (center) meets with directors and staff of electric cooperatives in his district.
An electric cooperative is a unique business model among energy providers. A cooperative provides energy to its members at the lowest possible cost, and the members have a direct voice in the operation of the cooperative by electing its board of directors.
Your cooperative provides an essential service — electricity — but it also plays a vital role in your community by supporting economic development, promoting education initiatives, and boosting other community causes. The cooperative has a positive impact on your quality of life.
Sometimes issues arise in Raleigh or Washington, D.C., that can affect your cooperative and you. In those instances, co-ops may ask members for to help communicate a clear, respectful message to elected officials. "Grassroots advocacy" is a term often used but is sometimes hard to explain. It means people speaking up for themselves rather than relying on others to speak for them.
Grassroots opportunities are all around us. A member participating in the election of a cooperative's leadership is a perfect example. Contacting legislators and other officials on important matters is another. A solid grassroots effort involving cooperative members is democracy at its best, and elected officials do respond to the concerns of their constituents. Cooperative members acting together — representing more than 2.5 million people in North Carolina and 42 million nationwide — are a powerful voice.
When the time comes for your co-op to ask for your help, you will not be alone. Cooperatives across the state and the entire nation frequently work together to monitor and influence state and federal legislative activities. When you make your voice heard as a member of a cooperative, the collective cooperative family stands with you and provides information to help you understand how policy decisions impact you, the community and your cooperative. Some organizations around the country mimic grassroots support by using technology to give the impression of representing a lot of people. But cooperatives do not need smoke and mirrors. Co-ops are real people with real power. Being a cooperative member should be cherished like your right to vote. Your voice as a cooperative member can have a major impact on the issues of the day.
Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents, and they need to be informed about the impact their decisions have on your electric bill. Lawmakers monitor phone calls, e-mail, letters and local newspapers. And they refer to new technology like Facebook and Twitter to gather feedback on their actions. Any of these methods can be an effective way to communicate your preferences to them.
You can further your engagement by attending cooperative events to learn about specific issues facing your cooperative, and to get to know your local elected officials who may be there as well. When you have an opportunity to meet your elected officials, tell them you are a proud member of an electric cooperative and remind them that co-ops are a reliable source of information for them.
In the coming months and years, co-ops in the electric utility business face a number of challenges to continue to provide electric power that is safe, reliable and affordable. Members will play a role in many ways. Through grassroots advocacy, members are the voice of the cooperative to elected officials. Elected officials need to hear from the cooperative and the cooperative needs to hear from you.