The only important cause of the Colorado fires is not a mystery

Imagine if a group of foreign conspirators, by piloting a humming drone armada, dropped incendiary bombs on an American neighborhood. Somewhere between 500 and 1000 homes were destroyed. The smoke plumed over a major city, and flames threatened to stir up the radioactive particles in the soil of a nearby retired nuclear facility. Thousands of people, in a matter of hours, saw their communities burned to rubble.

Minus the drones and shady foreigners, that was what happened on December 30 in Boulder County, where I live. I drove my family the long way home around the smoke, rushing from an aborted vacation to gather some things in case the hurricane-force winds turned the fires northward. We meanwhile checked with friends in the evacuation zones, and some would lose everything. From the air or the ground, the scene looked like what we habitually see from abroad: a burning warzone, a dense cityscape dotted with infernos.

The morning after, when the governor and other officials spoke, they danced around the causes. Maybe it was a power line downed by the wind, but they won’t rule anything out. They noted the so-far snowless winter. Wind, dryness, tragedy. Of course, they thanked the first responders. (Seriously, thank you.) But the politicians studiously avoided what might seem like “politicizing” the situation. It’s too early.

What if the drone part were real, though? Would there be any hesitation in saying that we know who is responsible, and we will act, and they will pay? To not name the cause in that situation would be an insult to the innocents who suffered.

The past months have been terrifying to anyone paying attention here. No snow. This is Colorado. Snow normally starts in October. It has been sweater weather since the slow end of summer. The reservoirs have been drying up. More glaciers melted. Pleasant, really, but wrong. It is, simply and precisely, what scientists have warned for decades would happen because of human-induced climate change. That, more than any downed power line or stray spark or arson, is what caused fires to tear through a heavily populated suburb on Thursday. The important cause is clear.

My neighbors lost homes, as so many millions of climate refugees worldwide have before, because our political and economic institutions have failed to respond to a crisis they have long known was coming. Just this month, again, Congress failed to pass even an inadequate piece of climate legislation. Real conspiracies of powerful people exist to ensure inaction persists, because it is profitable. Some are even foreign, though the greatest failure of leadership is right here in the United States. Our democracy, such as it is, has failed this most basic test. That is why Boulder County, along with so many other homes in so many places, burned: the refusal to care for our common home.

Why can’t we name the cause? It is always harder when the cause is partly us. Really, it is mostly not us; most Americans would love to see strong climate action. The challenge, though, is metaphysical as well as political.

In the Metaphysics, Aristotle famously describes “four causes”—four different, often simultaneous, ways of understanding what makes things happen. The easiest kind to grasp is the “efficient” cause: the drone pilots, willfully dropping bombs. But no less relevant are the other kinds. The pilots’ ultimate, conspiratorial objective is the “final” cause; the plan the pilots followed is the “formal” cause; the napalm in the bombs is the “material” cause.

Some causes are more responsible than others. Few will blame the napalm more than the people who used it. The plan on a piece of paper can’t be blamed. The participants’ eventual objective may even seem noble, even if the tactics are repugnant.

In Colorado, what is speakable today is the material cause (the wind and kindling); perhaps, they say, there is an efficient cause (some arsonist), but likely not. Neither of these are as important as the formal and final causes: the changing climate and the economic order that our institutions have privileged above stewardship. Without those causes, a fire like this would be far, far less likely to occur. In their politic, not-finger-pointy sort of way, the authorities say this already:

Why would we so unhesitatingly point fingers at the foreign drones but not at the agents of climate change? Why is it too early to say what must be said? The most important facts in this case are already on hand. There should be no hesitation.

The fires still smoldering in my community are the result of an attack. The causes are human, regardless of how the first spark lit. They must be named and confronted, if we are ever to have a democracy capable of meeting its most basic responsibilities of protection and accountability. As January 6 approaches again, we’ll see a lot about that kind of threat to democracy. But December 30 insists that democracy as we know it has failed already and did so long before the mob.

Surely no oil executive or corrupt politician outright wanted to burn my county. I can only hope they are saddened like the rest of us. But it is not playing politics to recognize that causes are still causes even when they are not caused in that specific way. We already know the cause that matters.

“We need to reinvent the co-op”

Originally published by Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice in a series on “Cooperatives and Religious Communities.”

When I discovered that the hardware company my grandfather ran at the end of his career was a cooperative, my uncle sent me an email with a single image: the New York Times photo of President-elect Donald Trump marching through the Carrier factory, flanked by Mike Pence, executives, and, in the distance, workers. This was the mental image he had of his father’s business milieu, co-op or not: a world whose sole protagonists were White men, acting tough and doing stuff.

My grandfather’s co-op was far from the only one that looks like this. This is what I’ve seen, by and large, in rooms populated by leaders of the major credit unions, electric co-ops, and purchasing co-ops. (The worker co-op scene today is quite different, but it also holds vastly less wealth.) Even in diverse communities, the co-ops often have all-White co-op boards. Much of the institutional heft that the cooperative commonwealth has achieved is not crossing the United States’s brutal racial wealth gap—or is outright widening it.

In 2018, YES! Magazine executive editor Zenobia Jeffries Warfield argued that, despite her publication’s history of promoting cooperative efforts, “co-ops and community farms can’t close the racial wealth gap”—even if their leadership were more inclusive. Since these institutions are based on pooling and sharing community wealth, communities that have experienced systematic deprivation will wind up with less wealth in their co-ops, and less land for their gardens, than other communities do. As Warfield puts it, “Capital can’t concentrate in areas where capital doesn’t exist.” For those of us in some kind of love with the co-op movement and working to support it, as I have been, this is a problem.

I keep being haunted by a passage from the writings of Fr. Albert McKnight, a Catholic priest and Pan-Africanist who helped found many Black-led cooperatives in the South: “What we need to do is reinvent the cooperative idea,” he wrote before his death in 2016. “If ever the cooperative approach was needed, it is today. It’s still a disgrace to Black folks that no place in the country do Blacks control economically.”

Fr. McKnight doesn’t offer a blueprint, but his provocation poses challenges enough. Cooperators love their cooperative principles—which, by the way, have changed quite a lot over the years—and their cooperative mythologies. But as a recent report on Indigenous cooperative development points out, the usual founding mythology about a group of 19th-century factory workers near Manchester effaces the generations of cooperative traditions in other societies. The cooperative idea has survived reinvention again and again.

My first ambition here is simply to let that provocation be heard again: If it is going to be of use in confronting our deepest fissures, the cooperative movement must reinvent itself.

My other ambition is a distant second: I would like to begin exploring some avenues for reinvention, some cooperative principles that may be ready for rewriting.

The first cooperative principle is “Voluntary and Open Membership.” In the 1840s, this meant that you couldn’t turn away Catholics or Protestants or Quakers. But a lot of young cooperators today go beyond that. For them, openness is less important than fostering safe, brave, anti-oppressive communities. Here in Colorado, Satya Yoga Cooperative calls itself “the first ever POC (People of Color) member-owned yoga cooperative.” A central part of its mission is helping people heal from the collective trauma of racism. In that light, openness to all comers doesn’t compute. Membership is a matter of intention and care.

The third principle is “Member Economic Participation,” which expects that members capitalize the co-op with their own resources. Where does this leave those communities with less to contribute? In the past, as W. Ralph Eubanks beautifully recalls, co-ops have been a means for channeling public resources to Black Americans—but not nearly enough. Perhaps we need to give up on the attachment to bootstraps and self-sufficiency so that cooperatives might be receptacles for massive wealth transfers, which have been long since owed to survivors of slavery, genocide, and segregation.

The seventh and final co-op principle is “Concern for Community.” It would be hard to imagine a weaker way to phrase that sentiment. The most common expression of it is through the tax-deductible donations that a co-op makes to nearby nonprofits—which might mean subsidizing the entertainment of the local elite by underwriting the symphony or outsourcing aid to the poorest by funding a homeless shelter. But what if this principle had teeth? What if it meant accountability to the community, such as by reserving board seats for the homeless or the street musicians? Community well-being should be built into the business, not an afterthought.

I think I still love the cooperative model, and I know I still love the cooperative movement. The reinventions I suggest are not mine, really, so much as they come from years of documenting the hopes that many new cooperators are already inscribing into the cooperative idea with their practice. Their example is a prophecy and demand upon the movement that needs them to inherit it.

Wrote Fr. McKnight, “If we risk nothing, we gain nothing. We’re lost. We need to reinvent the co-op.” And then he turned it into a prayer: “May we have the wisdom, the faith to reinvent the co-op.”

The “poor man’s prayer” of Alphonse Desjardins

A prayer for the work of the caisse populaire and other similar works:

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I beg of You the special grace of Your divine light.

If I am making a mistake, enlighten me, and inspire in my a strong aversion, a great dislike for the idea that I would pursue and which is the aim of my work.

May I repel it with a sort of scorn, if it is Your good pleasure and make it disappear from my mind. If I should never think about it again from this moment I would be a thousand times happy.

Remove from my heart all false vanity, all impractical desire, all chimeras and foolish dreams.

If You wish that I persevere in this way, oh my God, fill my weakness with your strength; clear away the obstacles or give me the means to surmount them.

In this case as in the other give me the most perfect resignation to your holy will.

May your purpose be mine, may your desires be as commands to me.

Deign, oh Jesus, to direct, to inspire my activities toward whatsoever be the end of your eternal purposes; bring it about that I may find perfect harmony with your will in the hearts of those who follow me, but especially in the heart of my wife, the beloved companion of my life.

That she should always be my consolation and my help, whether you inspire me to the complete abandonment of these projects or to the thought of accomplishing them. Amen.

—Alphonse Desjardins, quoted in George Boyle, The Poor Man’s Prayer: The Story of Credit Union Beginnings (Harper & Brothers, 1951), pp. 203-204

An Incomplete Ambition

Decentralization is a word I’ve heard used to justify a lot of nonsense over the past decade. So last summer I drafted a long, somewhat stuffy, digression-filled assault on it.

With the help of comments from a bunch of friends and strangers, it has just been published in the fantastic Journal of Cultural Economy. It’s called “Decentralization: An Incomplete Ambition.”

Even the proofreader liked it. “Entirely objectively, it’s extraordinarily good,” she tweeted. That’s never happened to me before.

The first 50 people who use this link can access the published article for free. (If you have academic library access, grab it normally here.) If you’re too late for the free link, here’s a preprint.

For the practical blockchain designers among you, I also put together some recommendations based on the thing at Hacker Noon, a popular Colorado-based platform (of which I am a minor equity-crowdfunding investor). It’s called “What To Do Once You Admit That Decentralizing Everything Never Seems to Work.”

Meet MEDLab (and grab the podcast)

Another thing: I’ve started a lab. I was terrible at chemistry, and we don’t even have a physical space for our beakers, but together with a growing group of grad students at CU Boulder, I’ve assembled the Media Enterprise Design Lab to advance the cause of community-owned and -governed media economies. We’re doing research, experimentation, and consulting (including for Action Network, the platform that sent you this email). It’s fun, even if we only sort of know what we’re doing so far.

But at least we have a podcast—which is also a radio show on KGNU community radio. It’s called Looks Like New: Conversations on Tech and Justice. The latest guest was my hero and friend Douglas Rushkoff. You can get it here.

We’re cooperativizing Colorado

So much is happening up here in mountain-land! A few weeks ago, the Denver Post featured my book, Everything for Everyone, as part of an article on the long tradition of cooperative enterprise in the state. Then, a few weeks later—in part as an outgrowth of a conference I co-organized at the university last November—Governor Jared Polis announced a new initiative for expanding employee ownership across the state. This is huge.

If you’re a cooperator in Colorado, consider joining us on May 1 for a policy roundtable to help design a strategy for seriously advancing economic democracy from the Eastern Plains to the Western Slope.

Oh, and If you still don’t have the book, get it here, or request it at your local library.

Works not cited

  • libi striegl and Lori Emerson suggest that the true purpose of One Laptop Per Child’s lovely machines may only become clear when we accept the failure of the pseudo-humanitarian project
  • #MeToo has come for credit union bro culture—thank you, Rachel Pross
  • How to (begin thinking about how to) make worker co-ops out of blockchains, with the brilliant Morshed Mannan
  • Mik Awake recognizes book collecting as book privatizing
  • I can’t believe I missed David Van Reybrouck’s argument for replacing elections (and politicians, where possible) with citizen juries
  • And how, honestly, did I miss this Neal Stephenson hacker-tourist epic on laying undersea cables around the far reaches of the Earth—no longer!

May you feel the season of liberation, resurrection, and seedlings.

“Everything” for the Holidays

Give the gift of possibility. My new book, Everything for Everyone, tells how the tradition of cooperative enterprise has shaped the better parts of our world and poses a radical challenge to the forces eroding democracy around the globe today. Since it came out in September, it has been featured in places like Fast Company, WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, and Democracy Now. In times when democracy is under attack, it shows how the seeds of a deeper, fuller democracy are scattered all around us.

Visual summary of the book by Matt Noyes
Illustration by Matt Noyes

“It is a book for everyone and a book for our times: read it, share it, but don’t just talk about it.”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“Charting a wealth of renewable ideas, tools, and commitments that are poised to reinvent democracy, Schneider tackles an immense subject with precision and grace.”—Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough and This Changes Everything

Order it for your loved ones today, from your local bookstore or wherever else books are sold.

If you want to support the new cooperative movement more directly, also, consider a year-end donation to the New Economy Coalition and its members organizations.

In progress

Writing the book left me with a wealth of unanswered questions, and lately I’ve been putting a lot of my energy into research projects that try to address them. Here are some of the papers I’ve been hacking on:

These are works in progress, so I’d love any feedback you care to offer.

Works not cited

May the season bring you peace and courage.

Countdown to “Everything”

Everything for Everyone cover

It’s less than a month now until my new book on the co-op economy, Everything for Everyone, is out. Here’s what some advance readers are saying:

“Schneider tackles an immense subject with precision and grace”—Naomi Klein

“It is a book for everyone and a book for our times: read it, share it, but don’t just talk about it”—Robin D. G. Kelley

I’d love for you to be part of the process of getting this book into the world. Can you help?

Share it on social. Blast out a post of your own, or RT this tweet and “Share” this on Facebook.

Preorder your copy. Find a list of places where you can get it—online and off, evil and otherwise—here.

Post a review. Once you’ve read it, be honest. Or just be nice! Do this anywhere, but especially on your favorite monopolistic everything-store. This is really one of the best ways to help new readers find a book they otherwise might not.

Come to an event. I wish I could go everywhere, but I’m also grateful for the childcare and teaching that will keep me home in Colorado most of the fall. I hope to see you (and the people you share these with) at one of the launch events:

Thank you for your support! A book is only worth what readers like you see in it and do with it.

Other news

On November 7, together with CU’s business school and our sponsors, I’ll be hosting the Colorado Shared Ownership Summit, a gathering of big-and-small, old-and-new, co-ops, credit unions, and ESOPs in the state. If you can come, please consider proposing a session and applying for travel support.

I’m proud to be part of the founding team of, a new accelerator for ambitious, investment-ready co-op startups—and we’re still accepting applications for our inaugural clas.

Learn about co-ops by podcast with the Co-op Power Hour, a show I’ve been doing with KGNU radio and the Colorado Co-ops Study Circle.

I wrote about ending the cult of the presidency at America in May, and I’ve got some works in progress on which I’d love your input.

Come study with my colleagues and me! Applications for our Media and Public Engagement MA program are open for Fall 2019. Let me know if you have questions.

Works not cited

Denver may soon get a new hometown saint—a woman born a slave, profiled in one of the first articles by the new journalist-owned, blockchain-powered Colorado Sun.

This is a gorgeous interview with (soon to be published novelist!) Cadwell Turnbull on why economic change needs science fiction.

Another essential report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on why you are probably being overcharged and underserved by your internet-service provider.

For those in the Boulder bubble, be sure not to miss the Daily Camera’s three-part series on racism in an alleged haven of progressivism.

Letter to the Boulder City Council on municipal broadband

In advance of the meeting tomorrow, I would like to write in support of moving forward on expanding our city-owned broadband resources. Several years of research on municipal and other community-based broadband solutions has made clear to me that communities need to take an active role in ensuring that their internet access is accessible, affordable, and neutral. Although our situation is different from neighbors like Ft. Collins and Longmont, I believe Boulder is in a position to be a national innovator on community broadband.

Having gotten to know the city staff members involved in this effort, I’ve been very impressed with the rigor and thoughtfulness that has gone into the process. Boulder will most likely not be in a position to deliver fiber-to-the-home without a municipal energy utility, but I think starting now with a backbone buildout would create the following opportunities:

+ Faster, more affordable service. Over and over around the country, we see that the large ISPs will not provide fast, affordable service without being somehow compelled to do so. A city-operated backbone could enable new competitors to enter the market and raise the bar for all. This will help strengthen our already vibrant tech business community and benefit consumers.

+ Opportunities for serving the underserved. Troubling, often disguised inequalities plague the country’s connectivity map, and Boulder is no exception. We already have good evidence that lower-income neighborhoods receive far poorer access opportunities than others. Recognizing this, the school district has been developing programs to use civic networks to serve underserved students. Expanding the city’s backbone would allow us to extend such services and ensure that all of our neighbors have affordable connectivity. We can show other communities what it looks like to treat internet access as the essential infrastructure that it is.

+ Leverage for fairness and neutrality. Today, as I write, net neutrality has officially been repealed on the national level. This is a development that could change the meaning of internet access in fundamental ways. It’s now up to local jurisdictions to protect their citizens’s rights of speech and access. Here, again, Boulder can be a leader. A city-owned backbone network could give the city leverage to negotiate arrangements with ISPs that ensure we are a net neutrality zone. This is an issue of concern to many people in town, and while it could be a difficult fight, it would be a fight your constituents would surely support.

In a sense, it is fitting that your decision to proceed with the broadband expansion comes the day after our federal government significantly relinquishes its regulatory powers over internet service. Tomorrow, we have the opportunity to step up and fill the void. Thank you for your consideration and your attention to this important matter.

Radical Tradition

Do you like the cover?This May Day, this Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, I apologize in advance. But I also don’t. The next few months, I’ll be working hard to spread the word about my new book, Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy, published by the good people at Nation Books. The book is done, and the final details are closing in. It comes out in mid-September.

I apologize because I’m entering this promotional phase. I’ll be reaching out again asking you to help, if you’re so moved. But I don’t apologize about that, really, because the book shares stories that I believe need to be known—stories of the promise and struggle in the new generation of the cooperative movement. At a time when democracy is on the rocks, when the economy seems to run on a mix of autopilot and superheroes, we need these reminders that cooperation has helped build our world and can shape its future.

Learn more here. Retweet this. Maybe even place a preorder. Let me know if you’d like to publish a review or interview, or to schedule an event. Together, let’s help bring this radical tradition back to life.

Various dystopias

In the meantime, there are powers-that-be to troll. Here are some recent publications of mine more or less in that vein:

Works not cited

Have you read what Mark Twain regarded as his best book? Ted Gioia wades through his pious, late-live tribute to Joan of Arc.

Jessica Weisberg points out that America’s favorite guide to the corporate ladder was himself a precarious gig worker.

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza learned to organize in the kitchen.

Now is an interesting time to revisit Mr. Zuckerberg’s pre-IPO letter to potential investors.

Scott Korb wonders whether standardized testing has killed the first-person.

Students are already producers; what if they were co-owners?

My CU Boulder colleagues and I stand with our embattled local journalists.

Times and places

Serving the State

This month I have a new title—I’m an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, on tenure track. It’s not fully clear to me how this departure from the precariat happened, except that it involved a move across the country with my family, astonishingly supportive colleagues, patient students, and an opportunity to do some good that I hope I can live up to.

All this has gotten me reading about the origins of universities in self-governing medieval guilds and remembering my grandfathers—one a state-university professor and one who never made it to college because of a hail storm.

I wrote about them in America.

“a better internet is possible”

The enemy isn’t supposed to be this nice, but somehow Wired magazine chose Ours to Hack and to Own, the book I co-edited with Trebor Scholz, as one of the “best tech books of 2017.”

Buy it in bitcoin or dollars from OR Books.

I’ve also been getting kind of worked up lately about the potential for co-op and municipal broadband, especially in the wake of the FCC net neutrality decision. I’ve been writing on this for Quartz and The Guardian, and my congressman, Rep. Jared Polis, had me on a webinar to discuss it. Scientific American quoted me on the subject, too.

More to come. I’m currently (or currently should be) hard at work on edits for my next book, which will be out in time for Co-op Month from Nation Books.

Works not cited

Back in 1895, Hastings Randall was worrying about a lot of what university people today worry about when he wrote his hefty history of the medieval university.

Johann Hari thinks that worker co-ops might be at least as effective against depression as meds.

Kaya Oakes writes beautifully about middle age and the medieval women helping her embrace it.

Harvard says it so it must be true: community broadband is better.

I’ve been hearing from Kiera Feldman for years about her reporting among trash collectors, but what she published in ProPublica blew me (and lots of other people) away.

My kid isn’t that into Matt de la Peña’s Love, but I am.


  • 2018.02.17: Denver, CO – ETHDenver panel on the crypto-economy
  • 2018.02.23: Logan, UT – Talks on platform cooperativism and open research at Utah State University
  • 2018.03.07: Cambridge, MA – Platform cooperativism discussion at Harvard Law School
  • 2018.03.08: South Hadley, MA – Mount Holyoke College
  • 2018.03.10: Austin, TX – “Platform Co-Ops: Competitive Edge, Social Purpose” at South by Southwest
  • 2018.04.14: East Lansing, MI – MSU Student Housing Cooperative
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