We are a group of workers, community members, family members, and New Orleans residents who believe in cooperatives as a path to liberation. All of us can see that workers--especially Black, Indigenous, and undocumented workers--have been unable to meet their basic needs under the oppressive systems that our current capitalist society supports. We have watched the culture bearers and workers who hold up our city be repeatedly exploited. We have seen the impacts of capitalism and development on our neighborhoods, our culture, and our planet. We began meeting in 2019 to brainstorm ways that our various projects, mutual aid efforts, businesses, cooperatives, and skills as individuals could come together. We knew the powerful history of cooperatives, and we had seen successful examples in New Orleans, but we hadn't yet created the space for all of us to work together to create a cooperative future.
When the pandemic began, people were forced to look at new ways to work and build community. We mobilized during this time to support mutual aid efforts, and began to have conversations about how we could maintain this spirit of solidarity to nurture an ecosystem of cooperators that could thrive beyond the pandemic.
We saw the need to educate one another on the histories and possibilities of cooperation and collective care.
We saw the need to bring resources to support the creation of Black and Indigenous led cooperatives.
We saw the need to align with practices like language justice, so that no community would be left out of this movement.
We saw the need for an ecosystem of cooperators, that could become its own system of power, rooted in these sacred practices.
Now, Cooperation New Orleans has grown into a movement of cooperators, artists, organizers, educators, family members, workers, and New Orleans residents with the same desire for a cooperative New Orleans. Within this movement space, we have assembled a steering committee to help develop the resources necessary in order to manifest this movement work. These resources include The Black Liberation Cooperative Academy, our Community Loan Fund, and projects such as Cooperation Gumbo.
Alternative to Racial Capitalism
Racial capitalism is the dominant global economic system based on exploitation, especially of Black and indigenous peoples and people of color, and on extraction of resources and labor from people and the planet. We do this work to build an alternative economic system based on cooperation and shared stewardship of resources, by developing an interdependent ecosystem of cooperative projects.
Our communities have long legacies and lived experience of cooperative economics that show up in cultural norms and practices. New Orleans is a cultural city, and culture is an essential part of the local economy. Too often, culture that is rooted in communities’ survival, spiritual practices, brilliance and creativity is devalued, exploited, and coopted for profits made by people outside of these communities. Black, indigenous, immigrant, and other communities don’t always use the word “cooperative”, but often practice cooperative economics in their families and communities. We honor these practices, and root our work in generations of survival and creativity.
Cooperation New Orleans works to build and deepen relationships among intersecting communities of color including immigrant, Latinx, African American, and indigenous communities including Vietnamese and Afro-descendent Garifuna communities. Class privileged and white allies are part of this movement. Uniting across communities builds our power and rejects the divide and conquer tactics of oppression. Language justice is a critical tool we use to build solidarity.
We use cooperatives as a tool to organize and build the governance and leadership practices of poor and working class communities of color to build and shift power in our lives and in the economy. The economy is the basis of power in our society and we are building democracy into this area that so deeply impacts our lives. Building power includes community self-sufficiency, ownership of labor, land, property, access to resources and shifting power to the commons.
Bulbancha is the Choctaw word for the place where many languages are spoken. Through colonization and the violent development of capitalism, and its location on the Mississippi river, New Orleans became the “northernmost city in the Caribbean” because the New Orleans port was important for trade in the plantation economy and the trafficking of enslaved African people. As a French and Spanish colony, this place was connected to revolutionary and counter-revolutionary struggles in places like Haiti and Honduras. We are committed to learning and sharing these historical forces that have shaped the current economy, and stand in solidarity with the spirit of revolution and justice with our family similarly impacted by colonization and exploitation. Cooperatives are one mechanism to rebuild sovereignty, self-determination, and healing from systemic violence.
I see community as a community of workers, but by workers, I mean people who are expending human energy and solidarity to perfect their lives.
- Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, author of Collective Courage
Meet Our Steering Committee
Jaleesa is a social justice advocate and brings experience with affordable housing advocacy, criminal justice reform, and reproductive justice to the cooperative movement space. Jaleesa founded Melegance, LLC, a communications consultancy that collaborates with changemakers to work toward collective liberation through storytelling. She currently serves as the Board Vice Chair for Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative and joined CNO steering team in 2021 shortly after completing the Black Liberation Coop Academy. For fun, Jaleesa enjoys making music, cosplaying, and networking with the Women of Wakanda, an afrofuturist parade krewe she co-founded in 2019. Feel free to connect with Jaleesa through email at email@example.com.
Jasmine Doughty is a New Orleans native who has witnessed the struggle of her community. She participated in the facilitation of Black Liberation Academy. She is organizing a cooperative movement representing the voices of young people in her generation. She has 7 years of management experience and has been providing bookkeeping and business management services through TMH Financial for the past 3 years. She is an energetic leader, Mother, and business owner working to build an equitable future.
Juicebox is a Black gender fluid queer person who resides in New Orleans, Louisiana. Their work with the community is based in black liberation, abolition and a path toward autonomy within the queer black community from the clutches of white supremacy. They are the co-owner of Studio Lalala, which is a production studio whose primary mission is to uplift the voices of queer Black people through skill and equipment sharing and allow them the opportunity to have creative control in telling their stories while becoming proficient in the skills that serve and advance their talents. This work is in direct response to their experience. As a self taught artist who has been consistently not given opportunities within the film industry because of their race, gender or my expertise not being based in academia. It has always been a struggle to find security or value with a field that gatekeeps opportunity. They decided to create a new framework that allowed tgeur studio to be self-sufficient. They strive to never forget that together we can dismantle what does not serve us, separate ourselves from the parasitic relationship of domination and create structures and systems that serve collective growth and development. They rallied educators within our community to teach, combining our resources to give us the ability to create highly professional media and to provide for ourselves and our community. Studio Lalala practices black liberation through democratic economics, cooperative economics is a technology created and used by our diaspora ancestors. They practice democratic governance. Power is equally split and worker input is shared and valued. All workers also share financial risk and rewards and concept of equity is not center in capitalism
Keely Byrne is an accounting and finance consultant fascinated with how human relationships and the flow of money affect each other. Her professional curiosity is driven by the question of how to develop a system for resource distribution that is healthy, just and sustainable. Keely has been involved in organizing and service related to affordable housing, racial justice, and economic justice since she moved to New Orleans in 2011. Keely’s pic
Lila Elena Arnaud
Lila Elena Arnaud is a public health practitioner and language justice worker who has practiced self and community care in New Orleans since 2010. She is a student of the cooperative principles and learned about cooperation at home with her mother, Lidia, a life-time cooperator and educator organizer. Lila is a member of the BanchaLenguas Language Justice Collective and available to support organizations with deepening their language justice practices through facilitation, consulting and coordination work. You can learn more about the BanchaLenguas Collective at www.banchalenguas.com and reach out to Lila at firstname.lastname@example.org
Maya Pen is an interdisciplinary artist and organizer based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work is concerned with creating new mythology to heal her community. She is the co-director of New Orleans based film production collective Studio Lalala, which provides free access to space, equipment, and education for filmmakers and photographers of color in New Orleans.
Tamah Yisrael is an innovative, energetic community advocate, life-long cooperator nation builder, radio personality, public speaker, and background singer. She is the owner of TMH Financial Services LLC, a member of Columintate & Resolve Financial Cooperative. She serve community through connecting and working with Builders of the Highway Foundation, Cooperation New Orleans Loan Fund, Claiborne Avenue Alliance, Cooperation Works, and the New Orleans Food Co-op.
Toya Lewis is an extremely proud New Orleans native. Toya experienced and survived Hurricane Katrina during the first week of her senior year of high school. After Katrina, she graduated from Southern University of New Orleans with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. While in college, she became a member, and then an organizer with Stand with Dignity of a Workers’ Center in New Orleans, where she organized a grassroots membership base of underemployed and unemployed Black workers and leaders prepared to build a powerful movement resulting in equity and inclusion in the New Orleans economy. Toya led Stand With Dignity in this area of work, building the power of directly impacted people to expose and dismantle structural exclusion and exploitation and moving strategic policy changes. As a New Orleans native, born and raised in the Calliope Projects (A public housing residence in the 3rd ward of New Orleans), Toya is proud to play a part in creating a community voice that demands full and fair existence for Black Brown and Indigenous New Orleanians. Toya has organized many policy changes in the pursuit of a full and fair existence, that includes a revised criminal background policy for the Housing Authority of New Orleans and a Living Wage Policy for city contract workers across New Orleans. Toya is now leading Project Hustle in making more space for a safe existence for Hustlers/Informal Black, Brown and Indigenous workers. They were also a founding member of the Black Youth Project 100, New Orleans chapter, a national organization focused on ending the criminalization of Blackness utilizing a Black queer feminist lens. As a BYP 100 member Toya led and supported many efforts to demand equity and justice around how police are not held accountable for committing physical and state sanctioned violence in communities of color, specifically the Black community. Toya is a community organizer, strategic power builder and overall advocate for an equitable harm reductive humanity.
An impassioned organizational development specialist, Rachel is a solution-driven advisor devoted to supporting cooperative ecosystems for the collective well-being of Black and other melanated peoples. She is a native New Orleanian with a definitive professional background in family organizing, strategic growth and policy development. Her legacy work is rooted in refining the ways we engage human preservation and cultivating modalities in healing generational wounds.
Rebecca Fisher-McGinty (she/hers) is a cooperative advocate who envisions a world where people have agency over their life, work, and neighborhood. She believes cooperatives can be a tool to actualize that agency and for economic and racial justice. She comes to this work with a sense that the *how* we go about work is just as important as the *what. Rebecca brings visions of cooperative systems and networks, 7 years as a worker owner in a cooperative, her Master’s of Cooperative Management, and her organizing experience to the steering committee. You can connect with Rebecca via email at email@example.com
Sian Miranda Singh ÓFaoláin
Sian (she/her) is a mother and a fundraiser & organizer in movements for economic justice and racial justice. Raised in upstate New York and Atlanta, Sian is noticing that finding/making her home in New Orleans is bringing her closer to her Caribbean roots. For Sian, cooperation is about organizing our resources, knowing that people have the capacity and brilliance to work together to address any challenges we face with creativity and joy.
Sally Stevens is a longtime advocate for ‘Shared Entrepreneurship’ and worker and resident owned as a solution to a myriad of problems New Orleans and other cities face, from economic inequality to poverty, crime and a lack of affordable housing and meaningful livelihoods. Stevens primary focus is the intersection of cultural economy and cooperative economy. She further advocates for the cooperative model as an effective pathway to combat the extraction of economic benefits from New Orleans through Tech Platforms. She further recommends our city develop platform community owned cooperatives ranging from vacation BnB housing to music, art and literature to ride sharing. In the past Stevens founded and directed The New Orleans Blues Project~ a music and cultural economic development project and co-founded Rhythm Conspiracy Productions, including acting as Co-producer on the Rhythm Conspiracy’s 2007 CD release “Dancing Ground”
Susan (she/her) comes to this work as a lifelong instigator of collaborative and collective projects. She identifies as a cooperator, a resource mobilizer, an anti-racist parent, and an occasional musician. Her love language is connection. Originally from the Ohio Rust Belt, Susan started her relationship with New Orleans in 2009, four years before actually moving here. Susan has a particular interest in growing the solidarity and cooperative economies within the New Orleans local food system.
From her early years in non-profit development and management, through her decade in the nursing home industry and federally qualified community health centers, Tamara Prosper’s career displays her mission to serve. With her husband, she co-owns Sheaux Fresh Sustainable Foods, a business that has been providing fresh, locally sourced produce to combat New Orleans’ food apartheid since 2011. She also owns Legacy Tours, an expression of love and respect that tells the full and vibrant histories of New Orleans by providing guided tours. Tamara is focused on community building and health equity, and remains a fierce advocate for the elderly, especially those who suffer with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. As the newest Loan Steward, she views her current work as a way to address the root causes of health disparities experienced by members of the global majority by improving access to resources. A perpetual writer, Tamara is the author of “The Elders”, columnist for “Antigravity Magazine”, and a public speaker.